What's the secret to attracting and retaining talent?
If there’s one thing that comes up time and time again when I’m talking to clients, it’s the challenge of attracting and retaining great employees. I was recently talking to Robin Campbell-Burt, Director at PR agency Spreckley, who constantly feels these pressures: “Living in a city of 8.5 million people I am often struck by how hard it is to hire the people with the right skills, experience and attitude to work with us here at Spreckley. With so many people teeming around this great city, surely there are more than enough talented people to go round? The reality is that a career in public relations requires a particular set of skills in a person.” We decided to head over to the Club at the Ivy in central London to tackle these issues with four leading industry entrepreneurs who understand these challenges inside out: our own Alice Weightman, CEO and Founder of Hanson Search and The Work Crowd; Todd Tran, Global SVP of Programmatic and Mobile at Teads; Rachel Bell, CEO and Founder, Shine Communications, and Jim Hawker, Co-Founder of Threepipe. All agreed that securing and keeping the right people was crucial to the success of their business, but their own unique insights as to how to go about doing this varied quite a bit…
How to secure talent
Alice Weightman, who has seen the changes first-hand throughout her 15 years of experience in the recruitment industry, opened the discussion by addressing the fact the talent market, and how to navigate it, is ever-changing. “There’s a lot of talk of millennials now,” she explained. “Businesses are wondering how to attract them, manage them and keep them. There are now five generations of people working together, and that means businesses have to support different lifestyle expectations in order to attract them, whether that means having ping pong tables in the office or offering more flexibility.” When Jim Hawker started his own agency Threepipe from his kitchen table 12 years ago and needed to attract the right sort of people to his business, he took his inspiration from the history books. He explained: “When starting out I was reading the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton’s biography. When trying to recruit men to his Endurance expedition he put an advert in The Times, saying: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.’ “I decided to run the same advert in PR Week and got some really nice replies, even a telegram! I think that placing that advert showed some real creativity, honesty and transparency about the risks and rewards of joining us and it led to some very suitable characters turning up to work for us.” 12 years, one merger and an acquisition later, it is now 60 people and still an independent agency – he clearly did something right! For Rachel Bell, she felt that to help Shine Communications get the right people on board was about getting people invested in their trajectory from the outset. “We got together a crazy bunch - all incredibly bright and super sassy, with tons of energy and bags of personality. Right from the get go, we talked about how amazing we were going to be and how exciting this was.” This, in turn, helped build their reputation in the market. “Really setting out our stall was one of the best things we did in terms of attracting the right people to us. Very quickly we found we had talent knocking on our door to join us without needing to be proactive. It’s so important to create the excitement and tell a story right from the start. When candidates are trying to decide where to accept a job offer, it’s a real differentiator between agencies,” she said. Todd Tran found that attracting talent can also kick-start a virtuous circle of talent, leading to funding, leading to more talent. “When venture capitalists are evaluating whether to invest in your business, often the first thing they’ll look at is not the idea, but who is starting the company and who they have on board.” From the recruitment perspective, Alice agreed, “The first step to growing a start-up is to attract great talent. Do that and great business will follow.” In Rachel’s experience, she’s found that recruiters can be pivotal in unearthing the ‘great talent’ that businesses require. “Find a specialist recruiter who knows your market inside out,” she said. She also advised really engaging with your recruiter. “My most successful work with recruiters is when I’ve put more effort in. You need to invest time in it, describing in detail what the team is like, what sort of accounts they’ll be working on etc. Recruitment is a tough gig!”
How to foster the right culture
Attracting talent, as any business knows, isn’t where the story ends. Retaining talent requires careful attention too and this means creating a culture that fosters creativity and gives employees the motivation to come into work every day and give it their all. For Rachel, creating the right atmosphere is crucial and can keep on benefiting a business long after employees have moved on. “The friendships fostered in our business seem to be really enduring and that generates no end of good will. People who worked for us a long time are still recommending us to new staff and remaining ambassadors for our business and brand. Any type of consultancy has one asset - its people. Give time, energy and investment to people and it will pay off.” For Todd, developing the right company values is essential, and even more important is realising that these values are an organic, evolving thing, not something to be printed out on a bit of paper and then forgotten about. “Apple have company values but they do things differently. They only communicated these values to top managers and stipulate that these values were not to be circulated to employees. Instead, the managers needed to be proactive about these values every day. If you do this, after a while, good practice seeps into the company.”
How to manage talent
Finding the right way of managing talent within the business is something that all growing businesses need to get a handle on, the panellists agreed, but they each used different methods. “The challenge is about capturing performance and bench-marking on a regular basis so at least there’s a paper train if someone has been struggling, or not fulfilling expectations,” according to Jim. Whereas Rachel Bell takes a more fluid approach. “I’ve sometimes gone against the grain by not doing things by the letter in order to do things in a way that I think is right. I think sometimes following employment law very rigidly can come across as quite hostile. It can mean processes where nobody is going to come out feeling good at the end. I think often an honest, transparent conversation tends to lead to the right solutions for both the employee and the business.” Regarding how to keep the dialogue flowing between management and employees, the panel agreed that finding ways to encourage dialogue works well. Rachel likes to go on regular ‘speed dates’ with her employees, where she and the employee will go on a walk round the block together to discuss what’s happening at work and how it could be better. She also encourages peer group meetings, a forum where people at the same level can discuss what challenges they are facing in their roles, whether it’s the ‘big issues’ or seemingly smaller things like the fact the photocopier is always breaking - and then feedback to management. Jim explains that he is finding a piece of £200 software that enables employees to give each other anonymous feedback once a month, very useful in helping people to hone their performance. The methods of finding talent and keeping those people on board for as long as possible may be different for different businesses, but the fact that recruitment and retention are two of the biggest issues facing any growing business is clearly not a question, at least according to this bunch. As Alice said in closing the event, “Finding, retaining and attracting talent will always be a challenge for us all.” ---
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