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Dentsu Aegis Network: Fostering Innovation and Collaboration

How one of the world's largest media and communications companies connects colleagues and promotes internal talent mobility
Dave Wilkin, left, Founder of Ten Thousand Coffees, and John Stockwell, Chief People Officer of Dentsu Aegis Network Canada.

In the advertising world, two things are true, creativity is imperative, and employee turnover is high. On average, the annual turnover rate at agencies can be north of 30%. And when an employee chooses to leave your business, they take your investment and a chunk of the institutional knowledge they have collected with them.

In late 2017, Dentsu Aegis Network identified this problem and that its employees lacked visibility to career paths within the organization. Inevitably, many employees moved on to roles outside of the organization instead of looking for opportunities within Dentsu's collective of agencies.

Meet John Stockwell.

John Stockwell, Chief People Officer, Dentsu Aegis Network.

John is the Chief People Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network, leading one of our most innovative partnerships since we started working together in 2018. As one of the world's largest media and communications companies, Dentsu was focused on reducing turnover. Not only because it impacted the bottom line of talent budgets, but it was also stifling collaboration and innovation, and ultimately Dentsu's ability to serve clients. For John, accepting industry-standard turnover rates wouldn't cut it for best-in-class service.

After conducting several workshops to understand employee needs better, Dentsu partnered with Ten Thousand Coffees. Our platform enabled all employees in the organization, regardless of their experience, seniority, or existing network, to build impactful relationships with colleagues from across the collective of agencies based on their individual goals and interests.

The strategy was multi-pronged.

"We sell an omnichannel experience to our clients, and we help our clients communicate with their consumers in a variety of mediums, so we need to be able to do that for our people. We need to stay connected."

The strategy's first pillar was to increase collaboration and innovation across teams. Dentsu Canada is a combination of 15 different agencies focused on varying categories and brands. The Toronto agencies were moved to a new, beautiful, shared space, designed to create networking collisions organically. Paired with the new office was Ten Thousand Coffees. The platform was a catch-all to provide intentional introductions to employees in Toronto and across Canada based on their individual goals and interests.

Dentsu Aegis Network's Toronto office, 2018 (Vincent Lions Photography).

The strategy's second objective was to improve employee retention. By getting employees to move into at least one more role within the organization before considering an external opportunity, Dentsu could significantly increase retention.

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A survey of Dentsu's Ten Thousand Coffees members highlighted support for the program through the following results from respondents:

  • 4 out of 5 felt that they had a better understanding of the work that the colleague they met with does
  • 4 out of 5 were able to identify other areas within the organization that they are interested in working in
  • 5 out of 5 average recommended that their colleagues at Dentsu use this program to meet new colleagues across the organization
"If we can provide employees with an internal knowledge network, they will feel more connected to what's going on in the company. We're a series of 15 agencies in Canada, and in many cases, an employee is connected to their working team, but not to the broader organization. So the idea is to give them exposure to what we do across our businesses rather than the one agency they work for."

Success!

Since implementing Ten Thousand Coffees, our platform has become a core tool for Dentsu's talent development and retention strategy. Dentsu has seen a steady increase in employees who have identified new roles that they would like to pursue within the organization.

"When a person has that extra connection, they are that much more successful and engaged with the organization."

Employees have also shared that they feel more connected to company priorities, have a stronger network of colleagues championing their career development, and feel more supported in day-to-day work. By the end of 2019, Dentsu was striving for all employees to have a network of 5 to 15 colleagues who are actively championing their career trajectory within the company—a major milestone towards their goal of dramatically increasing talent mobility. To date, 1,172 data-driven introductions have been made. Dentsu even nabbed a nomination for the Canadian HR Award for Most Innovative Use of HR Technology in 2019.

Infographic: Increase employees' knowledge networks by 5-15 people.
Infographic: Dentsu Aegis - Increase employees' knowledge networks by 5-15 people.
One user shared: "I found it refreshing to allow myself to take down whatever guard I have up as a leader and just enjoy that person's company, try to answer their questions and ask a ton myself. If someone has gone out of their way to initiate a conversation, it's the least a person can do to actually engage in it. While it's still strategic of course, I find that the casual nature of the chat enables you to get to the 'what do you REALLY want?'... types of questions that we often don't have time for."

Enter: Physical distancing.

For many organizations, the effects of COVID-19 put a wrench in the gears on internal networking and talent development. It was business-critical that Dentsu sustained meaningful connectivity between colleagues and helped them succeed despite the challenging circumstances. John was one of the first leaders to reach out to us and explore ways to expand and elevate the partnership.

More offices in Canada and the US were invited to the platform. Resources supporting virtual connectivity were shared. And use of the Office Hours feature increased to host Denstu Masterclasses.

"It's not business as usual for me, but it's my job to keep it business as usual for our team. As soon as we knew we had to move 1000 people from working in offices to working from home, we needed to be in a situation where we could ensure people were able to connect with one another in a variety of ways."

John's instincts were correct, and program adoption across the broader organization increased two-fold. Ten Thousand Coffees has become a core part of Dentsu's connectivity and collaboration strategy, and since April 2020, 77% of employees have opted into SmartMatch introductions.

Results since April 2020

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After being smart-matched with a colleague:

  • 91% of employees felt more connected to the Dentsu community
  • 82% gained a better understanding of the work of their colleague
  • 55% gained confidence in their networking skills
  • 45% said their introduction helped them identify another area at Dentsu that they are interested in working in

As the future of work evolves, expectations have grown. It's up to every employer to bring a new level of engagement and human connection to the employee experience. As one of the world's leading communications agencies, Dentsu Aegis Network has led the way in its commitment to providing meaningful opportunities for their employees to accelerate their career growth.

Interested to explore the possibilities?