Let me begin by applauding GolinHarris's attempt to re-engineer its infrastructure and become more client-centric . Anytime an aircraft-sized, holding company-owned firm does anything novel, it's nothing short of breathtaking. I can only imagine the red tape and approval process that such a Herculean effort required before ever seeing the light of day.
The sizzle in what is an otherwise purely cosmetic change is “…to transition employees from working as generalists to being designated as one of four types of specialists… strategists, creators, connectors and catalysts.” Titles such as VP, SVP and EVP are being abolished and replaced by titles like director and executive director. Be still, my heart.
New, and bizarre, titles are nothing new. Dotcom firms were notorious for them. We once worked for a dotcom called Bigfoot. The CEO called himself Mr. Big and the head of PR chose the most unfortunate title of minister of propaganda. Ouch.
Years ago, most small and medium-sized firms tore down the walls and silos that GH is just now addressing. But, few if any, of us, chose such bizarre and silo-creating titles as 'connector.' In attempting to fix what's broken, GH will find itself with all sorts of new human resources challenges. To wit:
– Jenny, a high flying account supervisor, is suddenly stripped of her title and responsibilities and told she's now a connector. Talk about pigeon-holing a fast tracker. “Hey dad. Guess what? I'm a connector!”
– Stein, another rising star, sees himself as a creator but is tossed, instead, into the strategist bucket. Say sayonara to Stein.
– And, tell me what client would want a connector or catalyst as the lead on her team? If I'm paying serious, holding company-type retainer fees, I want nothing but strategists and creators on my team. The others be damned.
Last, but certainly not least, is the holding company billing model. Having worked at two holding companies, I can tell you that each and every office has a separate P&L, and will fight like sharks for a scrap of meat when it comes to divvying up the client dollars. I distinctly recall winning a large piece of P&G business back in the '80s while with Hill & Knowlton. As soon as we announced the win, a more powerful executive in a different office simply snatched it away. And, the client didn't care because, in those days, “no one ever got fired for hiring H&K.” So, how does one organize the P&L here? Will strategists fight with connectors over who gets what share of the client budget? It hurts just to think about the complexities.
I wish GH well with its re-org. To CEO Fred Cook's credit, he called it “…the beginning of a journey.” I only wish Stuart Elliott (and more chief communications officers) knew two things about the seemingly seismic change:
– Smaller, more nimble firms have been doing this for years (but, because they aren't owned by a publicly-traded holding company, simply aren't Timesworthy)
– People don't want to be placed in artificial buckets with ersatz names. That connector title is a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
As for me, in addition to being co-founder and managing partner of Peppercom, I long ago added the title of 'fomenter-in-chief'. I see it as my job to keep pushing our firm to think fresh thoughts and try new approaches. But:
a) I'd never publicize it
b) I'd never try to convince the marketing world that my firm is dramatically different because we no longer have executives carrying the title of vice president.
And, now I have to run. My business partner, Ed, our invoicer-in-chief, needs to talk.
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