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The Kevin Roberts Experience

Kevin Roberts. Executive Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi

Seeing Kevin Roberts, worldwide CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, is quite an experience. He has many fans but just as many in the advertising industry who are rather cynical about Kevin. Whichever way you lean you can’t help but be impressed by his passion for creativity in the workplace. Despite a few flat jokes about Australians we have all heard before (Kevin is a kiwi) I have to say I was impressed and inspired by Kevin’s presentation.

Kevin is big on leaders dreaming and using unique language to inspire and motivate. In his world successful leaders create a movement and a revolution starts with changing the language. Great companies create their own language. And in similar terms to Dan Pink, Kevin talked about leaders recognising the essential things employees want – responsibility, learning, recognition and joy. Similar to Dan Pink’s autonomy, mastery and purpose message, with a touch of joy added. I liked his little cultural mantra for his business   – plays like a team, feels like a family.

Kevin is big on creativity and in his view leaders should be constantly creating ideas. Creative leaders ‘let emotion rip’, and creative leaders make things happen. They aren’t afraid of new ideas – they even surprise with the obvious. It was George Bernard Shaw who said ‘life’s great truths start as blasphemies’. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones.

Leaders also learn from their mistakes – One of Kevin’s repeated messages was ‘fail fast, learn fast, fix fast’. The important thing is that leaders actually execute. They banish the abominable no-men, as Kevin calls them, those people who find reasons to stall, delay and make things complicated. Instead they spend 70% of their time executing, and less time assessing and deciding.

Kevin talks about the 4 Es – Enthusiasm, Ears (listen!), Edge and Elevate. Elevate the role of the business to make the world a better place for everyone. And understand that there isn’t any B2B or B2C any more – it is all P to P. People to People. Elevate your purpose within, and create intimacy without. Speak in the language of people to people.

All backs are known for the humility

Kevin certainly speaks in new age language; it is advertising speak, but it is effective. He does occasionally lapse back into being a Kiwi, and what Kiwi can speak for an hour without mentioning the All Blacks? Not this one! He told an interesting story about the humility of the All Blacks unit. Despite their enormous success, the team works very hard at maintaining culture, where they don’t tolerate ‘dickheads’ and they understand that champions do extra. One thing I didn’t know is that humility is deliberately embedded in the culture by the Captain of the team always ‘sweeping the sheds’. The mighty All Blacks actually insist on getting brooms and sweeping out every change room they inhabit. That guards against hubris, which is the enemy of great, as Tom Collins has discovered in studying how once great companies fail.

So aside from being entertained for an hour (apart from the Aussie jokes), what does this all mean?

What are the take aways?  

The world these days moves so fast. Today’s word may be disrupt, tomorrow that may be disrupted. But it is more than just language that creates a movement. I really like the idea of the importance of execution. That leaders should spend 70% of their time executing. Less time in assessing and deciding and –time in action. In today’s world sophisticated companies do have their own language – and generally they create great values, vision and strategy statements. Many do a great job of elevating the purpose as well, so people genuinely feel part of a movement. But what it needs as well is execution – getting things done. And learning. Learn fast, fail fast, fix fast. That is the message I will take away.  Sometimes it is better to have a crack at doing it imperfectly rather than waiting for perfect planning to take its course.

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