How Noble People is taking action and managing employees during a time of crisis

As groups across the country continue to protest the murder of George Floyd, the current moment can’t be ignored during the daily 9-to-5. Companies are feeling the pressure to respond publicly, but beyond that they have a duty to their employees to know how to better serve them, not just in a time of crisis, but all the time.

In order to guide a company through challenging periods, Greg March, CEO of media buying and planning agency Noble People, said managers have to act in line with their values and the beliefs that they exude, otherwise customers, clients and the industry as a whole will see you as faulty. 

For the predominantly white company executives and leaders who have historically benefited from the systemic injustices that their black and brown employees are regularly subjected to, March said they have to put in more effort to authentically address the issues within their own company and the social climate at large. 

“In the same way that a lot of people have to work harder to achieve some form of the American dream in their lives, I’ve got to work harder to have an even level of moral standing. It starts with owning [your privilege] and recognizing it,” said March.

In the latest edition of the Digiday+ Talks, where we focus on instructive content, March dove into what is required of managers in this moment to lead the company while also supporting employees internally.

What we learned

Managing in a crisis

Right now, there are a lot of events happening in the world that managers need to know how to respond to both in the context of communicating with their employees, but also for communicating with their customers.

March offers some advise for how to lead your company outwardly and inwardly during times of crisis and major world events:

  • Don’t do things just for the moment. Much like March tells his clients who are building campaigns around major events, he said there is a bigger impact from doing something consistently over time than there is taking one big action to look good in the moment. For example, one client that was advertising against the World Cup in Brazil, he told them it didn’t make sense to advertise just during the event and then abandon the Brazilian population right afterwards. Sticking around reinforces your support of the community and shows your authenticity. This is important to keep in mind when reacting to the protests or the pandemic or whatever other events your company might be reacting to right now. 
  • Give your employees space. “Space is required right now. I think something that I didn’t appreciate until I looked some people in the eye is the honest-to-God stress and mental anguish that some people are under,” March said. “You have to respect that,” especially if you have nothing to compare it to in your own experiences. 
  • Run your business for the people who will work here three years from now. “If I can make this place somewhere where you have career opportunities and it is an exciting place to work … then I’m doing my job,” said March. In the beginning of the pandemic, that meant needing to do layoffs in order to ensure the company would be here in three years. But in explaining this to his staff, he said it helped to decipher who the reliable employees are that will be around in the long run. 

Hiring a more diverse team

March said that a couple years ago, he was frustrated at the pace at which his company was hiring black and Latino employees. He spoke with his company’s employees of color to ask how they found their job at Noble People or in the advertising world in general, and found that some of his best employees did not come from a four-year university background. 

“There is nothing that I’ve seen learned at a four-year university and all of these glorious internships that makes an entry-level person any better than a kid out of high school,” said March.

  • “I [push diversity] because I believe it’s good business. If the country is becoming more racially diverse and I am selling things to more racially diverse people, I should be better at it if I’ve got a more racially diverse agency than my clients who are outsourcing this kind of radar to another company,” said March. 
  • Noble People’s recruitment efforts were then expanded to include two-year universities as a way to introduce this career path to other types of people and broaden the base of potential candidates. “I’m not expecting you to know what media planning is or what the advertising agency world is to work here. I need you to be culturally connected, hard working, interesting and I’ll try to give you the rest,” he said.
  • March said that requiring a four-year degree can be a copout for a mid-level manager who doesn’t want to invest in a certain degree of training. And while it may be harder to train an entry level person the basic ropes of the job, he tells his managers that at the other end of the effort placed in employees, it will yield an agency that more accurately reflects the country of people that it is selling to. 

The future of work and diversity 

In a lot of cases, the future of work will consist of more remote workforces than ever before. Many employees who can move away are choosing to get out of crowded city environments. Some companies have found that all their employees’ jobs can be done just as well at home as they were in a shared workspace, therefore the need for an office space has gone away all together. 

As a result, there is a level of accountability from upper management that March said could potentially be lowered by not having a central gathering point for a company. “I worry more remote work doesn’t play in the favor” of diversity, he said. 

  • Remote work has a lot of pros, but the con is not being able to look people in the eye on a day to day basis, March said. When everyone is in their own isolation, it becomes more comfortable and management does not get the opportunity to walk into an office space and realize that the company does not look like what the country looks like. 
  • The other side of remote work is that there is not the physical divide between office and home to limit to help end a workday. March said that it is important for management to show appreciation of that level of dedication to the business in order to keep those good employees with the company. 
  • “If I expect people to treat my business as there’s, regardless of time, then I have to treat their lives like they’re important, regardless of the hour that it happens,” said March. business owners come out ahead if they behave like people and support the issues and causes that are important to their employees.
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