My advice for navigating rapid change? Ask more questions

Briefing: Listening is also required, says Ogilvy UK CEO Michael Frohlich.

by Natasha Abramson
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2020

Michael Frohlich has some experience of navigating rapid change, which has helped him during the coronavirus outbreak, something he discussed in a recent Management Today video panel

Within six months of taking over as CEO of ad agency Ogilvy in February 2018,  he announced a major restructure that would bring 13 different Ogilvy companies within one P&L.

Changes like this can be fraught with difficulties, particularly around culture and engagement, so Frohlich used careful questioning as a way to understand what was going on with his employees.

“Mike Coupe, the CEO of Sainsbury’s, said to me once that ‘as a CEO, people come to you with questions all the time to get a decision. And they come expecting a black and white decision. But as the CEO, who has a broader view of the business, your answer is never black and white, it's always grey’. And it's so true. 

“Part of why I ask questions is to help them see that there's a third way. To do that, you've got to listen. It feels a bit stupid saying that, but actually it's not. People can ask a question and not listen to the answer so then what's the point of asking the question? 

“I always play back what I’ve heard because then you can be sure you’ve heard it properly. Try to be consultative in the way that you ask and build on a question. People can get to the answer, a lot of the time, by themselves. 

“For example, I spent a long time with my Chief Creative Officer on a text. All I was doing was asking him lots of questions and playing back the answers. Until he eventually realised, this is not the right argument for the text, the argument is over here.

“Any leaders going through any type of change need to ask questions but they also need to be seen to be asking the questions, because if people don’t feel like they're being consulted, they won’t do what you want. It's basic human nature. 

“There are three key aspects to doing all this well: integrity, communication skills and the willingness to act. It's all very well having the integrity to listen and tell the truth, and then to have the charisma to deliver that message, but if you don't act on it then it's pointless.”

Image credit: Ogilvy


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