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The Power of “Us” with Cedar's Jessica Haigh

What’s the one thing that motivates you? The Mag’s new “The Power Series” invites industry leaders to discuss the “power” of one initiative and how it’s crucial to everyday life, whether work or play. This month, we speak to Cedar Hong Kong’s Managing Director Jessica Haigh about the Power of “Us”.

Almost two years ago, I did something that scared me.

I did it for myself, and by myself, but I was never really alone. I was always a part of something bigger.

I graduated from my Masters’ degree in Journalism in the middle of the financial crisis in 2008. It would be a temporary role, then affectionately called “The Christmas Elf”, for a UK retail magazine that would steer my career path toward content marketing. I was a runner, I was an account executive, I was decorating sets – and I loved it, because I take a lot of energy and motivation from working with other people. Doing ad hoc tasks also gave me early insight into the potential of collective effort.

When I joined Cedar Communications in London, I came into an amazing company run by women: a female CEO, a female finance director, and at the time, a very young, 30-year-old female managing director. These strong, inspiring women made me believe that anything was possible. The idea of “us vs them” just did not exist in our company culture.
“Codifying 'who we are' helps to solidify 'what is us'. All of us.”
We have a set of company values that connects us across all of our global offices. It’s a number of motivations and behaviours that act as a guiding North Star for us – a shared purpose despite diversity in personalities and working styles. Codifying “who we are” helps to solidify “what is ‘us’”. All of us.

For example, one of our values is “Do what scares you.” So, because I felt so supported, I did. I moved across the world to a city I’d visited only once, in a leadership role that I’ve never done before.

Joining Cedar Hong Kong during its third year in business meant that I had to catch up quickly. Right from the start, I paid special attention to strengthening the culture of “us”. To do that, though, you first have to understand everyone as individuals. So I had coffee with each employee to get to know them and their career aspirations. Who is everyone, what do they do, what do we do? As a new managing director, I was lucky to come in to the best foundation, and just added a sprinkle of glitter!
The weekly Monday Huddle is a tradition that I brought over to the Hong Kong office. It’s something I first introduced in the London office as a way to streamline resources, identify where additional support was needed, and facilitate big picture thinking. It’s a half-hour session with an inspirational activity (team-building games, mini-TED Talks, personality quizzes), followed by project updates. Huddles engage the whole company in what’s going on across the business, across disciplines. They also encourage people to see themselves as part of a bigger team, promoting the idea of inclusivity and supportiveness. Rather than just the leadership team running the Huddles now, colleagues of all levels have taken turns to stand in front of the room – something that perhaps scares them.

There are also shout-outs; I learnt about their importance from The Marketing Academy leadership programme. People are very good at saying “thank you” to each other, but not so much at saying “I appreciate you for [blank]”, which is more meaningful. It’s important to recognise when people go above and beyond, and the different attributes of people who make your life more positive. Our week starts with a round of applause; even the initial cynics have now been won over!

Facebook Workplace
is a great informal form of community, and a tool to supplement our face-to-face forums. It also helps to level our global offices. Sharing work, successes, learnings and perspectives…it keeps us all connected, regardless of the distance between us.
The idea of “us” extends to outside of the office, too. There’s a Richard Branson quote: “Clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” Employees are the best ambassadors for a company. At the end of the day, people buy people, and as an agency, we are in a service industry. Of course, clients buy wonderful work, but they also want to partner with people they enjoy spending time with. Our values guide us, as a team, and as a brand, in decision-making, conflict resolution, and how we behave. This defines our interactions and who we are, and how we want to be perceived, both internally, and externally.

Divided attention divides us. Leaders need to actively listen and truly be there for their teams. I cherish sitting with everyone in our open plan office. When approached, I stop what I’m doing and properly look at them and listen. Or, say, can I come back to you? Things like Friday drinks and holiday parties are only a top-up – you can’t hide from the fundamentals. Also, something as seemingly small as a desk change can have massive impact as well, as it widens people’s connections across the office. Create a space in which your teams feel safe and inspired to sometimes go beyond their comfort zones.

During a talk on happiness in the workplace, I learnt that Hong Kong people’s mental wellbeing is largely affected by the community, and is less individually driven, like in some Western societies. While you can’t affect a collective psychology, what you can do is to care for and be kind to your immediate circle, and hope that they will take care and be kind to their circles. Because ultimately, we are all in it together, whether you’re a colleague, a family member…or even a Christmas Elf.

Want to see how else you can support your teams? Read about the power of learning with Baker McKenzie’s Steven Ng.
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