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Hacking culture at Dentsu Isobar

Advertising Week Asia 2018 kicked off Monday with a full agenda. This year Dentsu Isobar President and CEO Hidetoshi Tokumaru and Chief Business Transformation officer Emmanuel Flores presented The Japanese Hack, a session focused on understanding the importance of hacking into our own culture to drive business transformation for our businesses and brands. It’s not you, it’s us.

Highly relevant for our market segment, new challenges continue to reshape the Japanese business landscape and the people in it, directly affecting how we operate. 2017 was a year where over 90% of all ad growth was captured by global tech businesses. Everybody across the industry has an opinion on the implications and what can be done about it; quite like the story of the blind men trying to define an elephant by tact, without reaching consensus.

Ready or not, changes are getting more complex as the number of market players goes up. The way Emmanuel and Tokumaru met, -on a Sunday 7AM job interview (that landed Flores the job), and the open-mindedness to the idea of working on change together sets the stage that shows where we stand right now, and the growing need to be open enough to break the cultural mould. For this, a sense of actionable drive is essential to innovate. As Emmanuel puts it, “it is great, but is not an easy marriage”. Language, culture and its iterations such as humour can decelerate progress of our culture. Despite all these considerations, the commonality is clear: It is time to move on.

We are looking new market players: Consultancies, system integrators and also in-house marketing units within clients are becoming direct competitors. As market shareholders continue to grow, so does competition. The skills of our people need to upgrade; and maybe in a typical environment this would all seem like a given, but we must remember that learning slows down when environments are comfortable and over time. Our current stability provides the perfect moment to invest in ourselves.

But how much is it necessary to change?

If we are heading towards a new green space for Japan, what is the lowest hanging fruit we can grasp as a changing company? We realise our culture needed to be hacked to see that beyond what management implements, there are creations from the people in the actual field that drive business, change and value to market. On this note, we considered three hacks necessary to head in this direction.

Hack #1 — The Generalisto

Within our market, generalists thrived, supported by the Japanese talent development system, but paired with the speed of changes in the landscape, their difficulty to catch up is becoming evident. For this, we built a cross functional programme that invigorates them with a splash of specialty.

Cross functionality internally pairs existing practitioners together into a super specialist. They ask the right questions in the right space where hierarchy dissipates while the key questions remain.

Hack #2 — Embrace Imperfect With a Craft Mindset

Japanese culture favours high level of detail and granularity, and to bring the company up to speed, accepting failure is a part of progress. At scale, embracing imperfections with a craft mindset will change the culture of the organisation, like the idea of improving a car from its simplest iteration, knowing that it can be a supercar to be as you learn and refine.

We built internal units with cross-functionality at their core that work as corporative start-ups. They constantly run missions that look for answers and operate in alignment with pace and growth that lets them move to the next level using clear metrics that turns missions into iterations.

Hack #3 — The Rule-Breaking Handbook for Management

Large organisations hold deeply rooted respect for hierarchy. As Dentsu Isobar looks forward to become a flat organization, we also understand the importance in hierarchy for Japanese culture. As one of many methods to run a company, it needs to serve as a tool for us to re-think transformation. When the idea behind hierarchy is reversed, the process can still remain in a new iteration for management that help teams reach their goals.

While the concept behind cross functionality has existed for some time now, communication needs increase as we grow and expand. Looking ahead, our hacking strategies involves missions for four teams in place to lead the way. These pilot missions focus on Growth, Service Design, Skills and Communication with individual missions that work independently. Growth team acquires clients in the knowledge space, Service Design co-creates fully integrated services and toolkits with clients, Skills diagnoses the company to determine the next set of competencies needed and Communications focuses on the way we speak about ourselves to ourselves.

As we continue our hacking endeavour, diagnosing pain points within the organisation is a difficult but necessary fact. We do this to leverage skills and create onboarding with employees as the direct users of these processes on a daily basis. To do this, our skill development has been divided in four challenges: Understanding our people in the field and how to increase their productivity for faster market rollouts, an agile integration of all parts of our organisation to drive seamless communication; once we have caught up our processes, we think of how to communicate trends in the market while leveraging its needs to finally step beyond following trends, to creating them.

This kind of initiatives are happening in our organization today as we are face significant upgrades that are helping us face the new market conditions. We need to focus more on how we can have a change mindset because this is going to continue and accelerate. It is imperative not look at right now, but instead look ahead and swiftly navigate the waves of change. By bringing transformation home and embracing it, we are adapting better, and responding to needs as they arrive in record time.

Accelerated change not only brings uncertainty and anxiety in the people it touches, but also a direct commitment to innovation. We need to create a culture that accepts change and embraces it to turn fear into resolution and that’s exactly where we’re headed.

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