95% of agency owners I meet bemoan the whole talent piece: recruiting, training and retaining their talent. This is a major problem in an industry that prides itself on the importance of the right people in the right jobs.
The key points about HR and people are certainly not rocket science. You need:
- the right people in the right jobs doing the right things
- to know where you are with your people – audit and benchmark your performance
- the right processes and systems in place – a clear people vision and strategy, and clear job descriptions, career paths and schedules of review, assessment, and appraisal
- deliberate workforce planning – detailing how you will recruit, train, and retain the right people
The list above is true of any growing and thriving business and is certainly not unique to the agency world. The uniqueness of the agency world includes the village mentality; there are lots of people with similar values chasing the jobs. There are many similar agencies appearing to offer similar perks and culture. There is a growing shortage of stand-out candidates. Everyone seems to know everyone else’s business. How unique a situation this is can be debated elsewhere.
What is not in dispute is that the market is tight.
Candidates complain there is too much competition for the few perfect jobs they see.
Employers complain how most candidates are either over- or under-qualified coupled with unreasonable expectations. Too few people with exactly the right qualifications and experience chasing too many vacancies.
Where demand exceeds supply, there is a natural pressure for vacancies to be filled very quickly and for prices to rise. For the right candidate, it is a seller’s market. But this is not helpful for the typical agency trying to fill empty desks.
Recruitment is a constant business – the above-average agencies are always open to talk. The above-average tend to recruit when they find the right person and create the role around them rather than wait for the vacancy to appear. With staff attrition typically between 13 and 20%, the average 30-person agency needs to recruit at least 5 people pa just to stay still.
And they only recruit the right people. The saying goes, “A hole is better than an a*s*hole”.
Agencies create virtuous or vicious cycles in the recruiting activities according to how generous the pay packages they offer are.
The argument goes as follows: whether you pay above- or below-average wages, the technical skills of agency staff tend to be pretty similar. What is different is the non-technical skills: the ability to explain what you have done and why, to a client… the ability to identify potential add-ons, the ability to cross-sell and up-sell. In essence, to be able to add significant additional value.
The downwards spiral goes: lower-than-average wages attract people with lower-than-average social and communication skills who are less able to help retain and grow clients so that profits are lower, so there is less available to pay wages and lower-than-average wages attract people with lower-than-average social and communication skills, etc. The vicious cycle.
However, there is also an upwards, growing, sustaining cycle if you are brave enough to experiment or have deep enough pockets. Higher-than-average wages attract people with higher-than-average social and communication skills who are more able to help retain and grow clients so that profits are higher, so there is more available to pay wages and higher-than-average wages attract people with higher-than-average social and communication skills, etc. The virtuous cycle.
That’s it. The above-average tend to pay more and get better people as a result. Of course, there are loads of exceptions. We all know of the new staff member who left after three days or one day or never even turned up to day one. Let’s be clear that recruiting and retaining is tough, really tough. And it is even tougher if you try to do it on a budget. You can’t expect Mercedes quality on a Seat budget.