More skilled together: The importance of EU talent in UK's adland
A view from Alex Lubar

More skilled together: The importance of EU talent in UK's adland

A few weeks ago, I was invited to give evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on our industry.

Or more specifically on the impact that Brexit will have on advertising here in the UK. Think a much less eloquent, much more nervous version of what Sir Martin Sorrell did last week. 

It was fascinating, humbling and baffling all at once. Walking through Westminster, past statues of parliamentarian giants, is certainly one way to get the blood pumping as you head into a committee room that probably hasn’t had a refurb for a century.

There were three of us giving evidence – myself, Rob Stone, our group head of talent, and Rahul Batra, a managing partner at Hudson McKenzie – and we were seated in front of a U-shaped table of twelve Lords. All very grown-up stuff. Although when you look back at the footage and see Rahul and I flanking a very burly, bearded Rob, it seems more like a court appearance of an NFL line-backer with his two twitchy lawyers.

What then proceeded was an hour-long Q&A on a variety of topics around the potential consequences of Brexit. For the most part, they were soft balls (American for easy). Questions like: "What’s our approach to recruitment?" or "At what levels do we hire?" or the always delicious query: "What is the future of television, print, radio, out of home and other forms of non-digital advertising?".

But there was one thread of questions that truly piqued my interest. They were around the importance of international talent to our business. The questions that fell out of the Brexit threat to free movement. Questions like "What are the benefits of an internationally diverse workforce?", "Are UK students and graduates any less skilled than those from other countries?", and "Do you feel that we need to import talent"?

At first glance, the answers might seem obvious. And perhaps on one level they are. Of course, we want international talent – it’s part of what makes our agencies and our cities diverse, captivating and energised. What’s more, we service many international and pan-European clients from the UK so they want us to have diverse teams working on their businesses. But the reality runs deeper than client demand and appearances. We don’t want an agency that just "looks" diverse or "speaks" a diverse set of languages. We want an agency that "thinks" diverse. We want a culturally intelligent agency based in a culturally intelligent country. We want collective CQ.

"What the hell is that?" you say. Well it is described as "the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations" (Cultural Intelligence Center). Or as the HBR put it over a decade ago, "an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would" (HBR, Cultural Intelligence, by Earley and Mosakowski, October 2004).

Let’s consider that for a second. Isn’t that exactly what we want our people to do? And don’t we want to build an environment that celebrates this notion? Because, "a person with high cultural intelligence can somehow tease out of a person’s or group’s behaviour those features that would be true of all people and all groups; those peculiar to this person or this group; and those that are neither universal or idiosyncratic." That seems like a pretty smart approach and attitude for an organisation that’s in the business of creating big, juicy creative ideas that more often than not can transcend cultural boundaries. Frankly, it also seems like a solid attitude for a place where I’d like to work. I doubt a culturally intelligent agency breeds a lot of arseholes.

Now how do you suppose we build a culturally intelligent environment if everyone in that environment is the same? The short answer: you don’t. Even if everyone in that group is totally "aware" of the importance of CQ, they still need to "effectively work with and relate to people and projects across different cultural contexts" (Cultural Intelligence Center). And that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 

So please enter all of our European friends, all of our global friends. We want you, we need you. Collectively we are smarter, more capable and more effective.

And to my new friends at Westminster: It’s not about can "they" do what "we" can and vice versa. It’s merely that together we can do it better. Because ultimately, we are all less skilled when apart.

Alex Lubar is the chief executive officer of McCann London