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How to nurture your top talent and keep them for the long haul

You’ve got all this amazing talent, ideas are firing, business is thriving, you wake up every day feeling really lucky to be doing what you do. But one day it all starts to go downhill. People are leaving, HR is in overdrive and unfamiliar faces are springing up left right and center as freelancers start filling in the gaps...

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately this pattern is all too common in the creative industry. But most managers tend to think it comes with the territory. They had to work hard for little reward when they were young and for them it’s a “rite of passage” thing. But that’s the worst attitude you can have as a creative leader. The rules of the game have changed and you need to do something – fast – otherwise your high achievers will walk right out the door into the competition’s waiting arms.

We’re being a little melodramatic, but the creative industry is small - it pays to look after your top talent. The last thing you want is a competing agency poaching your best and brightest.

So how do you nurture that talent and keep it from walking out the door?

01 – Start by identifying your top talent

Top performers produce as much as 10 times more than the average worker, while they often require less than two times the pay (Sullivan, 2012, read in Halogen Software).

So find out who your star performers are!

Top talent are the ones that push the business forward, who proudly exemplify your culture, live your values and always deliver above and beyond. They’re ambitious, intelligent and passionate about what they’re doing and where they’re headed. Using a complete project management software like WorkflowMax makes this step is easy. With instant access to real time data, you're able to gauge the most productive employees, and even generate detailed reports for "billable time". 

02 – Give them a cause and get behind it

People want to feel invested in their work, the younger generation even more so. Show them how your agency differentiates itself from others, through the work that you do, the culture you embrace, by the purpose-driven approach to everything your agency does. If your staff feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work, they’ll stay the course and become the best brand champions you could ever have hoped for.

03 – Listen to learn

Time to put that beautiful ego to one side. Try to understand where your top talent is coming from so that you can develop and implement a talent retention plan that achieves both your needs. What are their career goals? What do they value besides monetary incentives? Is it flexible work hours? In that case, it pays to know how to manage flexible staff. Perhaps they’re more concerned with wellbeing initiatives? Or designated work environments that encourage experiment and “play”? Google acknowledges the positive impact these kinds of spaces have on “productivity, collaboration and inspiration” and makes them an essential ingredient of any HQ. Facebook even has its own Analog Research Lab! Learn from global best practice and implement as necessary.

04 – Be open to new ideas

The creative industry is constantly evolving – and the new generation brings with it an understanding of new mediums, fresh ways of working and a dynamic energy. Your top talent wants to have a voice, so give them one. You might be surprised at what you hear.

05 – Time to get transparent

The more visibility employees have over their professional development, the more likely they are to stick around for the long haul. For example, openly state in their contracts (or perhaps your company-wide intranet) exactly what internal/external development opportunities are available to them. Open education models are another highly worthwhile development option. Include information on any long-term incentive schemes in place and designated support people (HR). 

06 – Praise well and praise hard

High achievers don’t want a pat on the back – they want credit where it’s due and meaningful feedback which helps them grow and develop. Annual performance and recognition rewards are some tangible incentives you can put in place to recognise great staff. Harvard Business Review notes that fifty percent of high performers expect at least a monthly sit down with their managers but this expectation is often not met. Scheduling in regular reviews, informal meetups, one-on-one coaching or even a formal mentoring programme can help track progress and provide guidance.

07 – Keep it interesting

High achievers thrive on stimulation, which is exactly what any creative agency worth its stuff is all about. However it’s almost too easy to fall into the comfortable pattern of what’s always worked and unknowingly taking your top talent for granted. Don’t be afraid to give them challenging work. They’ll love it.

08 – Give away your power

Encourage your top talent to follow their optimal career paths, direct their own learning and even grow their replacements.

And finally, the most critical one of all… 

09 – Trust your people

Great leaders lead, and know when to step back. Trust that the time and effort you have invested in your top talent will pay off, because if you’ve done the hard yards you will reap the benefits.

Don’t lose your high achievers out to the competition. Show them their value by following the steps above to keep them for the long haul.

What are your top tips for nurturing creative talent?

You can learn more about nurturing top talent in John Jantsch’s FREE agency business model webinar - hosted by WorkflowMax, the project management system loved by thousands of agencies. Jantsch, a leading agency professional, speaker, Marketing expert and best-selling author, will reveal his secrets for a successful agency.

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