For a business that is so driven by its people, the digital agency environment is one characterised by high levels of staff turnover and burn-out. What's more, many agencies are also finding it difficult to keep their skills bases up to date with an ever-evolving landscape.
These realities show just how important it is for agencies to start thinking about talent management as a strategic priority. Sadly, the operational reality - demanding clients, ever-changing technology, tight budgets, the new modes of working that millennials bring to the workplace - mean that many digital agencies struggle to find the time and resources to focus on growing and developing their skills bases.
It is here where management needs to take charge and understand that growing an enthusiastic, professional team is the best reason to get up and go to work every morning. Sure, client demands are hard to manage, but agencies that want to remain competitive must make the time to develop their staff.
Hire for talent, train for skill
My point of departure is that choosing the right people at the outset will make it easier to develop and retain the right set of skills. You can give people skills, but you can't give them talent. I'll always choose the talented and motivated person without the technology certification or the degree because the raw material is there.
Once you've hired the talent, it's your job as the manager to give them the opportunities they need to grow. This means mapping out formal career development paths and training plans, which (let's face it) are not the strengths of the average team leader. Here, it's about understanding the strengths of the people you hire.
Around 10% will be the star performers, who will excel no matter what you throw at them and take control of their own skills development. The bottom 10% will be dead wood that you'll struggle to shape into really great employees. But the vast majority will be people who have the ability to do well, but will depend on the guidance of their mentors and superiors to unlock their real potential.
One of our philosophies is that learning is seldom wasted and not all learning comes from business schools and technical certifications. I found that my scuba instructor training enriched my management approach with insights into problem solving, mentoring and developing people which I may not have got from a university degree or on-the-job learning. So, for that reason, we're not averse to supporting staff as they embark on life experiences in parallel with their careers.
Another element of our talent development strategy is ensuring that we have alignment between our vision and purpose as a company and what we expect our employees to do at work every day. People don't buy into what you do, but why you do it. Everyone needs to work towards a common goal - which is to deliver value to your client so that their business can grow and prosper.
Communication and measurement are also important. Develop a talent management plan and keep reviewing it to ensure you are on track. Give your employees a way to give you feedback about their career and growth needs and concerns. Remember that happy staff, happy customers and happy shareholders all form part of the same equation.
As CEO of 25AM, Andre Steenekamp leads the company's expansion in South Africa's fast-growing digital marketing and advertising space. His 25-year career has seen him work in a range of sales, marketing and management positions for leading traditional and digital publishers and agencies.
Steenekamp was appointed to his current role following the acquisition of a 50%-stake in Acceleration Media by Times Media Limited.
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