Richard Mulholland, Farah Fortune and Sylvester Chauke all run businesses that are fast-paced, energetic, and don’t look like your typical corporate environment.
Chauke is the founder and ‘Chief Architect’ at DNA Brand Architects, a communications and brand consultancy firm based in Johannesburg. Fortune’s company African Star Communications offers corporate and celebrity public relations and events management, and Mulholland runs a number of businesses under his company Cultovation, including Missing Links (the country’s largest presentation firm), 21 Tanks (an ideation and execution company), Firing Squad (a specialist email marketing agency), as well as social innovation startup, HumanWrit.es and non-profit organisation, TaptapWater.org.
While these are environments that allow (and often-times demand) creativity and innovation from their teams, there is tremendous pressure, and you are often only as good as your last great idea.
“If it does not leave your mind inspired, stretched or thrilled, then it is not yet magic. With every project we work on we aim to change minds and influence direction. In short, we stand against bland and make WOW stuff.
“It’s not always easy but you know when you land a solution that moves you. Fortunately for us, this is what our clients love about every project we tackle,” Chauke said in a previous interview.
The secret is to strike a balance between encouraging fun and creativity, while still being uncompromising about the work, says Chauke.
“We must have fun together doing great work and working towards a vision that excites us, that is bigger than us. It must be a win-win. What’s good for DNA Brand Architects should be good for the people that work in it and vice-versa,” says Chauke.
Mulholland’s Missing Link company similarly finds ways to inject fun into their working space. They refer to themselves as ‘Boredom Slayers’ and their offices have been hailed as one of the country’s most unconventional offices with features like a fireman’s pole, a graffiti wall and games such as air hockey.
To look at the real work that goes into leading a high performing team in a creative environment, we speak to 3 founders to find out how they find the balance.
A HIGH PERFORMING TEAM IS ONE THAT ….
‘Thinks Out Of The Box – A creative team in Public Relations is a team that thinks outside of the box, comes up with innovative ways to launch/publicise a product/brand and knows how to keep their name in the media for all the right reasons. – Farah Fortune
‘Can Work Independently’ – For me, a high performing team is simply one that can autonomously work towards a specific objective by a pre-defined deadline. i.e. get there by then without too much oversight. – Richard Mulholland
‘Works Together’ – A team that collaborates to develop effective solutions to business challenges and processes. For us at DNA Brand Architects, it is about creating effective strategies that result in positive results for our clients – and make us proud as the people who created the work. – Sylvester Chauke
HOW I LEAD …
‘Self-sufficiency ‘ – I am blessed enough to have a team that doesn’t need to be micro managed. This allows me to spend time on other areas of the business and in return the team are more comfortable and more creatively expressive, which is a huge advantage to any company. – Farah Fortune
‘Freedom To Explore’ – The key is that people feel that they have permission to be creative. It’s my hope that it’s the culture as a whole, as opposed to my specific leadership that achieves this. – Richard Mulholland
‘With Laughter’ – I am a fun co-worker, sometimes, a little crazy! I am goofy and create better in an environment that allows that. I have been so fortunate over time to have been led by leaders who knew how to laugh and lead and I completely understand that it is possible and it stimulates high performance. – Sylvester Chauke
I MAKE SURE THE TEAM DELIVERS BY …
‘Making It Worthwhile’ – Innovation must be rewarded and it must be the lighthouse as we create work. It is important that being innovative is not a once off affair but is how we do business. It is challenging to always attain it, but then again, it is what keeps us on the edge and we love being on the edge. – Sylvester Chauke
‘Encouraging Openness’ – I have an open door policy on all company issues and beyond. Every day is different, no two days are the same especially in public relations, this ensures we’re always striving for the best whilst learning so much more. – Farah Fortune
WE ATTRACT THE BEST BY ….
‘Finding Someone Like-Minded’ – We encourage staff to bring their friends that they believe will fit, and we reward this financially. It’s a great way to get like-minded people. We also create an environment that will appeal to certain people. It’s important to note though that we don’t do this specifically to attract talent, we simply set out to create a space where we wanted to work, and people that like that kind of thing would get drawn to it. – Richard Mulholland
‘Looking For A Creative Fit’ – Our approach is always to look for someone who has passion for the industry and what they’ll be doing. We don’t mind training anyone, however, we do look for a base line of qualifications or experience from each candidate. We also look for someone to fit well into a creative environment. – Farah Fortune
‘Finding The Right Kinda Guy’ – We work hard at making sure we find our “kinda” person. We need to share the same values, have great skill and bring great energy to the table. We also love it when people want to be excellent, when people have big dreams and when their success takes other people with them. – Sylvester Chauke
WE KEEP CREATIVE TALENT BY ….
‘Placing Trust Above All’ – Transparency is always key. Transparency creates a level of trust. – Farah Fortune
‘Focusing On Growth Not Retention’ – This is a tricky one, we actually don’t focus on retention at all really, and we wouldn’t discourage most people if they wanted to leave. I believe that it’s important that people feel like they are growing, and in a small business like ours there is certainly a ceiling, so if they feel they can grow elsewhere, then they get a big hug and we say goodbye. There are some people, however, that we may realise we could still move to places in the business that would allow them to grow, those people we work with to make sure that they get there. – Richard Mulholland
‘Having A Shared Vision’ – Our people should be motivated by where the business is going. They then need to be able to see their own personal goals going to the same direction. This is key. People will come and go and generally, those that go do so because their personal dreams no longer fits with where the business is going and that is a good thing. – Sylvester Chauke