It’s no secret that great companies are built by great people. With the changes rolling through our industry today, it’s easy to be more focused on the bottom line than on talent. Yet, more than ever, agencies need to be committed to developing and retaining employees. In my experience, the best way to do this is to break down the silos between departments and muster the managerial courage to let your people move within the agency, across traditional boundaries.
If you love someone, set them free! I believe that this is the single most effective thing you can do to retain your most talented people in a hot job market.
Although my company dataxu is a software company, we work with hundreds of agencies that use our software to manage media programmatically. And so, we have front row seats to the staff turnover and talent retention issues challenging the marketing services business. Many of our agency customers struggle with staffing as they lose experienced team members and try to re-hire while also maintaining business-as-usual with client campaigns. We even created a special team within dataxu (“experts on demand”) to help our agency customers through the pain of staff churn.
So, what’s an agency to do about the talent crisis? There is much discussion about the need for agencies to replace outdated legacy processes with more agile, integrated, digital-first workflows. This is what clients want, and the agencies getting it right are thriving. But it’s also what your best young employees expect from a modern, competitive workplace.
Millennials get a lot of heat for jumping from position to position. But in a dynamic economy, we need talent that is cross-skilled, ambitious and equipped to learn and master completely new challenges. I would argue that moving positions is required to develop talent at a robust pace. Maybe it’s in the best interest of agencies to cater to the millennial lifestyle rather than curse it?
Encourage Your Employees To Follow Their Dreams
Agency executives need to assess employees’ potential beyond the confines of their current roles, teams or departments. Who has the capability and commitment, regardless of tenure, to become a star at the firm? Develop and retain your best talent by encouraging them and the managers at your firm to work across departments and into roles that best fit their skills, goals and desired career paths.
Creating a more holistic employee experience internally is a way to create a better customer experience externally. When your team is passionately committed to the work they are doing, they will do great work for the client.
At my company, some of the most talented twentysomething professionals are a product of this approach. Working across three departments in their first four years is not atypical for an up-and-coming star. And an “employee journey” that starts with client services, morphs to marketing and then flows into product management, as an example, helps us more intuitively create software that meets the market and user needs.
I encourage managers to let our most talented people work in the direction of their dreams, rather than orphan them in functions that prompt them to leave the company to pursue those dreams.
What often holds us back from taking this more empowering, humanistic approach to retaining talent? The unavoidable fact that personnel change creates more work for managers. This is no doubt true, and the effort involved in sourcing, training and norming new talent is real. But I believe that a proactive approach to talent will save time and effort in the long run, and more importantly, it will improve your business. Disrupt your own legacy logic or be disrupted by the market.
Culture is indeed the operating system of any company — whether it is an agency, an advertiser or a software company. Career development can help differentiate you from agencies big and small when it comes to retaining and cultivating talent. But to truly invest in your people first requires boldly breaking down your walls. The acceleration of your business comes later, but those rewards can be great.
Show your commitment to your employees, and it will grow commitment from your employees, which will, in turn, manifest itself in exceptional service for your clients. And that’s a win on everyone’s books.