Workplace turnover hit an all-time high in 2018, according to a report by Compdata. Marketing agencies both large and small have noted turnover as a key challenge for years. For example, Publicis Groupe’s CEO Arthur Sadoun said talent retention is among the top challenges he faces. It’s a concern that comes with a price tag, and it cannot be ignored.
So how can an agency combat turnover? In my experience, it’s by making a significant investment in workplace culture and professional development. This isn’t about offering free snacks, throwing bean bag chairs in workspaces or designing an Instagram-worthy office space — it’s about shaping culture through operating practices that empower and inspire your team to outdo themselves and grow with each project.
Talking about culture and agency turnover can’t happen without mentioning millennials, who, according to the Pew Research Center, now make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce. Gallup found that “an impressive 87% of millennials rate ‘professional or career growth and development opportunities’ as important to them in a job.”
Creating culture and developing and retaining professionals is hard work. Roll up your sleeves and get started with the following tips that I’ve amassed from running a small agency (which was named one of Inc.’s best workplaces in 2018) for the last 20 years.
I’ve found that an effective workplace culture values high-quality work, and nothing less. Teams can run into trouble, though, when they become enamored with a particular campaign or concept. They may find themselves so far down the path of development that they’re unwilling to address a change in direction or client feedback due to fear of not living up to a specific standard or meeting a deadline. Avoid this by creating an environment where people feel comfortable voicing concerns — the benefits go way beyond addressing bad creative.
Our team openly pushes each other to start over from scratch when we discover that an idea isn’t right or when we uncover a problem. Going down the proverbial wrong road is a huge part of the creative process, and we don’t want our employees to feel like they can’t start over because of judgment or budgets. Recently, we fleshed out a creative direction for a client and designed concepts in line with the brief, only to realize it didn’t align with our target audience. We canned the idea and inspired the team to think differently and ended up with a campaign we’re proud of.
Embrace Obstacles Together
Establish a culture that welcomes challenges with open arms. We’re in the business of serving clients, and with that comes obstacles on a daily basis — from varying opinions on creative to navigating new projects with looming deadlines. That said, there’s nothing better than when one of our team members walks to the center of the room and invites everyone to come together for a spontaneous brainstorming session to craft a new creative approach or reprioritize how we get work done.
We embrace this method because we know that we’re cultivating a team of diverse, solution-oriented minds. No one is left to solve a problem alone, and no role or idea is left out. Welcome your departmental differences and face the issues together by bringing all roles into the conversation — from creatives to account managers, interns and management. We often find that different minds hold a piece of the big-picture puzzle.
When it comes to titles and roles, favor fluidity. Designers are often amazing photographers. User experience (UX) architects can develop amazing campaign strategies and killer copy to boot, which means they can also be awesome social media managers. Establish a culture that embraces the amalgamation of roles and tasks — in our experience, people usually step up to the plate, produce great work across functions and are happier because of it.
For example, our associate creative director started as an accounts intern. She loved people and had a passion for facilitating collaboration that pulled the best possible creative ideas from her team. She also had an amazing ability with words and was encouraged to draft content for social media. Soon after, she landed a copywriter role. Once she was on the creative side, after writing and ideating for campaigns, she converted ideas to storyboards and eloquently presented ideas on design. We’ve learned that when employees are given the chance to embrace new roles, they ultimately can discover new talents and feed their passion for coming to work each day.
Encourage Everyone To Be A Mentor
Placing a value on mentorship in the workplace is both a career and culture driver. Not only does it build bonds between colleagues, but it also empowers them to experiment with functions that are outside of their comfort zones. We’ve found that that is where the magic often happens. For example, as part of a professional development plan, inspire team members to carve out time once a quarter to learn something new from another colleague. Our designers often will give copywriters tips on using creative platforms like Illustrator, which helps them sharpen their own skills. This helps us develop a team of complex creatives.
Create a stellar workplace culture that embraces professional growth — through fluidity, fresh starts, mentorship and stepping outside of comfort zones. The result will likely be engaged employees who defy the turnover statistics and do whatever it takes to produce exceptional work.