We spoke with Raquel Santos, Chief Talent Officer of DDB Latina, the pioneer in the industry for uniting DDB Worldwide’s Latin American, US Multicultural, and Spanish markets with a unique vision inspired by culture, not geography. Their approach to the future of work involves employee autonomy, focusing on coaching/retraining, and a continued reinforcement of culture that reflects respect and empathy.
Over the past year, work environments have had to change drastically. How has your agency taken employee feedback, coupled with what’s appropriate for the company to create a work plan going forward?
In March 2020, we all went to work from home in a unique way, without plan or preparation. Just a few days later, when we understood we would be living in a world where uncertainty and anxiety started to affect people, we created innovative common spaces for all DDB Latina leaders to get together regularly, share practices and support each other in all possible ways. At the end of March, we started conducting several surveys, individual interviews, and conversations, throughout our offices in US Multicultural, Latin America and Spain, to rapidly build a plan, not only to support employees to work and deliver in this new reality, but to help them preserve their mental and physical health and motivation. We organized all the feedback in different categories, sat together with leaders, culture experts and representations from all our countries and areas, to analyze and combine the employee feedback + Culture + organization protocols + client’s feedback and needs.
With the results, we created a work plan that considers a significant amount of coaching, training, and retraining, reinforcement of our Culture of Freedom and values, implementation of internal and external ways of communication, that help talents and clients to save time, stay focused and practice Respect as a value that characterized the relation. We continue to ask and receive employee feedback to validate this plan; we continue to correct it, adapt it and add new ideas based on the experience and results.
We feel very confident in the work plan moving forward; we created the foundations, and we are getting great results: we have been able to create Unexpected Work for our clients, we have won an innumerable number of pitches in Spain, Colombia, Brazil, Miami, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Guatemala. DDB Latina was named Network of the year at Cannes Festival, El Ojo, Crema Ranking, and FIAP.
Africa, our agency in Brazil, led the ranking at Cannes Lions and at the New York Festivals 2021 in Latin America. It was the most awarded Latin American agency at the D&AD 2021 and El Ojo Festival and Adlatina’s Crema ranking in 2020 and most recently, it was named Agency of the Year at Fiap 2021.
DDB Colombia was selected by the industry and named Agency of the Year by P&M and at the local Effies. DDB Puerto Rico and Fahrenheit DDB Peru were also awarded Agencies of the Year by local Cúspide Awards, IDEAS and ANDA respectively.
TracyLocke Brazil, DDB Colombia and DDB Centro Guatemala made it to the distinguished list of Great Place to Work in the midst of the pandemic which makes us extremely proud.
How has the changing work landscape affected the way pitches and campaign briefs are approached and conceptualized?
There is no doubt that people in charge of pitches and campaign briefs in both sides (agency and clients) were the most affected. The missing face to face contact felt crucial to succeed. However, the teams in different agencies rapidly recreated the process, innovated it, found smart solutions and new ways to engage. Not having the different elements and people together in a conference room, made the focus on the conversations much more relevant. The creativity was equally focused on ideas, personal charm, empathy, and level of preparation. Talents worked to align much more, they knew time in the screen, distractions, limitation of resources were barriers, and they understood their success depended much more on every word, every minute they saved, every emotion they generated. With respect, awareness of the power of each word, creativity, innovation, and patience, they recreated the right environment to share thoughts, ideas, and proposals during briefs, conceptualization, materialization, and pitches. Each member of these teams has grown as communicator and interlocutor. They practice respect every step of the way when listening to diverse ideas and styles, when working together and when presenting to the clients.
Emotional Intelligence has been crucial, that is why we accompany and support them so they can succeed. We have confirmed the face-to-face contact at least in crucial moments continue to be very necessary, but they also learned how to win without those moments.
In what ways has this impacted the work-life balance of your employees and what steps have been taken to mitigate that?
At the beginning of the Pandemic, we all learned how to work 100% from home and the room for opportunities, especially for team leaders was huge. This opportunity was identified in all the surveys and interviews I mentioned before. It was hard for people leading other people to take care of themselves, their families and to take care of their employees in many ways, not only professionally but also personally; a significant number of employees went through (still go through) really difficult situations. Families living with babies and kids, people living in small places where everything happens, work, school, entertainment, the entire life in a little space. A lot of people are living alone; there are challenges with technology, with communication, concentration, anxiety, stress, fear, you mention it. For all the reasons above, the work-life balance of our employees was compromised, the balance was not necessarily affected by amount of work, but for so many challenges that made the process last long hours.
To mitigate this situation, we started by having several conversations with leaders to make sure they were equipped with the know-how of antidotes help with work-life balance. Those antidotes/principles are quite basics, but in the rapid world where we were living sometimes, we used to forget. Big solutions in this case came from simple steps: revisiting our Culture values and making sure we have enough ambassadors representing and helping with respect and empathy. We created different protocols to help our diverse workforce, to respect lunch time, weekend time, rest time; to respect people living in challenging circumstances where health was compromised. We also implemented empathetic rules to young mothers with kids, basically giving them freedom to work in a different agenda. We promoted autonomy as far as each employee deliver their tasks; we made agreements with clients to establish a communication protocol. We implemented agile processes and tools to make time efficient. We trained leaders in coaching tools, and we also brought experts in different topics to help people to learn and work in balance.
It has been very interesting, now we are entering in a phase where people understand they own the decision to establish that balance. A the very beginning leaders were 100% accountable for make this balance happen; today after we have learned, shared, and implemented processes and resources, the employee needs to act and make this balance happen, we have open ears and eyes every time they ask for help. We are available to help, all the time.
Given that each work environment can look a bit differently, what has helped in creating a cohesive working relationship with clients?
Each client was different and the way they reorganized their agency - relations models after March 2020 were different too. Covid-19 affected business in all types of ways, but we were there to support, learned and changed together. We had clients suspending programs and budgets, we had clients changing plans, we had clients with new challenges and opportunities in their categories; for all cases we restructured and adapted to the new realities.
Cohesive professionals and personal relations are based on respect for diversity, active listening, curiosity, flexibility, and patience. Based on these values and talent competences, in some cases we restructured the teams, other cases required retrain of the entire team, clients and agency, in order to align and modify processes and expectations. For all cases this experience is what we call open mind or mind of a beginner, no matter how much experience we had, we understood we needed to listen carefully, be flexible, to communicate and collaborate in the best way possible and accept to shifts. We all still need the disposition to try and fail until we learn where we will be in the future.
What changes that have been made over the past year do you see sticking around for years to come?
I would say a little bit of everything, most of those things already existed but now we are much more aware of how relevant those are; we are sticking around the hybrid working model and we are in the process of learning how to design it, with the right face to face touch points and phases; we are sticking to every single effort to maintain the mental and physical health of our employees by being on the top of all official and formal information to help them preserve their future and the motivation. We are keeping the new feedback models, where leaders and supervisors continue to listen and provide feedback in a more simple way so expectations are clear and anxiety controlled and sticking to all existing and new collaborative tools (Teams, and other agile platforms and features). We are continuing our borderless talent projects, where no matter where they sit in any corner of the globe, based on their competences and career plan, they are candidates to participate in projects that will help them reach their professional goals.
We are also implementing many other different things throughout our region but the mentioned above are specifically the ones that people have reported to care the most these days, thus are our priorities.