Polly Lygoe interview
Polly Lygoe interview
The 2Y3X programme has been joined by a team of expert consultants, who have been running emergency planning workshops on a voluntary basis for the past few months, providing critical support for businesses who need it. For more information about this please see this page.
We wanted to introduce each of them to showcase the brilliant work they do. In this interview, we speak with Polly Lygoe, who has worked with a huge variety of agencies in digital for 20 years: building teams, nurturing relationships and growing businesses.
We talk all things team management and remote working, and Polly shares how she’s seen leaders adapting positively to the current crisis and finding creative approaches to keeping morale high and getting plans in motion.
Starting with the basics: Could you tell us a little about your background? What types of businesses do you usually work with?
I basically grew up in digital agencies, and spent most of my career in an agency called Reading Room. I was there for about 13 years. Famously met Margaret (Manning), who was one of the Co Founders and had this amazing interview. She’s very charismatic and inspiring, so I was completely in love with this woman! We must have chatted for a good hour, and this was for a junior project manager role. I’d only had one other job before I met her and was fresh out of university. So I had this brilliant conversation with her and she essentially started to wrap up the meeting and said, “Well, you’re totally underqualified for this job”! But she gave me a chance and hired me. It was a small agency at the time so I had a really hybrid role: personal assistant, runner, marketing exec. I tried to work as hard as I humanly could, and I was really able to grow within that business. Two and a half years in I was able to sit within the board, and I really think I joined at a brilliant time as the business was growing and the industry was doing well.
My forte, then, I would say is in developing relationships and working really hard to understand what individuals, as humans and teams and then organisations, really need. And kind of how you can map different personality types and diplomatically pull the right kinds of people together and pull the right strings to make people work well together. And as such, I’m about growing business – growing accounts for agencies. I’ve worked in integrated agencies as well. And then I consult with lots of different types of businesses but predominantly agencies. Usually these have a digital ambition, because I know there’s so much growth there and agencies who are ambitious and trying to grow are often trying to do more digital. But equally, just businesses who are trying to grow with existing clients a bit better, and how we can think a bit more strategically about the work we do, so that we can do more of it, with the people we like doing it with. For me, that’s exciting and it comes naturally, I guess. It’s very human and people-led and relationship-led.
I now do a lot of mentoring for people who are Account Managers or Account Directors who are trying to work better with clients and build client relationships, and helping them to find the confidence and heading in the right direction.
How did you come to be involved with 2Y3X?
I knew Felix (Velarde) through Sarah (Vick), really. I’d sort of watched him from afar and it happened to be good timing as he was developing the pro bono offer and because I’d just finished a contract. And then we were also just going into the start of lockdown, so I had some space where I could do something different and interesting.
I hadn’t met Frank (Kelcz) yet and then I got to meet him and we bonded over our love of all things Texas! He has a really interesting background I think, in terms of all his international experience. I think I could very much enjoy having a bottle of wine with him and the rest of the team one day.
Me joining 2Y3X happened by accident, if I’m honest. I suppose I’m much more account/people building, whereas Felix is much more kind of a creative mind I think. I tend to help to pick up on that side of things, where Felix shies away perhaps. I’m hopefully the diplomatic balance of the digital offer, maybe!
How have you seen businesses react to the current crisis?
I’ve been working with a branding agency who just produce amazing, beautiful work, and who are not shy and really want to just be talking about the work they’re doing, being active and sharing and helping. I think their approach, like many of the other clients that we’re seeing, is just showing that we should be taking it day by day, but doing everything we absolutely can. I think businesses with a really high-functioning management team (whether that be a team of four, or ten) are the ones that are really making the decisions together and chatting all the time.
The ones being really thoughtful and responsive are the ones who seem to be doing the best. And I think that they are the ones who always do the best. You just can’t work in silos, and I’ve seen some agencies where you have a management team, but everyone kind of has their own channel. And while I do think it’s super important to have clear roles and responsibilities, the beauty of a management team is challenging one another and getting new perspectives on that area that you own. This allows you to push the business forward in a positive way. We’ve seen this especially with some of the clients that myself and the others in the 2Y3X team are working with, and of course because they are the ones who are being proactive and getting in touch with us, I’m really heartened by that. And thankfully, as we’re a few months in now, hopefully it’s starting to loosen up for them, and we’re seeing some clients winning new business, which is of course challenging at a time like this with people being cautious about spending (and the future of money). But I am generally quite optimistic about it.
Do you think most companies have been avoiding or embracing change over the past two months?
In the past, it’s probably been some of the bigger agencies and organisations who are more resistant to things like flexibility or remote working, and there’s this fear around it. I think that’s the biggest issue I’ve seen, people’s nervousness around how you handle that. I initially was a bit like that, you know, wondering how you actually do work remotely! Having had clients in the past though, who are big global accounts, you often are working with people you’ve not met face-to-face. I’ve had some clients who I’ve met at the end of a piece of work, who I’d worked closely with for a good ten months before actually meeting them! And some of them I’ve never met face-to-face at all! I’m glad I had that experience to give me some practice in working more remotely with wider teams all around the world.
I’ve got a really good friend actually, who I used to work with, and he started a business called Tyk (an API Management Platform). When James Hirst and Martin Buhr started the business, they were on opposite sides of the globe! James and I will occasionally catch up for drinks and I’m always so interested to hear his business challenges and how he runs a remote business, manages remote teams and deals with all the brilliant side of handling cultural nuances. The wonderful thing that businesses have is diversity and he is so progressive in his approach and thinking, and he helps me to be a bit bigger-minded and think about the possibilities – even during these strange times.
My other friends who run Just After Midnight, they essentially offer 24/7 support for agencies. They’ve been doing all these wine tastings with their clients! So they ship them the wine in advance and then they have a Zoom tasting together in their homes. And that’s just so clever and so fun. Definitely embracing the new way of working, which can be so hard to do. Just thinking differently and not being afraid to adapt is key really.
What one piece of advice would you give to business leaders struggling during these times?
It’s so much what we preach with 2Y3X. You craft a plan, you work out your steps to get there, and you constantly assess and constantly evolve, but there’s nothing wrong necessarily with getting the steps wrong! But it’s just about being able to pivot and make quick decisions. I think people who are sat there waffling and not making a plan probably feel more stressed than the rest of us. It is literally just about going down a path and if that path starts to feel like the wrong one then being able to go, “OK, well super, let’s change tack”, and that’s ok too.
So many great companies are being really great at communicating with their teams about what’s going on. And bad things do happen in terms of people losing jobs and having major life change due to times like this, but treating people with kindness and love goes so far. I’ve certainly seen some bigger organisations act really poorly before in terms of not wanting to pay smaller suppliers or trying to walk all over people. I honestly do believe in good karma, and that what you put out into the world you’ll get back. So I think that communication and kindness are important.
Are there particular issues which you personally find important and get excited to fix, regardless of the client?
Yeah definitely. The interesting thing about having worked with lots of different sized businesses and types of businesses (without wishing to be unkind) is that they’re all the same in a way. We all have our own ambitions and I think there’s so many opportunities and challenges which go beyond sector or service, or whatever it happens to be. So really I love working with people who want to make a change. I like that frenetic nature and the scrappiness that needs to come with a big evolution. I think it also encourages people to all muck in and figure it out as they go, and I like that. If things are a bit too easy and smooth, I’m not so interested…
Are there any business-related books you’ve found useful or inspiring recently which you’d recommend?
Good to Great is one which I’ve just pulled off my bookshelf again to re-read. It’s one of the few books I have that’s actually a real hardback book, as now I buy so many on my kindle and read on my phone on the go. Interestingly, Margaret gave our entire management team a copy at the Reading Room, so I have my little scribbled name in the front cover where she’d laid my copy out. So we all read it together as a kind of book club, and all talked together about it. It’s a nice memory in terms of thinking about how we were trying to grow that business at the time. So I love that.
I’m also excited to read Becoming by Michelle Obama. And I found Cheryl Sandburg’s Lean In a real game-changer for me. I’ve been really lucky to work for some amazing female leaders that have encouraged and inspired me and I think when I was younger I wasn’t aware of gender imbalance or anything. But now I notice more and more, even taking the train into London, there are very few women on my train, it’s mostly men. To have that kind of grounding – strong women I can recognise – is important.
What do you like to do in your spare time, outside of work?
I grew up in the southern US, so I’m used to the heat and I love going to restaurants and sitting outside in the garden, and there’s a fan blowing. So I sometimes try to recreate that in my own household, sitting in my garden and having my iced coffee… I live near the Essex countryside, so I’ve been taking lots of woodland walks with my kids. Spare time is a funny one but… Sleep! I love sleep.
In terms of work/life balance. How have you adapted your professional life to fit around your personal life?
Well, I feel like it’s something I’ve been constantly trying to get the juggle right, for my whole life. But I think particularly since having kids, you have not just yourself to think about, but you want to have a good balance with your family commitments. My son is four and a half and my baby is 16 months, so since having both of them my focus has certainly been on flexibility.
I used to get up at 5am and take a 6am train to London, do my workday and then get back and get them in the bath and get them to bed and all that craziness – and that worked, it was very regimented but I’m slightly less regimented now. It’s so fluid, but I’m OK with that. I mean, now I get to sleep in a bit later which is great! We’ll have a family lunch together, and I imagine this is what the European lifestyle would be – kids coming home for lunch from school and maybe having a siesta and then everybody goes off and does their thing again. Which sounds very much more civilised! I don’t know if that’s the reality or not…
I do still find myself logging in and checking emails in the evening, which sometimes I think I’m too tired to do, but other times I’m glad for that flexibility. As someone once said to me, work is a thing, not a place. And it’s true! You know, how often are you in the shower and you have these genius brainwaves? So I’d like that recognition that we are working all the time. But for me, I am trying to keep weekends somewhat sacred and that helps but I don’t mind all the fluidity.
I feel really sorry for the people who have full-time, 9-5 jobs, where people are still expecting them to do that full shift. Especially with those now home-schooling, which we need to recognise as not being ‘normal’ home-working. Some people have crazy expectations put on them, but I hope that a benefit of this is that we come out of it and companies realise that there can be more remote working. I’d love to see some research about how efficient it has become, actually.
I used to follow someone who has a campaign called FlexAppeal, which is all about campaigning for flexible working, and in a sense I think this has been a really good thing to happen in terms of people having to look at flexibility in a different way.
What are you currently working on?
I’m running some workshops about good practice account management, so I’m working on content for that. I’m also doing a fair amount with White Bear, who do such brilliant work, and are just a smaller business who can do with a bit of support in terms of how they’re building accounts, growing a business and maximising all the good work that they’re doing with their existing contacts. I’m hoping to do a little more of that, in terms of an eCRM hub business who also want to grow their existing client relationships, and I’m working with some pro bono clients with 2Y3X. A lot of it is helping to create leads and doing a bit of marketing, often with existing networks, and not being afraid to talk to people about what you’re doing, and get them excited about your work. Being really clear on propositions also, reminding people why they worked with you and why you’re great. And also just being that helping hand, so that even if people don’t need a piece of work right now, they immediately think of you when the next brief rolls around. So having the long game in mind is good.
I am very much open to more pro bono opportunities, so if you need help get in touch with us at 2Y3X – we are happy to volunteer our time!