We’ve covered a lot of ground in this 2-part article. If you’d like to have a permanent copy for easy reference, just click the button below.
During one coaching session I talked to an agency owner who lost some top-performing employees within a short time frame. During their exit interviews, these employees assured the owner that it was nothing personal - they were leaving to pursue evolving career goals.
It’s an explanation that people always use when they don’t want to get into the details. How many times have you had to tell a non-performing employee that “It’s not working out?” In this case, they are essentially telling you the same thing.
If you wait until key employees leave to find out why they chose to move on, you’ve lost two golden opportunities:
In this second part of a 2-part series on recruitment and retention, I would like to discuss why employee retention is so important, common reasons why people leave, and how you can make your agency a place where people are eager to build their careers.
Like other agency owners, you need quality talent and stability in a tight economy. Losing a member of staff can be very disruptive and stressful (for those who have to pick up their workload). Another reason why retention should be at the top of your agenda is that the cost of turnover is high: depending on the employee’s position, you could be spending up to 2.5 times their salary to replace them. Given the fact that the average turnover rate in UK agencies is around 20%, costs can quickly become prohibitive.
There are also other costs, like reduced productivity and disengagement among your current workforce, some of whom may ultimately decide to leave too.
The good news is that talent exodus is not inevitable. Although people can and will leave for reasons beyond your control (and which have nothing to do with your agency), there are proven ways to increase retention, and they start after you say, “You’re hired.”
In part 1 of this series, I explained how retention starts during the recruiting process. From reviewing CVs and screening applicants to conducting first and second interviews, you seek candidates who are a good cultural fit and have career goals that mirror what your agency has to offer. This involves:
After weeks (maybe even months) of interviewing, you find the right person. You make the offer, they accept it. Now you can rest easy.
Not so fast. This is when the challenge begins, not when it ends. It can take new employees an average of eight months to get up to speed, and to make the transition as successful as possible, your agency needs a strong induction process.
Starting a new job can be an exciting yet stressful experience for anyone. When you have a process in place that introduces them to colleagues and outlines what their first few weeks will be like (down to the nearest hour), you’ll raise their confidence and set them up for success.
Recommended steps include:
It is important to have realistic expectations. Even the most experienced employees need time and support as they settle into their new roles and understand how your agency operates. Clarify what you want them to focus on and achieve during the probationary period, and keep the momentum going until you know for sure whether or not they’re going to work out. If you take a formalised pragmatic approach to onboarding a new employee then you should never have to extend their probation period.
Your new hire has passed their probationary period and joined your team. Congratulations! Now you need to give yourself the best chance of retaining them for the long-term. Proven retention strategies include:
Keeping an excellent new employee means that you have to be smart. To be more precise, you need to use SMART objectives that establish a definite roadmap for their career progression. Vague and ambiguous goals don’t provide the direction needed to inspire top performers - they need to know what’s expected, when, and how you want them to achieve those objectives. I guarantee that a vague ambiguous objectives will lead to misunderstandings and frustration so take the time to get this right.
Below is an overview on how this acronym (which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and having a set time frame) can apply to performance management at your agency.
The meaning of SMART
Succeeding in your employee retention efforts requires you to think about what matters most to your team. While everyone is different in terms of goals and values, practically all employees want the following:
Think about what retention incentives you can put in place. Successful strategies include:
Sometimes turnover is inevitable. People will leave for personal and professional reasons, but you can minimise the impact on your agency by implementing a succession plan that enables vacancies to turn into growth opportunities for existing staff.
An effective employee retention program should start on a new hire's first day on the job. The training, support, and incentives that you provide from Day One can boost job satisfaction and set the stage for a long tenure at your agency.
As always, I hope that you enjoyed this article. Using the strategies, insights, and tools that I’ve discussed here, I’m confident that you will be able to:
If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to respond.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series on recruitment and retention. This article focuses on the recruitment process and part 2 will focus on retention strategies.
We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this 2-part article. If you’d like to have a permanent copy for easy reference, just click the button below.
I hear this every day in my coaching practice. Agency owners hire new employees who either don’t make it past the probationary period or leave before their one-year anniversary is up. In some cases, an agency goes through hours of interviews without feeling confident enough to extend a job offer.
It’s true that currently it’s super challenging to find good people, especially in an uncertain economy. When overall conditions are bad, everyone clings to their job like a life raft. No one’s going to jump ship when the chances of sinking are too high. When times are good, there are more opportunities for them to choose from.
Many agencies believe that their location is a key barrier but truth be told, it doesn’t matter where you’re located. If you’re in the city, there’s a bigger talent pool but a lot of competition from other employers. In more rural areas, your hiring choices are more limited and, even if you extend your reach, you may not find someone willing to relocate.
Chances are that as an employer, you’ve been through this seemingly endless cycle of job ads, CVs, and job interviews that are soon followed by exit interviews or no hires at all. Not only is it frustrating, but it’s also expensive and can affect morale among staff who have to shoulder extra duties until you bring someone else on board.
How can you fix it? By optimising your recruiting process.
A streamlined and consistent hiring strategy is a vital element in any successful recruiting programme. When you can access the right talent, set up interviews promptly, and extend the job offer soon afterwards, you can realise the benefits outlined below.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, whenever a company replaces an employee, it costs an average of six to nine months’ salary. If you’ve engaged a manager at £40,000 a year, that's up £30,000 in recruiting and training expenses.
The cost of unfilled positions is also significant. A vacant revenue-generating role, such as an account manager, represents money lost. If you have to pay freelancers to do the work in between hirings, you could be facing high costs. Lost productivity and diminished quality of customer or client service can also translate into reduced company earnings.
These are all financial challenges that can be eliminated when you use a more effective recruiting strategy.
When you have access to higher-quality candidates and can present them with a job offer soon after a successful interview process, you can prevent competitors from scooping up the talent that could take your company to the next level.
The delay between interview and job offer is bigger than most employers realise. A survey by the Accounting Principals revealed that over half of the U.S. hiring managers and HR personnel polled said that it took them over a month to complete a typical hire. In the UK, it can take up to three months. When an ideal candidate waits too long to receive a job offer, it gives a poor impression of your agency and increases the likelihood that you will lose top talent to a competitor.
Poor hiring decisions can have legal consequences. If a new hire doesn’t work out, they may accuse you of misleading them into accepting a role that wasn’t a good fit or claim that you dealt with them in bad faith, or the way you exited them was not fair. Since dealing with employment tribunals can cost a UK employer £8500 on average, preventing a wrong hire in the first place can protect your company’s bottom line as well as its reputation and internal staff morale.
These are all reasons why you need an optimised recruitment strategy. Now let me show you how to make it happen.
Be clear on what you want before you start looking. I’m not talking about the job description, which you probably know by heart. I’m referring to the ideal candidate.
Candidate profiles are blueprints that map out your preferred skills and personality traits for the role. Do you want someone who is an independent thinker? Savvy on social media? An outgoing people person? I liken these profiles to the customer personas that sales and marketing professionals use to define the ideal customer for their product or service.
An accurate and appealing job description can attract candidates with the right hard skills, but soft skills are equally important, and a candidate profile can help enhance the quality of your shortlist.
If you’ve ever had to sift through tons of rubbish CVs, you know what a huge time waster the DIY hiring route can be (both in terms of your time and ultimately, money). This is not a time when you want to be cutting corners: working with a recruitment company will save you time and money.
Many of the most successful agencies use recruitment companies to assist them in finding and keeping top talent. Reasons include:
Access to the quality candidates. Recruitment agencies can help you reach both active and passive candidates. Those who are actively looking for a new job tend to register with agencies, who often have access to highly-qualified passive prospects who could be tempted to join your team. In addition, these companies know how to optimise a vacancy advert so that it ranks highly for the appropriate job search.
Shortlisting management. A recruitment agency will sift through all incoming CVs for you, rejecting unsuitable ones and responding to any queries about the role. You won’t have to waste your own time and resources dealing with unproductive hiring duties.
Assistance with speciality occupations. Sometimes you need an employee with a unique or specific skillset. Engaging a recruitment agency that understands your industry can ensure that all shortlisted candidates will be fully qualified ones.
Many recruitment agencies also offer specialty services such as salary benchmarking, which helps ensure that you’re offering a competitive wage, and psychometric tests, which give unique insights into the natural talents and abilities of prospective hires.
Now I acknowledge it can be hard to find a great recruitment agency so make sure you meet several and pick one who ‘gets’ your market space and doesn’t over promise.
When the agency has sent you a list of pre-screened candidates, it’s time to interview them. If you’ve worked with a reputable agency that understands your needs and your industry, you can feel reasonably certain that you’ll be interviewing people who have the necessary education, experience, and qualifications for the position. Now you want to focus on who they are, and why they should want to work for you.
Here are some tips for conducting a strategic interview.
Avoid the standard questions. If possible, avoid typical questions like “Where do you want to be in five years?” or “Tell me about your proudest accomplishment.” Chances are that you’ll get a rehearsed response. When you ask something that they won’t anticipate, you’ll have a good idea of how they deal with the unexpected. Do they freeze and stutter? Or do they think about the question before giving a good response?
Have them expand on their answers. In most cases, the first answer they give you is one that they’ve practiced. Encourage them to expand by remaining silent or asking, “What else?” Unrehearsed answers will give you insights into how they really think, especially under pressure. Silence can be your friend here – if you don’t fill the gap then they will (a tip I learned from my PR days and a tool that journalists use to get the juicy inside gossip!).
Obtain practical information. Scenario-based questions are an excellent way to anticipate how the candidate will react to a variety of job-related challenges. If you say to a prospective manager, “How do you motivate an employee who is underperforming?” you’ll have a better understanding of how they manage people. In addition, questions like “What obstacles did you face on your last project and how did you overcome them?” can give you insights into accomplishments that may not be on their CV. Also don’t be afraid to ask them to do some ‘homework’ and have them present to you (and dig in to understand HOW they went about preparing the presentation)
Screen for cultural fit. Every agency has its own culture, and ideally you want to hire someone who shares the same values as the company. They’ll be more engaged, and studies have shown that an engaged workforce can improve business performance by 30%.
Don’t forget to sell yourself and the agency during the interview too. A key part of your company brand is the benefits that you offer, such as:
Don’t forget the emotional benefits too. Tell the candidate why your employees enjoy working for your agency. Talk about any valued traditions, such as sports teams, volunteer organisations, and employee-driven initiatives. You can even have one of your employees join in at this stage of the interview to share their positive feelings about their job and the company.
If you feel positively about a candidate, don’t wait too long to extend an offer. According to ERE, the highest-quality job applicants are off the market in an average of 10 days. If your company waits too long, you’re going to miss out.
As an employer, you may be wary of making a quick hiring decision, but if your preferred candidate is going to be in high demand because of the value they will add, cut out any unnecessary stages of the recruitment process and be prepared to hire sooner. High performers in the top 5% of a company’s workforce can deliver 26% of its total output.
Finding top talent presents a challenge for employers across the globe. While the right hire can make a huge and positive contribution towards the development of your company, the wrong one will hold it back. By optimising your hiring process, you can source the top performers needed to stand out in the most competitive industries.
I hope you found this article useful. In the next one, I’ll discuss the ways that you can increase employee retention and develop a work culture that increases loyalty and job satisfaction. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please post them below and I’ll be pleased to answer them.
This is part one of a 2-part series on recruitment and retention. In the next installment we are going to focus on strategies to keep your staff for the long term.
In this new article series, I’m going to discuss some of the most common problems you may encounter if you aspire to scale your agency – and how you can avoid them. Think of this series like a roadmap: it will detail the routes available to you, but ultimately, which road you decide to travel is up to you.
Before we start, it’s important to note that having a small/lifestyle business isn’t a bad thing – if that’s your goal. Some people are content running small agencies (i.e. 5 or fewer employees). Some people are content to work entirely by themselves. And with the right strategy, you can build a highly profitable small business (even without employees) that affords you plenty of free time and the chance to do work you enjoy.
Running a small business can be liberating in some ways. You can charge more competitive prices than your competitors, who have larger overheads. You can create more personal connections with clients and have a direct hand in delivering work to them. There’s also less pressure when you’re only responsible for a handful of employees or just yourself.
However, depending on your ambitions, you may wish for something more. You might have a vision of an agency that is number 1 in your niche. You might hope to eventually “cash out” and retire young (a hard feat to accomplish when you’re responsible for servicing clients every week).
Many agencies start out with just 1-3 people (the owner(s), and maybe an employee or two). Few businesses stay this size – over time, they scale up and become full-fledged operations, capable of creating waves in their space.
The process of scaling up your agency is not always an easy one. There are several pitfalls you need to avoid on your path to a bigger business. Depending on how far along you are on this journey, the dangers will differ. Let’s take a look at these problems in more detail.
When you start as a one-man band, there are certain things you take for granted. No one knows you better than you know yourself. You seldom need to explain what you’re doing to yourself – the answer is already in your head. While this is obvious (and very convenient), it can be a hindrance once you have to take on your first employee or two.
The process of going from zero employees to one or more can be tough to adapt to if you’re not prepared for it. Almost overnight, you go from being able to just do things to having to explain little details to someone else (the stuff you know, but take for granted as common knowledge). That could include your preferred methods of communication, typical working processes, favoured tools/systems, or anything of that sort.
Typically, the first hire you’ll make as a solopreneur looking to expand will either be another functional person (i.e. someone who you can directly delegate work to), or an admin employee (who can handle everything that doesn’t relate to servicing clients). You shouldn’t just hire these people for their skillset – you also need to look out for adaptability and can easily be flexible enough to work in a small agency and do what needs to be done!
The growing pains you’ll experience when moving from self-employment to co-existence with someone is a huge psychological leap – you’re moving from a 1-man band and making the decision to become a ‘real’ business – that’s how it felt to me!
Let’s take a look at an actionable process you can apply to your business today if you’re looking to make one of your first hires (or just a great hire in general).
I’ve heard many horror stories in my time as a business coach. I work with a range of small and large agencies. Regardless of how far along these businesses are in their scaling journeys, the owners usually have stories to tell about the mistakes they made when hiring their first employees. And from listening to all these different stories, I’ve learned there’s a general process you can follow to avoid these mistakes:
That’s the abridged version of the experiences I have seen with many successful agency owners over the past 12 years. While the specifics of their situations differed, the overwhelming majority of them followed a process much like this when taking their agency from “solo to small”.
While part 1 of this article was geared towards one-man bands looking to make their first hire or two, the fundamentals of making great hires are the same no matter how big your agency is. Hiring typically gets a little easier as you scale – you have a better grasp of the kinds of employees you need, attract better candidates, and have stronger systems in place for making the right decisions. When you’re starting out, you lack these resources. That’s why it’s so important to have a robust process in place for making hiring decisions.
Starting that journey of growth may begin with hiring a freelancer but don’t be fooled into believing you can build your business using freelancers. I can guarantee you that it will not work. A freelancer may help with growth in the early days, and they are great for plugging a capacity gap or bringing in skills you do not need or want permanently in your agency, but they are not a long term strategy for growing your agency. (If you want to know more about why I believe this then get in touch).
P.S. In the next article in this series, I’ll discuss what it takes to go from “small” (5 or fewer employees) to “not-so-small” (10-15 employees approx). Stay tuned!
This phrase applies in a number of different business scenarios, but let’ just focus on 2 of them:
We all want to win new business and when we are in a place of ‘abundance’ it becomes clearer and easier to be selective and ensure we only take on the ideal type of client. When we need new business we can take on clients that don’t necessarily fit within our core ideal customer – that could be based on what they do, what they are asking for or cultural fit. If you are dealing with a prospect that is proving difficult, demanding or needy then buyer beware because remember “Present behaviour dictates future behaviour” – so if they are like this now, they are likely to be like this (but probably worse) once the relationship develops!
We need to listen to our instincts and have our eyes wide open. When taking on this type of client then boundaries and clear scopes of work become crucial to creating a mutually respectful relationship.
Without a doubt, the number 1 issue for all my clients is finding and retaining great staff and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.
So when you desperately need to fill a vacancy you may overlook some concerns that you are hearing but choosing to ignore. But again remember “Present behaviour dictates future behaviour” and whatever niggles or concerns you have at interview stage will probably be magnified once they start working for you.
To overcome this smart organisations will have a methodical process to assess the candidate not only against a set of clearly defined roles & responsibilities but also against their company culture. You have to get both parts of this right – their ability to do the job and their ability to fit into your culture and buy into your values. And if you choose to ignore any of your concerns they you are storing up more problems for yourself than just having an empty chair to fill!
So am I saying a ‘leopard cant change its spots’? No, we are all a work in progress and we can all choose how we develop and evolve – that’s if we want to. I doubt a new painful client will want to change their ways (after all it will be your fault not theirs!) and a new member of staff that is proving to be difficult will probably have a lack of self recognition and ultimately will find themselves in the wrong job.
So remember, Present behaviour dictates future behaviour and if your instincts are telling you this then listen to them!
You’re understaffed and everyone is maxxed out. You finally find a good candidate to fill the vacancy. They start and you breath a sigh of relief now that the post filled and the pressure is relieved. You leave them to get on with things but quickly realise they are not quite what you thought they would be and they realise the Company isn’t quite what they expected. Things don’t quite work out and you find yourselves back to square 1. Does this sound familiar?
I am amazed that this scenario often happens and unwittingly, staff are set up to fail rather than succeed. In order to give a new member of staff the best chance of success you need to map out their first few months so both you and they know what to expect and what ‘good’ looks like in their role. They need to know their priorities for each month, what the outputs of each task are and how they are measured. This way you can ensure that yours and their expectations are met. Management needs to take the time to mentor and ‘buddy’ them so they can ‘learn the ropes’ and settle into their new role and environment as seamlessly and quickly as possible. In a larger organisation there is usually a formalised induction process (although this can be very HR heavy rather than role specific) but in SMEs this is often lacking.
This is a perfect example of one of my favourite expressions: “Slow down to speed up”. Spend the time at the start getting it right to ensure you and your business moves forward faster in the mid to long run. Invest time in hiring the right staff (if you cut corners or take the cheapest route, you usually end up with a compromise) and then invest time in getting them settled in and up to speed to reap the benefits later on.
Staff attraction and retention is a huge issue for business at the moment. It’s a candidates market so getting it right is crucial. However, hiring the right person is just the start of the process. So how good is your induction process and what other tips do you have?