Limited qualified personnel, new technologies, increased competition and ever-changing consumer attitudes are only a few of the issues that demand a new level of management expertise. Since these problems seem generic to our industry, it's worthwhile to think through their implications.
Professor Leonard Schlesinger of the Harvard Business School, a leading management authority, puts it this way: "In an industry notorious for eating its young, the marketing communications businesses must begin to address how they will manage in the face of this dynamic growth. Unfortunately, while there are abundant theories and case studies on corporate management, there is very little written on managing professional service firms, a very different nexus of issues."
Despite exploding growth, the best producers can run aground even as their companies rise to new income levels. A fundamental truth: Managing businesses and people, like becoming a banker or a top golfer, relies on a system of learned skills and experiences. In the tradition of the most well-managed corporations in America, we see the holding company serving the operating companies and functioning as a low-profile force of influence.
We contribute to their growth through resource allocation and also through coaching senior operating management. We, therefore, have made executive education a major corporate focus.
Three years ago, we committed to becoming a true learning organization and initiated customized, intensive senior management programs created in consultation with Mr. Schlesinger. We are finding extraordinary results exceeding our wildest hopes.
We selected only top managers in each company and now have 150 who have completed the program. Graduates return a second year, each having completed or worked on a strategic business initiative appropriate for his or her company within the year. Outstanding initiatives are written up as cases for the undergraduate class. Alumni chapters now keep the spirit going.
The challenge of effective management education has been in the course content. With no body of knowledge in our industry, including case studies or written theory, we had little recorded to teach. We had to break new ground. We began to develop our own global case studies from issues and critical situations found in our own companies.
The result: the assurance of real-life application. We use the term "embedded knowledge" to describe the collective business experience of the producer-managers. Our task is to find that experience, codify it and quickly share it among our companies throughout the world.
For the time-pressured, highly successful manager working in very competitive markets, these are some of the more compelling, if not electrifying, questions.
Engagement profitability: When clients demand more for less, how do you handle the cost-profit squeeze?
Cost pricing vs. value pricing: Can you evaluate both?
Do you know precisely how profitable or unprofitable each client is? (Not as easy as it sounds.)
What are the rewards and pitfalls of increased globalization? How can you effect it without stretching yourself and your resources to the breaking point?
How do you address the trend of the "virtual office"? Is 60% of a superstar worth more than 90% of a mediocre employee?
Is all this technology really necessary? How do we know when to say enough? Are you handling the e-mail explosion?
How can you work smarter (and find a better balance in your personal and professional life)?
The creative process is so vital to the marketing communications business that no management program is complete without encouraging and exploring breakthrough creative thinking. What can managers do to promote an atmosphere where big ideas, small ideas, even wacky ideas are the beginning of something greater?
Someone observed "nothing is more electric than a roomful of intelligent people." Participants come into the group feeling alone with their problems and are astounded to find the commonality of professional service firm issues. (Note: Omnicom is in 23 different marketing communications businesses.)
We also make sure the week-long atmosphere is both informative and fun. To say the classroom sessions are lively and filled with much laughter is an understatement. Raucous at times would be more appropriate. Evenings feature various forms of networking and hilarity, especially the "roast" of the professors and company management-all with the purpose of building a team out of individual stars.
For management, the return on investment is both short- and long-term. Cross-pollination of new business opportunities has already begun and a re-energized, better-educated talent pool will provide business muscle for the future. The company benefits from a program unique in our industry that adds value for our managers and clients. "Embedded knowledge" now written and experienced is guiding the way toward future global growth.
Mr. Watson is vice chairman of Omnicom Group's Diversified Agency Services, New