On Tuesday 26th March I spoke at the Digiday Media Buying Forum, where I decided to try and offer some insight on the process of taking specialist talent and turning them into generalist management.
The imperative to think about this seems uncontroversial: as digital continues to become the dominant force in media, organisations are more than ever going to need to bring technical ability right through from the coal-face to leadership. Certainly if they want product expertise to be reflected in how the the business is run, anyway.
It was also quite a timely moment to reflect on the topic. As it just so happened that the 26th marked my seven year anniversary at iProspect UK. On exactly that day in 2012, I walked through the doors for the first time as a newly-minted Paid Social Planner. Now, writing this, I have just become a Managing Partner.
Giving up what you’re good at is nonetheless a strange process. Here are four lessons I learned from going through it myself.
You get bad really quickly
Digital is a rapid landscape, and if you’re not getting stuck in daily your skills will quickly become outdated. A User Interface update here, a new format there – at some point, you’re going to realise that you’re no longer an expert. My message was that this has to be something that you accept, rather than fight, and that companies would do well to make sure that specialists who are trying to grow are not kept in their erstwhile boxes.
Engagement is tied to value
As an ancillary to this, once you stop having quite such a clear and immediate source of value, you can become disengaged with your job surprisingly quickly. Sometimes, it’s going to feel like you’ve made a mistake. Sometimes people change their minds and go back to specialism. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – we always need more specialists. But for those who decide to press on, they need to find new ways to generate value for the company – and for themselves.
Build something only you can build
A good way to do that is to take whatever generalism you are trying to tackle and inject it with the specialism you came from, or that your company is good at. So, when defining the strategy product for iProspect UK, I made sure to build from the ground up using iProspect UK's products and abilities. This created a different type of strategy with a different perspective on the world and that difference often propelled it further than a classic media strategy might otherwise have travelled.
Fear is good
Lastly, whilst we all have quiet periods it is good to listen to that nagging voice that says you’re not doing as much as you’d like. Inertia is a bad place to be. Instead, that fear should be used to break new ground in adjacent territories. So now, I’m doing more public speaking and (even) more work with data. And at this rate, I’ll be at iProspect UK for another seven years!