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Today’s investment, tomorrow’s leaders

Today’s investment, tomorrow’s leaders

Talent management is not just the reserve of the HR department, it should have a place on the board agenda and address the current and future needs of the business

Of all the pressures healthcare business leaders in-house and in-agency face today, one of the most common and recurrent is that of talent: attracting it, developing it, retaining it. For myriad reasons, the talent pool in this industry remains a small and fiercely fought-after one and for those responsible for staffing and talent development of healthcare marketing teams, the task remains as tough as ever.

Any serious business plan in our industry today must contain a significant piece on talent. The continued success of any business is reliant on our ability to find and nurture the talent that will be able to take on and evolve our businesses into the future and long after the current pool of leaders has moved on.  

Here, two agency leaders closely involved in talent management discuss some of the issues and considerations central to this business-critical issue. Ideas and thoughts are proposed to help answer a central question of whether – as an industry – we focus enough of our efforts on talent management, especially when the costs and risks of getting it wrong are so great.

Fatal attraction…

As with any long-term relationship, our ability to nurture a talent pool for the future starts with our competence in attracting people into our strange, often unknown, world and rapidly giving them the opportunities and exposure they expect and need as hungry Gen Ys. In this very obvious and basic task, we lag behind as an industry, potentially losing out and losing talent to other sectors that work harder to appeal to the next generation, despite perhaps having less to offer.

Agencies and client companies alike have a massive opportunity to create and market graduate schemes to rival any out there. A career in healthcare marketing and communications is as varied, vibrant and stable as any. It can offer potential recruits the chance to explore a rare mixture of paths through sales, creative, copy, design, science and commercial avenues to name but a few.However, such variation is rarely packaged and marketed in a coherent way. Agencies and clients have the potential to work together to create packages and schemes with mass appeal, and jointly reap the rewards of a largely untapped future workforce.

Graduates alone, however, can no longer be seen or relied upon as the only source of tomorrow’s leaders. Societal pressures of getting to University today are great, and a huge and talented pool of workers now come to the workplace via other routes which should be explored. Apprenticeships, increasingly, can be a valuable method of finding new talent, often giving access to exceptionally gifted individuals and teams in technology, digital and new media.

As an industry, we must work harder to appeal to those already at work in other careers; those potentially looking for a change.

A talent manager today also has the role of PR and marketing to consider, to reach out to allied industries and sectors, and sell the benefits and opportunities available in healthcare. Open days, short work placements and extra-curricular projects should all be considered as ways to maximise the future talent pool.

So what’s in it for me?

Training and development are often high on the agenda of our ambitious talent, but do we understand what it is that will keep them engaged and make them want to stay with us or do we have an outdated view of development?  

When we think of development we often think of external training courses, but development can take many forms including on-the-job opportunities, internal training events, coaching and mentoring, job rotations, secondments and shadowing, as well as networking.

In order to retain key team members and develop truly rounded future leaders we should think outside of the traditional box and explore all options. For example, maybe we should consider having guidelines on what percentage of training should be done externally, internally and through coaching.

A great way of doing this with junior teams is to give them a pitch brief alongside the main team allowing them to work on the same ‘live’ brief and compare ideas along the way. This can be of great benefit to the agency too often providing it with some fresh and different perspectives. It also allows the junior teams to gain an insight into the pitch process (without expectation) so that they have a greater understanding of the pitch process and evolution of ideas within the process. For some team members, the opportunity to have face-to-face time with senior team members, or to work alongside them, is important and gives them the opportunity to watch and learn, as well as raising their own profile.

Here’s an interesting thought: should we partner with our key clients on training and development initiatives? Confidentiality concerns aside, we think everyone would agree that gaining insight into how both sides work would be extremely valuable to both parties.

We know of one client that encourages its graduate trainees to gain agency experience by working at the agency for six months (on client business). This has proved not only highly beneficial in developing a broader skill base but has provided a greater understanding of multichannel communications and how to apply this to their brands. Maybe it’s time to initiate this discussion.

Staying power

I think we all know the heart-sink feeling we have when someone we identified as having lots of potential decides to move on to pastures new. We may have invested in these talented individuals, so how do we keep things interesting for them so that they remain both engaged and with the company?

With no such thing as a career for life any more, Gen Ys plan to have mobile careers, with their view of long-term being relatively short-term by previous standards. We need to ensure that we keep work varied and challenging, and provide clear personal development plans that work alongside succession plans.

It is always hard for agencies to balance rotating people around the agency so that they gain broader experience versus retaining brand knowledge and client relationships, but with a clear plan and good client communication this shouldn’t present an issue – many clients rotate their teams frequently and don’t see this as being detrimental to their business.

We also need to make sure that we balance the type of account and work staff are involved with. Every agency has the accounts that are perceived as truly exciting to work on – great client team, opportunity to be innovative and also to produce award-winning creative. Kudos all round.

Arguably our job is to make all accounts as dynamic to work on as possible, challenging the client to produce innovative work and great creative. However, lots of the work that we do may be producing brand essentials so we need to find a way to make this appealing and to balance the teams working on the accounts.

So should we identify those potential future leaders and ensure that we prioritise retention of this key group? In a tough economic environment training and development is often one of the things that gets scaled back. If we have limited budget then should we focus this on our identified top talent? It is unlikely that we will be able to retain all staff so it makes sense to place the emphasis on the core group that is the future of our business.

Talent management may sit within the HR function but this should also be a high priority on the agency board agenda, with talent being identified across all areas of the business. The strategy should focus not just on the current needs of the business – the here and now – but its future needs and therefore must be considered alongside investment opportunities and diversity strategies.

For some team members the opportunity to learn additional skills that are not core to the business may also be important to them, such as a language and additional well-being courses (like yoga or stress management) that nurture the work-life balance. These classes may also be key to talent retention and benefit the business in the long term.

In such a short narrative, it has been impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of what an effective talent management strategy should look like today, but we hope a few themes have been presented for future exploration. What is clear, is that talent management is now much more than a function of the HR department, but should instead be a core strategy and a central focus of the Board and management teams of agencies and client companies alike.

We have a collective responsibility as an industry – acting alone and in partnerships –  to attract and develop young talent, ensuring that the future of our diverse and creative industry is in safe hands and that the good work we do continues for generations to come.

The authors

Claire Dobbs is managing director at Havas Life London and Matt De Gruchy is CEO at Ogilvy Healthworld UK. Both are member companies of the European Association of Communications Agencies