The staff for the job

Simon Rhind-Tutt explains why it is important for design consultancies to have a strategy for not only finding quality staff, but retaining their existing staff too.

It’s funny how fast things change. Or maybe they don’t? When Design Week first asked me to write this article the recruitment market was very buoyant. Consultancies could not seem to get enough new people to fill the dot.com-fuelled growth.

Since then, we have seen that train of seemingly perpetual growth and optimism suddenly put its brakes on.

The design industry has yet to see sweeping redundancies that have hit some ad agencies. Saatchi & Saatchi, for example, recently laid off 10 per cent of its London office at a single stroke. But many groups have been quietly losing the odd person and putting their recruitment plans on hold.

Furthermore, design consultancies that have had to make redundancies have seen other staff leaving in sympathy.

However, ask any managing or creative director or any leading recruitment consultancy and they will tell you there is still a market for quality people. Not just in design but in the whole of the marketing services industry. The fact is there are just not enough quality people to go round. The challenge for many owners and managers is – how do you recruit the cream of the crop and, once you’ve got them, how do you keep them?

Identifying the people who you want is something that an experienced recruitment consultancy can help with.

There is the other alternative of trying to do it yourself and save the recruitment fee. From my experience, this only works if you can plan ahead. One of the best bits of advice I was ever given was to make a list in the back of my diary of the names of people that our clients or others in the industry talked positively about, so that when we did need to hire, we knew who we should to talk to first.

Of course, persuading them to join and getting them to stay is another matter. While you cannot ignore the importance of money in the bank at the end of the month, there is still a lot more that goes into creating a consultancy that star players will want to come to and stay.

There is a growing recognition that training has a crucial part to play, be it keeping up with the latest software, or practical skills such as negotiation or presentation training.

A major growth area of my own business during the past year has been the concept of ‘boot camps’, where we take account management off site for an intensive course in all aspects of world class client service.

These courses are enthusiastically received, not just by managements which can see improvements from the moment people return to the studio, but also the delegates who value the need to learn new skills.

Lord Wienstock had it right when, as chairman of GEC, he said, ‘We cannot guarantee employment but what we can promise is employability.’

Second, too many people just have a job when they could have a career. To recruit and keep the best people, management needs to have career plans for staff to ensure that their skills, experience and responsibilities continue to grow. The more enlightened consultancies are developing personal career plans to show and chart where their employees’ careers are going.

Third, if you ask people in many different agencies how they know if they are doing a good job. ‘Well, I haven’t been fired yet have I?’ usually comes the answer.

Too often people are not told that they are doing something well. I still remember the memos from my first job in advertising where the senior management team made a point of writing to say well done. Those to me were worth more than just money. Most people who work in our industry are sensitive souls and need regular reassurance that they are doing well. It’s easy to forget that this goes for the board directors just as well as a junior designer.

Regular performance reviews are, of course, an important part of keeping any member of staff on track. To get the best out of people they should happen at least every six months. They are an opportunity for praise as well as give constructive criticism.

The most effective that I have seen are those that distil everything to one page and summarise; keep doing, stop doing and start doings.

Then there’s the issue of money. It would be naive to pretend it doesn’t play an instrumental part in luring and keeping the best people. Paying well versus market averages is, however, only part of the story.

More and more consultancies are introducing bonuses related to the profitability of the company, which incentivises performance throughout the year. Equally, some have introduced ‘golden handcuffs’ to keep key senior staff, or, for that matter to make it less attractive for some new recruits, who have gone through intensive training, to leave.

While there are pros and cons that need to be considered with this route, this usually works by an escalating, pre-agreed bonus figure being earned every year that they stay with the consultancy, but that money cannot be drawn until after at least three years. If they were to choose to leave before this no money is payable.

Finally, don’t underestimate the profile of your consultancy. The collective time that goes into PR not only pays dividends in terms of new business, but also in enticing the people best to join. Anybody who is serious about building a career wants recognisable consultancies that will add value to their CV. It’s the same with new business. High-profile clients will also tend to be attracted to, and keep, the better people.

All this, of course, doesn’t happen by magic. There is no coincidence that the consultancies that seem to have the best record of recruiting and retaining staff are also those that have a well thought through people strategy.

How does your consultancy measure up?

Top tips for finding and retaining quality people

Always be on the look out for people even when you are not hiring and make a note of who they are for when you need to hire

Invest in training and development and develop personal career plans for staff

Review performance regularly

Take every opportunity to praise good performance with everybody and not just junior members of staff

Pay well and consider locking in the people you need to keep

Create a consultancy with the clients and a profile that will be where the best people will want to come and stay. Your consultancy’s reputation is important

Use a quality recruitment consultancy

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