Put staff on the career ladder

Give your employees a variety of challenges and make career development a top priority if you want to hold on to them, says Mark Gandy.

Give your employees a variety of challenges and make career development a top priority if you want to hold on to them, says Mark Gandy

Talent management and staff retention has always been an inherent feature of our industry, but they are becoming more important, as consultancy relationships with client brands outlive the tenure of individual clients.

Ours is an industry with employees polarised in their approaches to their respective careers, depending on their role within a consultancy.

This obvious division lies between creatives and client service – the former tend to remain at the same group for longer, potentially, over the years, settling into a particular group, while the latter take an ‘up or out’ approach to the career ladder.

Since launching in 1989, Brandhouse WTS has recruited creatives straight from college. We have always adopted this approach because of the need to ‘train’ graduates into our way of thinking and approach to brand issues. Recently, the quality of graduates has been mixed, so competition for the very best is tough.

Creatives typically make their career choice at 18, when they enrol on a foundation course and three or four subsequent years of training – much earlier than the majority of us in other roles within the industry.

As a result, they have a specific role they are aiming for, and they hopefully know the environment in which they will work best – usually, if they land a role in the creative studio of a top 20 group, then it is, to a large extent, job done.

As a brand consultancy, we offer the talent in our studio a wider variety of challenges than they’d find in other groups; creatives here say they stay fresher because of this variety. Our internal pitch system for creative work, whereby several designers can submit their ideas for a project, also stimulates creative minds. The best submission is chosen, and the designer responsible takes the work on to execution and conclusion. This process gives everyone the opportunity to shine, giving the group an obvious competitive challenge.

The policy of hiring raw talent sees junior creatives mentored by more senior colleagues to develop their skills; they enjoy early exposure to clients, as part of the broader client-facing team.

The retention issue within client service is a quite different challenge.

Traditionally, account managers have tended to move jobs more frequently, although still stay far longer than clients, who now only average 18 months in their jobs. This is because of the structured nature of most client service departments. With more defined roles and job titles, the temptation to move up to the next level is enormous.

The challenge for consultancies begins at grass roots level, with the need to attract the very best talent at beginner level, and then continues with the need to provide ongoing opportunities to learn and grow, to stay motivated and fulfilled and to achieve career progression. Achieve this and creatives will be less likely to move on to find new challenges.

Our client service team is drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds and sectors – advertising, journalism and finance to name but a few – but what they share is an innate sense of business and the ability to build strong relationships with the client.

We demand that account handlers develop a strategic approach to managing client business and behave as a business partner to clients. So, rather than managing projects and day-to-day issues reactively, we remain conscious of the commercial context. This creates high levels of satisfaction, for both our clients and staff alike.

Unlike designers, of course, client service isn’t a vocational choice. Skills are developed during training, so progress is dependent on the consultancy’s ability and willingness to cultivate the right skills and behaviours, and its interest in individuals’ career development.

Professional performance appraisal is part of the solution. But, beyond that, despite increasing demands on time, consultancies need to focus on individual career and development needs – identifying opportunities to learn about new sectors, new audiences, new channels and new clients.

Talent management is a subject increasingly debated across business in general, but the challenges for the design industry are exacerbated by the diversity of roles and needs. The foundation for a successful, motivated and happy workforce is in ensuring skills and career progression. And that’s an equally big prize for consultancies, clients and staff.

Mark Gandy is managing director of Brandhouse WTS

Retain your staff:

• Recruit design graduates and train them up

• Give them a senior designer as a mentor

• Keep creativity alive, let more than one designer come up with ideas for projects

• Don’t neglect the career development of people in other roles, such as client service

• Hold regular job appraisals

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