The fast lane
"One of my best team members has just been headhunted by [one of the world's biggest brands] for a ridiculous salary," a leader of a digital agency complained recently.
"That's frustrating," I replied, "but it's good too. It's a great credit to your agency that you helped them achieve that. Put their career story at the top of your recruitment ad, and you'll get some amazing applicants."
A few weeks ago I wrote about the on-ramps and off-ramps for staff in agencies — how the market conditions mean off-ramps are currently very tempting, so we need to build better on-ramps to bring great new staff members into our teams.
Part of attracting people to join is showing the benefits to their whole career of spending part of the prime of their working life in an agency. In your agency.
At their best, agencies are an incredible career accelerator for good people. Where else can you get such broad experience on so many projects, with so many companies, at the cutting edge of the profession? Where else do you get to dive in and contribute in such a broad range of tasks? Where else can you get so close to the thinking and creation work for cool brands, so early in your career?
Far from being upfront about this career accelerator role, too many agencies (and too many candidates) play the game together at recruitment stage of pretending this new job will be the one. Where do you see yourself in five years? "Oh I hope to rise up to a leadership role in this agency." Bullshit. That's just dancing round the taboo of the off-ramps.
Instead, let's start being open and honest that careers these days are a more adventurous journey than they used to be. People change roles, companies, professions and even countries. Multiple times.
There's a stretch of road between the on-ramp and the off-ramp of each job. Your pitch is that you'll get them to a better destination, faster than anywhere else — and when they do choose an off-ramp (probably in 2-5 years on average) you'll all celebrate together that the career accelerator worked.
This enables genuinely collaborative and frank conversations on what they can achieve for the agency in that 2-5 years, and what you can help them achieve for their career by giving them certain experience or training. You can make this part of your review and progression conversations, actively talking together about where they might go next and when (and of course, other roles at your agency can always be part of that).
So, this week, how can you use the career successes of your departing or former staff to attract new team members? How can you demonstrate your agency's role as a career accelerator? How could your agency become the fast lane for the careers of the best and brightest new talent?
Because that's how you're going to win in these times of 'talent turbulence'.
UPDATE: Since publishing this, agency founder Tony Hallett got in touch to share his own blog post on the subject, which has some great points on this topic too, including "Great employees, assuming they’re not at the pinnacle of their career, will need to grow... Show your best people you want them to succeed as people, not just as staff."