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How to nurture and retain talented people within a client facing business
July 19, 2021
The marketing and advertising industries are filled with fast paced, creative businesses, who all want to hire and nurture the most talented and innovative people. By their nature, marketers are often looking for new challenges and opportunities to progress, leading to high levels of staff turnover industry-wide. This is something all agencies battle with, in an effort to retain talent within the business and reduce their staff turnover.
A way to approach the issue of attrition is to simply embrace it. People are on a journey throughout their careers and, by recognising this and identifying why employees are moving on, we can achieve our aim for employees to want to stay longer, simply because they can see the benefits that matter to them within the business. Our aim should be to help people do their best work whilst they’re with us and facilitate the learning and development that helps them realise their goals.
At ClickThrough, during our current period of innovation, we’re aiming to address the reasons why our colleagues and team members would look to move on. Here, I run through just some of the ways we are approaching our talent engagement strategy to enhance employee experience and ensure that, when they do choose to move on, they look back on their experience with us positively.
The challenges of retaining talented people
It’s no secret that having talented people working with you provides a competitive advantage. Not only are you able to provide clients with an enhanced service, but your business is able to grow and challenge itself at a faster rate. This has the added benefit of attracting further talented people, who will recognise the success of your brand and see themselves reflected within your staff.
With this in mind, talent attraction and retention are both critical parts of securing business growth and development. By engaging your talent and recruiting employees who fit with your company culture and want to grow, you are securing a strong group of talent to help you and your clients accelerate. Digital marketers have strong networks from an early stage in their careers, and large agencies are wonderful for forming long-lasting friendships. By providing a positive environment, your existing talent are more likely to recommend past colleagues that align with your brand values and company culture.
But, this can be a double edged sword. When your competitors are focused on not only winning clients from you but tempting talented staff to join them, being able to provide an exciting, promising, and engaging work environment can be the difference between maintaining your staff roster or witnessing a potential mass exodus. Being able to engage current talent and giving them reasons to stay and develop with you can turn the tables on any conversations they’re having with friends at other businesses.
The cultural impact of a high turnover
The impact of a high staff turnover goes beyond the quality of service you can give to your clients, and the consistency in the faces they interact with. Being able to provide stability for your talent helps foster a positive environment and long-term working relationships. When high levels of turnover are taking place, this can create unrest and (in many cases) increased workloads for staff needing to train new starters.
When companies are going through periods of innovation, this can also be a key point to look at how talent is being nurtured within the business. If you neglect to ensure your talented people feel included in innovation and that the ‘people’ side of the business is equally as valuable, you may experience higher levels of turnover, which could turn your period of innovation from a positive to a negative experience. Companies that want to keep innovation going while experiencing high staff turnover need to foster an open environment of trust, where employees feel safe and comfortable in speaking up. For employees who are hesitant of change, innovation can seem worrying and lead them to seek other opportunities. Ensuring they feel included and that their voices are being listened to will help mitigate any increase in turnover and make your staff feel valued.
While going through our own period of innovation, we’ve taken the time to ensure we’re including people development within our plans. At the heart of building a client centric culture, we’re ensuring that our people have the access to the development and training they need, and that the company culture we’re building is one of always learning – no matter what level you sit at. To put it simply, our aim is to help people do their best work at ClickThrough and capture the fresh ideas & raw talent that feed innovation – ideas that can (and do!) come from anyone within the business.
As for engaging with and recruiting new talent during a period of change, it’s important they are able to excel while also being a good culture fit, both in terms of working well with the existing team and helping to drive that change. When recruiting, support people managers in finding out what their teams are missing and getting an ideal personal profile in place. Give clear guidance on company culture, and encourage interview questions to be based around values to help identify how interviewees will fit with both your brand growth goals and existing colleagues.
It could be that a generational difference in the approach to employment. Whereas it was traditionally common to have a job for life, this is no longer the case, and younger generations are more likely to ‘job hop’ to find somewhere which is a good fit for them. Leaning into this attitude of finding the right person for the right job works both ways. By taking the time to consider whether an opportunity is a good fit for them, the mobility of younger employees enables businesses to find a good fit for the role and should try and match the flexibility of younger employees, working with them to find a place for their talents within the business.
In the case of junior and entry level staff members, we try and give them the opportunity to truly learn their trade and be exposed to all parts of the business, along with the marketing industry as a whole. This is a true benefit to being a smaller, more agile company as we can facilitate our staff following their interests and filling any knowledge gaps. Natural curiosity is a quality every marketing agency should value in employees and being able to encourage and fulfil this for your employees helps them identify where they want their career to go next.
Teaching managers to be coaches
It may seem simple but putting clear personal and career development plans in place gives staff a clear idea of where their next steps are and what they need to do to get there. By engaging staff in creating personal development plans with their managers at times of change, they will feel valued and recognised, and have a clear view of where their role fits within the business. To go further than this, the plans we encourage our staff to create can include future career goals, both within and outside of ClickThrough!
When creating these plans, being honest and open is an essential part of making them work for both parties. By having a clear idea of where our employees want to go in their careers, we can be honest about the opportunities available. By being able to support these goals, where possible, we can ensure employees know what’s achievable within ClickThrough. To lose a talented team member is disappointing at the best of times, but to do so when they are chasing an opportunity they could have found in-house is even more so! Our managers can either work with their direct reports to prepare them for those positions, so they’re ready step in when the time comes, or support them in gaining the skills needed while accepting they may need to leave us to reach that next step.
When we encourage these discussions and help people managers and leaders to become more of a coaching figure for their direct reports we’re fostering a culture of encouragement and learning, with talent being supported in stretching their abilities and trying new ideas. While we don’t want to stretch our colleagues beyond their working hours or pay grade, we do want to make them feel supported in trying new things and taking on the responsibilities they need to move upwards to their next goal – whether that’s with ClickThrough or at another business that can provide the challenges that they’re looking for.
As much as we’d like to think that doing all of the above will keep all of our talent happy and satisfied in their current roles and reduce staff turnover to a minimum, the reality is that won’t be the case. Ultimately, your team members and staff will always leave and move on to new opportunities and managing the experience of saying goodbye remains part of talent engagement.
Keeping the door open for talented staff who have looked elsewhere for opportunities will only serve you well. After all, if you’ve helped them gain the skills to reach their new position, why would you hold it against them? It may just be that you’re unable to fill their current aspiration and, ensuring they have left on positive terms and know that they’re welcome back, means neither of you miss out when their ideal role pops up within your business.
In reality, the way we work with our colleagues goes beyond simply setting personal development plans in place and ticking boxes. The best way to nurture our talent and reduce staff turnover is to encourage a culture of development and make it clear that wanting to learn is the norm within our business. Providing support and encouragement gives us the best chance for keeping our talent engaged, interested, and excited about working with us.
Ilona Anderson is ClickThrough Marketing’s head of talent engagement and is developing a leading approach to people development: growing and inspiring ClickThrough staff within an engaging learning environment. She has previously worked at Lookers and DFS, ensuring employees have access to the training, career development and coaching they need to achieve their goals.