Grooming leaders from within

The competitive nature of the job market makes finding skilled talent in the public relations industry a difficult task. HRM speaks to Jennifer Wu, APAC Talent Manager of LEWIS PR to find out how her organisation grooms leaders from within

It is a well-known fact that public relations (PR) professionals have it tough. The high turnover rates, long hours, high stress levels, low starting pay, and competitive work cultures are well known throughout the corporate world.

All the bad press surrounding this industry is no exaggeration. According to a 2012 CareerCast survey, the PR executive has the seventh most stressful job in the world.

Such circumstances make it difficult to find skilled PR leaders who are both capable and willing to join a PR agency. In a tight labour market where talent is a limited resource, the war for PR leadership talent can be particularly fierce.

For a global PR agency like LEWIS, the solution to this is straightforward – develop leaders from within.

Despite a relatively short history of 17 years, Lewis can boast of having worked with many of the world’s top brands, including Oracle, Audi, Cisco and Accenture, in its PR campaigns. With over 25 offices worldwide, LEWIS is rapidly expanding each year to become a global player in the PR industry. Last year, LEWIS entered the Holmes Report Rankings as one of the top 40 PR agencies for the first time, making it one of the youngest agencies to do so.

To bring the company to another level, LEWIS is focusing on developing its employees to become not just competent leaders, but catalysts for change.


Prospective leaders

“Our future leaders are employees who embody the values of the company,” says Jennifer Wu, APAC Talent Manager of LEWIS PR.

“Employees who are positive, enthusiastic, and possess a ‘can do’ attitude, show outstanding initiative to grow the company, and help their colleagues succeed in their jobs are usually singled out for leadership positions.”

Another tool that LEWIS PR uses to distinguish its leaders is a twice-yearly performance appraisal.

“This not only determines how well our team members are doing in their day-to-day PR and account work, but also how well they are developing as leaders within their teams, offices and the global LEWIS group,” Wu explains.


Global training programme

LEWIS PR takes its leadership development very seriously indeed. Not content with simply sending employees for courses or seminars, the PR agency will soon be implementing a global training programme called the LEWIS Employee Development Academy (LEDA).

“The LEDA is an unrivalled training programme in the industry, offering recent graduates and account executives premier training opportunities,” says Wu.

“It is dedicated to practical training and development, combined with classroom-based theory, interactive workshops, group projects and assignments to work in other Lewis offices,” she adds.

The six-month programme consists of three months’ training at a different LEWIS office, followed by three months of hands-on experience in the employee’s home market.

Trainees have the opportunity for promotion to account executive after passing the initial foundation module (six months), followed by a further 12 months of structured training, offering a fast-track route to becoming a senior account executive.


No one left behind

Although leadership development is undoubtedly a key focus, every employee at LEWIS will get the opportunity to be trained and developed to become leaders in the future.

“LEWIS is committed to ensuring ongoing training and career development for all our employees,” says Wu. “We have an established training programme for all employees in Asia and we use appraisals as a forum to identify the training needs of every employee as well.”

One initiative that was recently introduced in the Asia-Pacific region is a mentoring programme that pairs more experienced employees with junior level staff.

“This promotes learning for the younger staff, and it also develops the leadership skills of the senior employees beyond their regular working teams,” she explains.


Keeping up with the times

Such a fast-paced work environment calls for training and development programmes that can keep up with the latest trends.

“In the digital age, we want our employees to be skilled in the digital and social media space,” explains Wu.

“As much of the work we do for clients include digital campaigns, we also conduct internal training to ensure that employees are exposed to both digital and traditional aspects of PR,” she adds.

As technology moves at such a rapid pace, LEWIS takes into account that there may be new areas which employees would like training for.

“In Asia, we have seen our employees proactively request for training courses that will help them grow as PR professionals,” notes Wu. “We are more than willing to invest in training and development courses whenever we see a need.”

Training and development at LEWIS is also extremely flexible.

“If employees are unable to make a training session, they can listen to recorded versions or reschedule sessions with the trainer,” says Wu.


Reaping what they sow

Since the leadership training and development programmes were implemented, LEWIS has observed how staff have benefited.

Wu notes that leadership development programmes have helped prospective leaders align their decisions with the company’s vision and learn new skills.

“Our employees have enjoyed work life balance because of increased productivity at work. We have also seen improvement in our employees’ confidence levels, which has a positive effect on their relationships with clients, the media and colleagues within the agency,” adds Wu.

With such a win-win situation, leadership development in LEWIS is set to take the company to the next level.


From an employee’s perspective

“For me, the leadership development started on day one,” says Howe, who joined the agency in May 2011. “My direct line manager sat down with me and mapped out goals for the first three months. We checked back on it after that to see my progress.”

Howe explains that at Lewis, she had many opportunities to grow as a leader, such as leading a team and motivating other team members.

The senior leadership also prioritised leadership development. “When C-level executives come down to Singapore, they conduct training sessions for us,” says Howe. “All these trainings teach you to be more confident and apply certain techniques,” she adds. “You can contribute more to your clients and team members that way. This is something I didn’t get in a previous agency.”

Another aspect of leadership development at LEWIS PR is the international perspective that one receives.

“We have secondments overseas where we can work for a period of time and this exposure really helps us develop as leaders as this is not something we can get working in the Singapore office alone,” Howe adds.


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