May 28, 2023

Of Ogilvy, french cuisine and talent marketplaces

David Ogilvy is a legend in the field of advertising. He was the founder of the agency Ogilvy & Mather and is often hailed as the “father of advertising” and the most influential advertiser of the 20th century.
Ogilvy did not start his career in advertising. That he would go on shaping the entire industry would be unthinkable if someone saw his early career journey.
Ogilvy left Oxford in 1931 without a degree and found work as an apprentice chef at an exclusive Parisian hotel. To quote him,
“For the next seventeen years, while my friends were establishing themselves as doctors, lawyers, civil servants, and politicians, I adventured about the world, uncertain of purpose. I was a chef in Paris, a door-to-door salesman, a social worker in the Edinburgh slums, an associate of Dr. Gallup in research for the motion picture industry, an assistant to Sir William Stephenson in British Security Co-ordination, and a farmer in Pennsylvania.”1
After his stint selling stoves in Britain, he got a job offer from a British advertising agency, Mather & Crowther. Though he realized that advertising was his passion, he continued choosing assignments in different fields. He worked in research with Dr. Gallup, did a stint with British Intelligence during World War II, and then tried his hand at tobacco farming before deciding to start his advertising agency. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Ogilvy's career journey may seem quite eccentric to stalwarts of talent management in current times. One of the biggest challenges in most organizations today is that we have ended up in a world limited by our siloed thinking. We are afraid to exchange information, and even more so to exchange people across functions. Internal job movements do happen; however, they are few and far between. And, in most cases, the hiring managers look for the same skill set. If an employee wants to move from a Finance role to a Marketing role in the same organization, it is almost impossible! A leading cause of attrition is the difficulty faced by employees in fulfilling their aspirations within the organization. The Great Resignation and instances of moonlighting have at least made that crystal clear.

Ogilvy's career makes a strong case for supporting employee aspirations for non-linear and stretched career transitions. A non-linear career journey gives more flexibility to the employees to experiment with their skills. To the employers, this brings greater access to creativity and engagement.

In times that require a significantly different approach to managing talent, the ability of talent management teams to maneuver through the possibilities and create an outcome that delivers business results and a great employee experience is going to be the touchstone for success.

The task is both challenging and urgent with a super-aware and social media-savvy generation entering the workforce. Below are some measures we recommend to better support employee career transitions.
1. Start with creating an inventory of all the roles in your organization
2. Map the top 3 to 5 skills that are critical to each role
3. Get each employee to select the roles that they have experience in across their career 
4. Next get them to rate themselves on their skills with a scale ranging from Beginner to Expert
5. Share the mapping of roles and skills with all your employees

These few steps will help employees assess their skill fit and / or gap for a desired role and help them bridge the skill gap. It will encourage hiring managers to consider candidates who seem to be stretch candidates but have some of the relevant skills. On the other hand, this will help the talent management teams to understand the skill gap accurately. Also, a peak into the talent landscape of the organization and the areas to further develop.
As the organization matures, the above steps can be made even more effective by the following:
1. Capture the aspirations of your employees 
2. Connect the skills framework to the training, jobs and stretch assignments (gigs) ecosystem
3. Provide tailored recommendations to employees on training, jobs or stretch assignments
4. Provide tailored recommendations on mentors and sponsors within the organization 
5. Provide continuous and 360 feedback on skills and projects

Do consider investing in a good talent marketplace solution to enable all of the above quickly and effectively across your entire organization.  

Why is it so important to take deliberate action around this? The reasons are many, however, limiting it to two for the current discussion:

Betting on a moonshot: There is always the possibility that someone like David Ogilvy resides right within your organization and is looking for an opportunity for their potential to be unlocked.
Driving employee engagement and retention: Gone are the days when an employee’s primary objectives were safety, security, and a stable income. We are in a digital and connected knowledge economy, where employees want to explore more and not be limited by boundaries or silos. And any organization, that gives them that playground is going to win the long game and the war for talent.

1. David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man, Chapter: Background

2. Britannica,

3. Entrepreneur, 

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