It's Not Just a Talent Crisis: Corporations Are Suffering a Human Crisis

Leadership Series Explores Connection Between People, Purpose and Profit

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I was terribly saddened to find this tragic news in my email: Curt Hecht, one of the most respected figures in the media and digital advertising industry, had passed away at the way-too-young age of 47 after a five-month battle with lung cancer.

Curt spent his career pioneering change at Starcom and most recently, The Weather Co. and was as renowned for his intellect and ideas as much as he was for his health regimen. He was a dedicated cyclist who rose early, brought his bike everywhere and even organized cycling events at industry conferences. News of Curt's passing was covered in every industry trade and there was an outpouring of shock and sadness throughout social media.

Curt Hecht
Curt Hecht

My time with Curt had been limited to a few meetings at industry events.We honored him as a Media Maven in 2007 and most recently we shared breakfast in Manhattan late last fall. While I didn't know Curt well, what I did know was this: He was extraordinarily smart and created a vision that people could get behind. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind, even if it ruffled feathers, and he believed in being good to people. This last idea was never explicit, but became apparent in some of the stories he shared over breakfast. By all accounts, Curt was a leader.

Which brings me to the subject of this column -- actually a series of columns I've been planning well before I opened my email after promising myself I wouldn't check it while on vacation. I've been drawn to the subject for a while now after some pretty troubling statistics caught my attention. The editors and I decided it would kick off after Labor Day, with this, a column about the column.

In preparation, I've begun interviewing people at all levels in companies of all kinds -- from the most established to newer organizations just starting out-- to find the common threads of great leaders and thriving cultures and the ideas which, at scale, could have a greater impact across the board.

Sadly, I will never have the opportunity to interview Curt on this subject, but I can include some wisdom David Kenny shared in the memo he sent to the Weather Co. family upon Curt's passing.

"In every tough situation, Curt kept me anchored on what matters -- family first, our people second, clients and audience third -- and the money will take care of itself."

Curt understood something that many of us lose sight of sometimes. With so much pressure on quarterly earnings and the ever increasing pace of our always-on, tech fueled, data-focused world, we are in danger of losing perspective on what matters most: taking care of our people.

We talk often about a talent crisis, but data show we are heading toward not just a talent crisis, but a human one.

We've all seen the Gallup study showing that only 30% of workers are engaged at work in the U.S. and only 13% globally. But what we haven't read about as much about are the burnout and stress levels at an all time high across executives and our workforces. According to Finnish researchers, people who work 48 hours or more are more likely to engage in "risky alcohol use" than their 47-and-fewer hour counterparts. The concern for ourselves, our colleagues and our friends is obvious, and will only continue to peak unless we begin to make it a key priority.

From a pure business perspective, the implications are significant. When our people are depleted, we are not getting the best from them – their best ideas, their best efforts or their clearest thinking about anything -- and it is costing organizations billions of dollars, most measurably in sick days and staff turnover.

As I've begun my conversations, the first consistent thread that has emerged is that companies that have employees who are engaged and focused on the future have a stated set of core values that are embraced and shared through all communications. Those values also inform all decisions. These companies and the executives who lead them are focused on profitability and at the same time taking great strides to focus on what matters—their people. They are creating programs and cultures that enable them to be their best for themselves and for those around them.

In this series, I'll look to share insights gleaned from leaders across the board to uncover not just what's being talked about, but what is being done to take care of our people and to create cultures where talent and business thrive. I hope to discover businesses that are using their platforms to create a more meaningful impact on their people, their community and our world, while also driving profit.

There is a lot the advertising industry can teach others about developing culture and creating a meaningful connection with people, and there is great work happening in other sectors from which we too can learn.

Like everything else, sometimes the column will be serious and sometimes much more lighthearted, but I hope it will always focus on what matters. To do that I need your help. Let me know about the leaders who are inspiring you, the programs you're putting in place to have a more meaningful impact, to create a better culture and drive results. Let me know what you're wrestling with, so I can help bring some solutions to bear.

Ultimately, it all comes down to leadership, so it seems fitting to feature Curt in this first column. To honor his memory, a fund that has been set up to help Curt achieve his greatest wish, which was making sure his daughters were set up to reach their full potential. You can also help them achieve that here.