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How to Retain Your Top Talent

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The average UK digital creative agency loses 17% of its employees each year. That means an agency employing 20 people needs to recruit three new members of staff each year just to maintain headcount. That comes from the Wow Agency Survey 2017, sponsored by Adam.

Of course, hiring a new team member takes time and money, but client relationships and quality of work are impacted too. Retaining your best people is key to business success. We’ve created a guide to top talent retention tips featuring expert advice from Ingram Sanders, Co-Founder of Goldsand Digital, David Gilroy, Sales and Marketing Director at Conscious Solutions and people management expert, Derek Bishop from the Culture Consultancy.

The Impact of Employee Turnover on Your Bottom Line

As David Gilroy explains, it’s not just the financial cost of replacing a team member you have to think about, it’s the impact of the rest of the business. “For Agencies staff turnover is a real pain in the a**e. The cost of replacing staff is one thing, but the loss of ‘speed’ in your business is worse. The time it takes to get new staff up-to-speed means you lose momentum.”

Oxford Economics found the average time for a new member of staff to reach optimum productivity is 20 weeks and costs £26,000. Multiply by three new hires and that’s an annual cost of £78,000.

If you don’t do anything to reduce staff turnover, over three years the total cost to your business could be almost a quarter of a million pounds. And, if you’re one of the 9% of agencies who lost more than 50% of their staff in 2016, multiply these figures by three. Then read the rest of the article.

100% Retention?

Not all turnover is bad turnover. In cases where an individual’s performance is slipping and cannot be rectified, it’s best for everyone if they leave. The people you really want to keep hold of are your top talent: Those who bring something to the team that no-one else does or who consistently outperform their colleagues. Hire these people when a poor performer leaves.

Ingram Sanders, says that “although churn isn’t a bad thing if too many people leave it damages the culture of the business and, with websites like Glassdoor, it’s easier for disgruntled staff to get their views heard, regardless of their legitimacy.”

So, what can you do to stabilise your team and keep hold of your best people?

Loyalty Starts with a Culture of Why

Turning up for work to respond to emails, write another blog or find another way around a coding nightmare is fine. But if working for your business is only fine, you’ve got a problem. Injecting purpose into your business’ culture is a great way to enhance loyalty and improve retention.

Take Twitter’s mission statement:

“To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”

This kind of statement roots every aspect of business in a set of commonly-held principles and commitments. Which makes getting up for work every day more meaningful.

Conscious Solutions lost only 3 people last year and added 8. They started the year with 27 and finished with 32 so they clearly know a thing or two about successfully growing and managing a team. David Gilroy explains, “It’s really nice to know we have bucked the trend. I would say that if firms are losing 50% of their staff then they have clearly NOT focused on the culture in their business. Rather than a rubbish ‘mission statement’ or set of ‘values’, at Conscious we have created a set of mantras that are part of everything we do and are bought into by our entire team. There are dozens including ‘If You Don’t Know, Ask, It’s Ok to Ask!’ ‘Just Do Your Best’ and ‘Be Proactive with Clients, Anticipate their Needs.’

Goldsand Digital’s Sanders agrees, stating, “a clear mission is a great way for everyone to feel part of the bigger picture. Clarifying what your vision is and continually aligning what you are doing to ensure you are making it a reality is invaluable.”

Identify your ‘why’ and make this part of your every-day business operations to inspire and retain your workforce. Share this information with your recruitment partner. It will help them find candidates with shared long-term aspirations and cultural fit.

“But” as Derek Bishop adds, “it’s not all just about the Why. It’s also important to be clear about the values for the business or the culture manifesto which outlines ‘the way things are down around here’. A lack of clarity on how you want your staff to behave when performing their role leads to frustration as it becomes a guessing game of what’s the right thing to do. Leaving that frustration to fester or inhibiting your staff’s ability to use their full potential is a sure-fire way of fuelling unwanted employee turnover. Not only is this frustrating for your staff, it’s also hugely inefficient as it often creates re-work or unnecessary checking and can impact your customers by providing disruptive experience.

Establish the values and expected behaviours for the business and it provides the clarity for all, helping recruitment, retention, engagement and the development of your staff.”

Get Recruitment Right

Our research also revealed that while agencies are losing 17% of their workforce, 90% are seeking to grow, so it’s no surprise that the top activity for 2017 is recruitment.

Attracting the right candidate in the first place is key to preventing employee churn. Prepare to attract the best with a quality job description that accurately represents the role and entices people to join without overpromising. Take the time to sift applications effectively to reduce your interview list down to only the most suitable candidates, saving time and delivering the best person for the job.

Here at Adam we call this process the “people pillar”. We take screening future employees very seriously so we only hire exceptional individuals that fit with our company culture. This means ensuring the right people within the senior team are doing the interviewing and making sure that the right balance of selling vs interviewing is being used at first, second and even third stage interviews.

A sector-specific recruitment agency offers the experience to pre-qualify high-quality candidates, to help you route out individuals that don’t fit your culture from the outset, saving you time in the short term and money and reputation in the long term.

Avoid Burnout

“If working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” Simon Sinek, author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant.

Agency life is fast-paced. Constantly delivering your A-game can take its toll on even the hardiest employees. In fact, research from the Office of National Statistics shows that stress causes 37% of work-related ill health which urges 27% of leavers to change careers completely. There’s also a ripple effect on other staff as they cover additional workload which could, in turn, make it more likely that they start looking at other roles.

One way to ensure employees are not over-burdened is to take a realistic view of what’s achievable and to check how your employees feel about their workload. Many people find it difficult to admit to feeling under pressure so you may need to read between the lines. Look out for spikes in the number of mistakes being made or dips in creativity and problem solving as signs that all is not well.

Career Development

When people join your agency, they may have one set of skills and aspirations. Over time, these will change and you need to recognise that the round peg you hired for the round hole is now a square peg. Our Creative Agency Report shows that most people leave their roles for a larger agency, probably because they feel they can fulfil their career aspirations there.

Sanders believes that the large number of agencies in the market means, “there’s a lot of choice for good people and those in creative roles are more likely to want to work at different places during their career. People get attracted by bigger agencies who can look good from the outside but, once inside, they find that employees aren’t always the main focus when working with big brands and large campaigns.”

To help retain your best people, shape your jobs to fit the individuals in them and ensure they remain engaged, interested and passionate about their job. Sanders recommends that “while training is very important, we ensure that people feel they are continually learning and growing through our monthly Career Progression Meetings. Our senior people meet with staff to discuss challenges and opportunities and to ensure they are on track with their goals and objectives.”

These kinds of career discussions mean you can place a particular focus on stretching your best employees so they see a future career with you and not your competitors.

Get Talent Management Support

With creative agencies looking to expand in 2017, getting your hiring right and nurturing talent across the employee life cycle is more critical than ever before. For support with talent management in the digital sector contact Leon Milns on 0207 871 7665 or at