The Challenge Of Retaining Your Digital Talent

Young creative team working on a concept

In this opinion piece, HR business partner Jessica Rogers from digital agency Resolution offers B&T some top tips on one of the industry biggest issues – how to keep a hold of digital talent (and how to find your own Steve Jobs)…

We are in a remarkably tight talent industry. I don’t know about you – but this is the first industry I have worked in where people get triple promoted within a couple years. They literally go from pulling reports to deciding the strategic direction of a company and no one blinks an eyelid.

Jessica Rogers

Digital marketing is a relatively new area in the scheme of things. So new in fact, that in Australia a large portion of our talent is sourced from overseas markets. What I would be extremely interested in is looking at the source of influence. How many touch points does a person need exposure to before they consider a career in digital marketing? There are a lot more movies about doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. than there are about digital marketers. While it’s great when you are in it, it isn’t really a career path you think about travelling down, until you are already on it (often accidentally).

How long before academia catches on and includes digital marketing as a significant portion of their marketing qualifications? There are so many interns with Bachelors in Marketing, yet there are so few who can articulate what SEO, SEM, Content Marketing, programmatic buying, Analytics and CRO are, upon graduating. Granted, even armed with a photographic memory and a year’s worth of Omega 3 supplements, the hundreds of acronyms probably don’t help.

A bit of context

  • Average regrettable loss in this industry is 26.8 per cent (2014 Media Communications Agency Industry Census, MFA)
  • AHRI’s research places average cross-industry turnover at 13% (AHRI Pulse Survey Turnover and Retention, 2013)
  • 53 per cent of agency staff have less than 4 years’ experience (2014 Media Communications Agency Industry Census, MFA)

Combine a skill shortage with a rapidly growing digital industry and you get talent price wars and high voluntary turnover. Once you have laid the foundations of best practice HR what else is to be done?

The median age of the industry is 29 years. Gen Y. The Millennials. The Digital Generation. Some might say infamous for their sense of entitlement, short attention span and overly confident demeanour. This generation, whatever your view on it, is the heart and soul of the digital marketing industry.

This leads to the ultimate challenge: Retention.

Given the fast moving, highly demanding industry – businesses have to keep up with changing technology and consumer demands while engaging in a ruthless war for talent.

I would be highly suspicious of any HR practitioner in the industry not admitting to at least entertaining the idea of trapping Gen Ys with visa and PR conditions, or promising a 40 per cent salary increase and job title even the Prime Minister couldn’t refuse.

In this industry winning loads of new business is a double-edged sword – the desperate struggle to find resources to do the work can dampen the glow. In our darkest moments, while screening through hundreds of offensively unsuitable candidates, it can be hard to see the trees through the fog. But I promise there is light…

Resolution has been recognised as an Employer of Choice in The Australia Business Awards 2015– more relevant though is the fact that we have decreased voluntary turnover by 27 per cent in the last 12 months. I would like to share with you a couple of learnings that have had a massive impact on our business – with a very measurable impact on the bottom line. People + Product = Profit, right?

1. Peer pressure – the politically incorrect culture driver

In the 70s Leann Birch (Researcher at the University of Illinois) conducted a number of experiments to see what would get children to eat the vegetables they disliked. The focus here is not on eating more vegetables – just eating the specific vegetables they hated.

Birch tried a multitude of approaches, from telling the children they were “expected” to eat their vegetables to rewarding them with ice cream if they did. She also explained the benefits of eating vegetables and even used vegetable-eating role models. These tactics appeared to be the logical way to get the children to eat the vegetables – yet there was only one approach that worked predictably: putting a child who didn’t like peas, for example, with a few other children who did. Within a couple of meals the pea–hater was eating peas with as much enthusiasm as the pea–lovers.

Take on the role of the pea–lover in Birch’s experiment and create some healthy peer pressure. Focus and personalise retention efforts on key influencers or ‘the cloneables’ – the people who:

  • Are high achievers
  • Show high potential
  • Consistently display the right behaviours

The non-pea lovers will soon become uncomfortable and either adapt to the new way of thinking or move on. The focus here is on retaining the regrettable losses. Over time this will reduce your overall voluntary turnover because passionate, smart and personable people like to be surrounded by like-minded radiators, not drainers.

2. Find everyone their own Steve

What is Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerburg? Maya Angelou to Oprah Winfrey? Warren Buffet to Bill Gates?

“If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always (say they) have had a great mentor at some point along the road.” – Richard Branson

“A small amount of time invested on your part to share your expertise can open up a new world for someone else.” – Mark Zuckerberg

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates

Invest the time and resources into developing a mentoring program.

It’s a great way to inject the caring, support and development at an individual level without relying on the individual’s Manager and HR processes. Through a mentoring program, an agency can reduce the anxiety experienced by talent in taking big steps, can focus upcoming talent on setting and achieving their goals, and can help nurture emerging leadership. If it’s good enough for the world’s billionaires then it works for us too.

The bottom line?

See your employees as investors – they choose to invest their time, skills, and experience with your organisation. They are constantly evaluating whether they are receiving a return on their investment. The more you improve their marketability, the higher the ROI they see from their investment, and the longer they will continue to invest their human capital with you.

Build your business on the foundation of remarkable people doing remarkable work.

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