Fear often accompanies change within an organisation. But how we communicate with our staff, and take them on the company’s journey, can help to dispel any urban myths, and make sure the change programme is set for success. Ogilvy UK CEO, Michael Frohlich, spoke to City AM about how to dispel fear in the face of change.


Experience tells us that for change in a business to be truly transformational, people have to sit at the heart of it. Getting this right gives you the ability to ignite belief and motivation among staff, as well as avoid change fatigue and loss of engagement.

By articulating your vision and purpose, people can quickly understand their role and identify with it.

I learned these lessons when I became the chief executive of advertising agency Ogilvy UK in February this year, and wanted to make some changes. A key starting point was to find the one thing that the leadership team could passionately agree on – ours was our service to the creative product. Once you have this, you have a solid foundation to build everything else on.

Furthermore, the need for transparency and consistent communication from leadership is key. Your workforce is one raised in an informed, reactive and media-volatile world, and so expects leaders to step up in times of change. Since I started my role officially, I’ve been as honest and as transparent as I can be from the outset – being genuine and open is the best way to build trust, and keep people engaged and on track.

When announcing Ogilvy’s structural changes, I made no secret of the fact that, while change is brilliant, it will inevitably come with challenges along the way. However, I firmly believe that these challenges are worth it – that they pave the way for continued success, and keep us at the top of our game.

By making these changes, we aimed to keep creativity at the heart of our organisation, giving our clients what they want and need, while increasing development opportunities and future-proofing careers for our talent – which is vital for retaining them in the long run.

On a practical level, we wanted to create a culture of feedback and involvement. We have introduced

a number of different channels for our workers to ask questions and express concerns, as well as taking regular pulse checks.

I expect all of Ogilvy’s leadership team to talk to everyone and find out what’s making them tick. Plus, I made it a personal goal when taking on the role that I would meet every single one of our 1,200 staff within the first 12 months through informal breakfasts each Friday.

Our agency is hugely diverse, and without a context that allows me to engage with our people, it would be impossible to grasp where we are from a talent perspective on the journey.

In order to cement these changes, we created a network of 80 “change champions” representing all areas of the business. These champions have been equipped and empowered – using our own expertise in behaviour psychology – to identify nudges and projects to help us drive and embed the changes.

As we continue to build a robust learning culture, we have curated a whole raft of materials for staff to access, including Ted Talks, podcasts, and reading lists.

Readily offering these tools can help navigate change in a way that should suit most styles, and generate ideas in the process.

No successful change will be embedded if it is top-down only. In creating an environment where everyone has a say and a stake, you will make the transition all the more successful.

Leadership humility is key: we don’t have all the answers, but our staff can help us find them.

If you have a really great plan, then the next step is a case of engaging everyone, and using everyone’s skills and expertise to make it truly transform the business.


This was originally published in City AM here.