Monthly Archives: November 2016

How to Retain Top Talent: 5 Tips

Doesn’t it seem that our world has become one big talent show? Turn on the TV (painful, I know)…The Voice, Dancing With the Stars, American Idol, X Factor, You’re a Star, The Glee Project, America’s Got Talent are just a handful of wannabe-celebrity talent shows. Or just log on to Facebook for daily videos of kids and cats performing stupid tricks. We can’t escape the exhibitionist mentality so pervasive in today’s society. In a winner-take-all world, everybody seems to want their fifteen minutes of fame.


The creative advertising industry has its own version of talent shows…we call them Awards Shows. Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, Effies and Addys have replaced the erstwhile Clios that crashed due to its inherent overindulgence of egomania. But, our industry has never been exempt from “Hey look at me, I’m a star” syndrome. This is not a criticism but a commentary. My core business is delivering talent. Like the pizza man, I am part of the food chain, a ghost in this machine and my comments reflect 27 dreadful years of experience. Every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in.

Creative agencies are purely the sum total of their collective talent base. Without talent, there is no point of differentiation. Without talent, there is no value proposition; just boring processes. It’s funny how clients and search consultants insist on a certain critical mass of total employees yet they only want to pay for a few. But, that’s another post. This one is about keeping the talent you have recruited intact. Recognizing top talent is relatively easy. Identifying top talent is, as well. Recruiting the talent is tricky, but do-able. Delivering talent? Tough. Maximizing top talent? Very difficult. Retaining it — the toughest challenge of all. And if you lose it, it’s wasted on YOU.

So how do you do it? Nobody asked me, but here are a few tips:

  1. Program the hire for success from the start. Most unsuccessful hires can be traced to the early days of the employee’s tenure. Do you have an onboarding process? An agency orientation? A mentor program? Everybody needs a mentor. Have you prepared your current employees for an impact hire? It amazes me when an agency hires top talent and the candidate shows up unannounced for their first day of work. Or worse, when they have to supervise folks that have no idea who they are. Too often, an introductory email is sent out weeks following the hire and there is little definition of the candidate’s role.
  2. The 100 day review. When things break down, they break down fast. It’s critical to conduct reviews early and often. Simple questions like, “how does the actual job compare to the job description?” And, “are you more excited or less excited about the opportunity than when you accepted the offer?” At 200 days, the questions become more personal and specific, “are you challenged?” “Are you still having fun?”
  3. Everybody has an opinion. On operational issues, on creative issues, on cultural issues, on social issues. When I ask an employed job seeker why they are looking to move, too often they say, “nobody cares about my opinion, I’m just a hired gun.” Or worse, if they’re asked for their opinion — it isn’t valued and they feel ignored. Seek opinions from top talent…constantly.
  4. Decisions, Decisions. Nothing pisses off top talent more than evasive partners and colleagues that make passive-aggressive decisions. Or worse, are completely indecisive. Tomorrow never comes for them. They feel they are wasting their talent trying to catch jellyfish. Be decisive in defining roles. Dictatorship is okay as long as it’s fair and benevolent.
  5. Promises, Promises. In my experience, and that’s more than 1,000 hires; it breaks down far more often on the agency side than the candidate side. It hurts me to say this, because the agencies are my client (they pay everyone); but it never helps long-term to “sell” a candidate on an opportunity. If anything, under promise and over-deliver. There’s nothing worse than investing in top talent, introducing them to a key client and losing them because the reality of the opportunity differs from the perception.