The Industry School

How to engage, inspire and retain your young talent

Every agency has to nurture a diversity of approach both in their own set-up and their work... or face extinction. Eleanor Kahn spoke to Anomaly's chief operating officer, Nicky Russell, to find out how her agency's development programme prioritises young talent

Nicky Russell, chief operating officer, Anomaly
Nicky Russell, chief operating officer, Anomaly

How best do you describe your role at Anomaly?
I oversee the agency’s business operations and the delivery of agile, diverse solutions for our clients. I am responsible for all of the agency’s output as well as nurturing long-term growth, sustainability and commercial efficiency. My biggest focus is making sure our people have an environment in which they can grow, push boundaries, and think differently. I work closely with teams from each discipline within the agency and continually adapt and evolve how we work with each other and our clients to ensure we are future proofing our business model. 

How do you go about doing this?
Training and development is a big part of our culture at Anomaly. We recognise that the best talent are people who are naturally curious and consistently want to push themselves, learn and develop. They are committed to their own personal and professional growth. So, to attract and retain the best talent we heavily invest in their development, which is why we’ve recently hired our head of talent – Laura Nowell – who runs a very personal structured training plan for every employee. 

What are the key areas this year?
This year we have concentrated on the founding philosophy, principles and values on which Anomaly was founded 14 years ago – applying them to the cultural and business landscape in 2018. In particular we are focusing on encouraging a breadth of thinking and mental diversity – teaching and helping people to have an open mindset and to think laterally. It’s important that we give our people the confidence to experiment and innovate.

What are the key areas you have focused on recently?
How we get the best out of our talent and how we explore and amplify our thinking. Entrepreneurialism is at our core as an agency, both internally in the culture we create and our approach to the work and our output. You need to push yourself into areas that are uncomfortable and that takes courage and a certain amount of calculated risk. So, our training focuses on how do we deliver on the Anomaly principles and philosophy.

We’ve launched an internal global talent development platform which documents senior leadership from across the network sharing their experience and knowledge. We also have a strong internal mentoring programme where our people get the opportunity to collaborate with great practitioners. It’s also crucial that we bring in outside knowledge and expertise to push our boundaries and breadth of thinking continually.

How have The Industry School been involved in your staff development plans? How has it helped you make your budget go further?
They have complemented our internal training structure, offering our people strong foundations in their chosen skills. The more solid we are in our core skill set, the more confident we are to take risks and challenge ourselves. You need to know the rules before you can bend – or break – them. The value of the training also has a ripple effect, as that knowledge is passed through the agency through our internal training and mentorship programme.

Do you have a fixed training budget for the year?
We don’t look at training or people with budget in mind. We look at the need and the value first, and tailor training to the individual. 

What were you hoping to achieve from the training?
Excellence in the fundamental elements of the skill set. Which in turn brings a fresh energy and confidence to our people.

Why did you choose The Industry School?
They have delivered consistently. The training is very personable, tailored and most importantly, authentic. Everyone has the opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge. The tutors are very experienced individuals with years of experience and they make the session fun.

Why is it important to focus on younger generations?
Younger generations are the industries opportunity to diversify and its crucial that we get that right. We don’t have enough social diversity in our industry and we have a moral responsibility to build an industry that is inclusive to everyone. How can we be in touch with a large demographic of people that we speak to daily through the brands we represent, when they are not represented within our own industry? 

The younger generation bring a different approach to their thinking, the world and the work. It’s so interesting to see how the younger generation are the ones who are demanding and driving change through a complex political landscape. Now imagine how that can translate to creative? They have a different freedom of voice and we need to harness that.

How do you engage and excite younger generations?
By being inclusive. Age is a pillar of diversity and we need to ensure that we are cultivating a permissive culture that is respectful, where all voices are equal and one which smashes hierarchy. And we need to create a sense of value through our work; working in a way that is interesting and relevant to a young and diverse generation.

What is the most exciting or impressive thing you see in younger generations?
Their passion, vision and integrity around what they care about most. They want to make a difference and they are willing to put their time – and money – into things that are important to them. They also bring a completely fresh approach with their thinking. We have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t mould them into our ways of working and instead allow them to change the way we think and approach business problems. 

Learning is a dialogue and we need to give them the opportunity and space to grow to continue to inspire and educate us. There is value at every level and we need to ensure we have a business model and working environment that is inclusive and can adapt. If we can change direction nimbly every time we spot an opportunity to learn, we will create a working environment able to support and empower our future leaders.

Young people often get accused of having a sense of entitlement. Does this strike you as a fair assessment? And is it a bad thing?
I think the younger generation have a powerful moral compass, a strong sense of self, and they know what’s important to them and what they are willing to put their time into. They know who they are and what they want and they bring this in to the work place which has such a positive impact on the work.

Talent dictates the terms by which they are willing to work and companies need to be in tune with that.

And finally… what was your favourite subjects at school?
I wasn’t very academic and I didn’t enjoy school very much, I found it hard to concentrate and I couldn’t stay still for five minutes. I had two favourite subjects: Art because I had a natural talent for it and Geography because I had a huge crush on Mr Holmes. 

Find out more about The Industry School’s workshops.


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