A top advertising DEI expert shares the specific steps she takes to get agencies to improve their culture, starting with interviewing and onboarding

Lauren Tucker
DEI expert Lauren Tucker, founder of consultancy Do What Matters.

  • Ad agencies like The Richards Group have looked to DEI expert Lauren Tucker to overcome crises.
  • She and her firm Do What Matters consult companies as they clean up their internal cultures.
  • She laid out steps that any company can take to start the process.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When ad agencies look to clean up their internal cultures, they often call DEI expert Lauren Tucker.

The Richards Group hired her seven-person consulting firm, Do What Matters, in January after founder Stan Richards stepped down in the wake of racist comments that led to client losses.

Do What Matters consulted Periscope and its parent Quad/Graphics after employees walked out of the agency last July to protest the company’s actions on social justice. Tucker also helped IPG’s The Martin Agency when it faced a MeToo scandal in 2017.

“When we began working with the Do What Matters team, we were involved in one of the most challenging periods in the 45-year history of our agency,” The Richards Group CEO Glenn Dady said. “They have continued to challenge us and have pushed us to have some uncomfortable and difficult conversations. The work will continue for years to come, but Dr. Tucker and her team have been crucial to establishing the foundation we needed.”

Do What Matters’ business has grown as agencies try to improve their DEI efforts following last year’s social justice protests.

Along with companies facing controversy, the firm has also been working with agencies trying to be proactive on DEI, like Noble People and Lerma, The Richards Group’s former multicultural arm that split with the agency after last year’s controversy.

While she handles each agency situation differently, Tucker shared some steps any company should consider to improve their culture.

Tucker urges leaders to focus on employees

Tucker said one of the first steps she takes is to get companies focused on keeping employees happy rather than just the bottom line. She said she’s found private equity-backed companies, with their reputation for being bottom-line driven, have the hardest time making that shift.

“We abuse the talent, the very talent we need to drive growth,” she said. “If we don’t have talent, we don’t have an agency.”

She said ad agencies often don’t set expectations for new employees, provide ongoing training, create a good work/life balance, and ensure they’re heard.

Tucker said Do What Matters builds practices like employee activist groups the CEO can consult with to make sure all employees feel like they are contributing and growing.

Get the hiring and onboarding process right

Tucker said agencies have to staff up quickly when they win business and go to people they know, which often perpetuates cronyism and nepotism.

She built a new hiring process based on best practices from other performance-based hiring experts like The Lou Adler Group that cuts the hiring time by 50%. It calls for job candidates to interview once with a leadership group versus going through several interviews with individual executives, which she said wastes time and perpetuates bias.

Having more people in the room provides more accountability and avoids a situation where one executive hires someone just because they bonded over a shared experience like their love of kayaking, “which has absolutely nothing to do with the job.”

Tucker also calls on companies to make their job descriptions “precise, explicit, and performance-based” to set employees up for success from the get-go.

She said she’s seen job descriptions like “‘We need somebody who will leave their ego at the door. We need somebody who is going to harmonize.’ I don’t know what that means,” she said.

If job duties are not clearly defined during hiring, Tucker said employees will come against “ghost,” or unexpected, expectations that they’re unprepared for, setting them up to fail.

Provide ongoing training and hold leaders accountable

Tucker said job descriptions should be clear to everyone, not just new hires. If a junior employee doesn’t know what’s expected of the person above them, they can’t prepare to elevate to that level.

“Just because you pay a person with a salary and bonus, that does not mean you do not have the obligation to train them and develop them,” Tucker said.

She said she urges companies to do away with PIPs (performance improvement plans) and to hold managers responsible for direct reports’ performance.

“We too often put the responsibility for success on the direct report but the person with the power absconds from the whole thing and says, ‘Well, this person isn’t working out, I need to find another person,’ or ‘let’s start a PIP,'” Tucker said. “It shifts the responsibility back onto the person with the least amount of power.”

The responsibility for diversity has to be shared

Tucker said she only works with an agency if the whole C-suite is willing to get involved.

She said she doesn’t recommend agencies hire a chief diversity officer because too often all the responsibility falls on that one person, a mistake she’s seen at advertising holding companies.

She does recommend hiring chief talent officers, with real financial responsibilities, supported by DEI governance groups made up of employees of all levels. Under her direction, The Richards Group installed such a group and hired a chief talent and culture officer.

“There are things that are working in a lot of these organizations,” Tucker said. “We don’t come in to say we’re going to tear everything down. There are a lot of well-meaning people that are doing a lot of furious activity around DEI. We come in and capitalize on what’s working.”