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Engaging and retaining digital creative talent

Published on Wednesday, 9th November 2016, contributed by en:Rich HR

If you run a creative business you’ll be used to creative thinking - so ponder this question. If we lived in a world where people chose to work purely on job content and the culture of the business - would your staff still turn up?

It’s not such a crazy scenario as it might seem. Today’s creative worker is in a very different place to even a few years ago. It’s partly down to the confidence of knowing their skills are in high demand and partly down to changing aspirations - as increasingly money is not their main motivator.

So, how do you attract and retain the talent to deliver your projects and grow your business?

Based on my work as an HR and employee engagement consultant to creative businesses, here are some pointers to the main challenges and some of the solutions:

Scan the talent horizon

It always good to know what’s coming - as the Captain of the Titanic might have said.

Look up from your business and scan the horizon. Your greatest talent iceberg is supply and demand. Where is the talent going to come from? If you are still relying on the education system to provide freshly trained graduates, it’s time to think again. The kind of skills digital agencies need are changing quicker than the education system can deliver.

Even worse, it’s official - the UK is experiencing a digital skills crisis. According to the ‘Digital Skills Gap’ by Accenture (published in July this year), the UK needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017 - and 90% of jobs now require a degree of digital capability. So, what chance finding a good supply of fresh digital talent who are also creative?

Know your talent competition

You might be competing with other creative agencies for business but, when it comes to attracting talent, the competition is a whole lot wider. There may well have been a time where an ad agency or creative business was possibly the most exciting place to work. In many cases it still is - but so are start-ups, tech firms - and what about that place called Google?

What candidates find attractive about many of these employers are characteristics that are exactly in tune with what their career expectations. And what might these be?

Changing employee expectations

You may have heard the term ‘Millennials’ - it refers to workers born after 1982 - so the first of these are now in their mid 30s - and the term covers a large part of the workforce.

Millennials are often the focus of HR research. Deloitte produced a Millennial survey this year and it makes interesting reading. It finds that most young professionals choose employers that share their personal values. Whilst money is important, they place greater emphasis on those that can invest in their longer term career development. And, if they don’t get what they want - they’ll move on.

The survey found that many have one foot out of the door - two-thirds would consider leaving their existing employers by 2020. It’s what Deloitte call the ‘loyalty challenge’ but, the good news is that employers have an opportunity to respond.

Winning the loyalty challenge

So, you have a business potentially full of people that don’t feel they need to owe you any loyalty and could walk when they want to? Let’s go back to my original question, if money isn’t the big motivator (and it’s not), what would make them want to engage and stay?

The Millennial survey uses the term ‘purpose beyond profit’. It describes it as a potential ‘silver lining’ for employers wanting to retain these young professionals. A sense of purpose was also a theme that came from a recent talk on nurturing digital talent in Bristol. Matt Hardy of The Real Adventure talked about the motivational power of purpose, autonomy and mastery of skills and said that retention is about culture, not salary.

It is clear that if creative agencies are to retain and attract digital talent, they have to create an engaging and authentic culture and communicate this through their employer brand. It’s no coincidence that employers are creating their own versions of a ‘Google workplace’. And what’s more, to be effective it has to be a leadership led effort - and this means seeing involvement in people issues as a contributor to the business, not a chore.

Embrace the ‘people stuff’

The creative skills landscape has changed along with employee aspirations - and agencies need to change with it. More investment in culture (and culture change), more listening to employees, broader and less rigid recruitment, embracing diversity (and transferable experience), investing in and communicating the employer brand. For the creative business that wants to retain, the HR to-do list can seem a little daunting - but don’t doubt that it’s needed - and here’s why.

There is a simple quote from Sir Richard Branson that shows why talent should be top of the priority list. “At its core, a company is its talent, its expertise and its relationships”.  These three things are all about people - your staff, their expertise - and the relationships they create - internally and externally - and that means with your clients.

Further reading

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you might also want to read my thoughts on other HR issues facing creative businesses: Is it time to call in the "People experts? and What makes a great workplace culture, and how do you measure yours?

Need some help?

My work goes to the heart of the workplace relationship between employee and employer. I’ve helped many creative organisations and their leaders create clear messages for employee engagement, retention and their employer brand.

If you’d like a chat about any HR issues in your business, please drop me a line and get in touch.

Rich Roberts