2020: Building Stamina for Change

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Early in 2019, my confidant and colleague Kim Allen and I read What Leaders Really Do” by John P. Kotter in the December 2001 issue of Harvard Business Review. In it, Kotter explained:

What leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it.”

At the time, we reflected on the principles shared and were embarking on the development of our organization’s three-year strategic plan, preparing for an executive leadership transition that would take place in December 2020 as our agency founders/​owners neared their retirement. We were reimagining our organizational structure to ensure we could optimally serve the needs of our people, our clients and our vendor partners.

2020 was to be a year of transition and planned” change. The kind we would set clear expectations around. The pragmatic, intentional kind of change.

Instead, 2020 was year of disruption, adaptation and—thanks to our dedicated team—imagination.

Amid this magnitude of change, our team fueled in each other a herculean stamina to do more with less and to approach each day, week and season with a sense of purpose, fortitude and creativity.

We leaned into the sentiment that industrial designer Frank Nuovo is quoted saying in Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind”:

Design in its simplest form is the activity of creating solutions.”

As a team, we designed creative solutions to the unfamiliar challenges 2020 surfaced.

Instantaneous shifts to remote work, re-engineering customer experiences and creating connections within safe distances forced our team to collaborate and deliver outcomes for our clients and partners by forging new pathways forward.

For our nonprofit partners, we designed virtual galas to replace the in-person gatherings we were accustomed to, knowing that our community, when asked and no matter how asked, will come out in full force to support those in need.

We reconstructed marketing strategies to adapt to changes in consumer needs and behaviors. We started movements to celebrate the spirit of our region and shared stories of legacy and promise to encourage people to belong to something bigger. We helped our clients lay anchor with their brand ethos in turbulent seas while strengthening customer connectivity by leveraging insights gained through advanced analytics.

For minority-owned small businesses devastated by the economic hardships of social injustice and hardships exacerbated by the pandemic, we designed a series of DIY marketing workshops to help them help their businesses thrive.

For ourselves, we stated our intentions and are acting on our commitment to create a more inclusive, diverse and equitable organization. We learned alongside 110,000 others in our community through the Racial Equity 21-Day Challenge. We started a book club and listening forums to foster an anti-racist organizational culture. We’re redesigning our hiring practices and have created an IDEA panel to review our agency’s work to ensure that what we’re creating is done so free of unconscious bias.

We designed new ways to foster our culture via remote onboarding practices and high-touch, socially distant moments of delight, like delivering porch cookies (thank you, Shane) and trick-or-treat goodie bags, and by welcoming eight new DS babies into this world. Talk about succession planning.

We are an ad agency. A tribe of designers within our respective disciplines, crafters of the imagination whose curiosity, ingenuity and penchant for creating solutions help drive change of all kinds.

Here’s to making positive, lasting change happen in 2021 and beyond.

As president of Dixon Schwabl, Jessica provides agency leadership around delivering smart strategies, great service and real results for our clients. And let’s not forget: She’s also a blast to be around. Just ask her pup.

Jessica Savage

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