Every agency owner dreads when a valued employee gives notice. But it’s an inevitable part of our business model. What is a reasonable tenure you should hope to get from each employee?

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Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. This week I’m coming to you from Kansas City, Missouri, and I want to talk to you this week about employee turnover. It is a huge challenge for many agencies, big and small. In this era that we’re in right now, many agencies are experiencing anything from 20 to 35% year-over-year turnover, which is really a shift for us. But I want to remind you that turnover’s always been a part of agency life. So when I started in the business eons ago, I can remember someone saying to me, “Drew, if you want to advance your career, salary, title, whatever it is, you’re going to have to job hop a little bit.” And the truth of the matter is, for me, that’s not how I grew in my career. I only worked for three or four agencies before I decided to start my own. But for many people, that was how they moved around. So somebody would be at an agency for three years, five years, six years, and then they would move to their next job. Right now, we are in a time where that timeframe is being compressed. If you can get two or three years out of somebody, we kind of feel like that was a win, that we got them to stay long enough that we could actually earn our investment back out of them by teaching them everything we knew for the first year or getting them used to our systems and our process and our clients. Then at least we got two or three years of good work out of them. But I think there’s a way for us to elongate that. And I think that’s all about creating a vision for the future. And what I mean by that is sort of at two layers. Number one, you as the agency owner need to help your team understand why you’re in business, how you’re different from everyone else, and what is the future that you’re all working towards. What does nirvana look like for your agency? How big are you going to be? What kind of clients are you going to serve? What are the values that your agency is based on? What are we working on together? What are we trying to accomplish, and how will we know when we’re getting closer to that goal? So that’s layer number one, and it’s super important and most of you do not put enough time and energy into having those conversations with your employees. And by the way, that’s not
a one and done conversation. That’s a regular conversation about here’s our future state, here’s where we’re moving towards, here’s what we want to be when we grow up, and here’s what we’re doing this year to get there. And here’s how you contribute to that. But the second layer of sort of future vision that I think you need to create is your employees need to understand what their future looks like inside the agency. If you’re a small shop, they may look at you and go, “There’s only 10 people, there’s only 20 people, there’s only 100 people. How much room is there for growth for me in this agency? Maybe if I want a different title or a different salary amount, even though I love this place, I’m going to have to move on to get that.” And you need to help them understand what they need to do to continue to advance in their career. What are the things, the skills they need to add to their repertoire? What is the knowledge base? What are the things that they can’t do today either in terms of client negotiation or directing a photo shoot or whatever it may be, what are the skillsets that are today beyond their capability that are going to help them get to the next level of salary, title, responsibility, whatever it is that matters to them? And then you’re going to have to sit down with them and carve out how they get from where they are today to where they want to be. Some of your employees are incredibly career-focused, and they really want to advance as quickly as possible. And they want to sit down with you. They want you to help them map that out, but they need some help. Do not expect them to just know how they’re going to become a senior account director or a creative director from where they sit today. So you need to map that out. You need to show them the progression of in this department, here are the different titles and responsibilities we have. Here are the skillsets that you need to advance to those titles. Here are the things we need to see inside the agency to know that you’re competent and capable of doing those things. And oh by the way, here’s how you learn those skills. So it might be mentorship, it might be courses, it might be certifications. And here are the parts that we’re going to do for you or with you or we’re going to pay for, and here are the things that we expect you to do on your own. That clarity allows them to see what their future looks like and whether or not they can have the future that they want in your shop. So I don’t have a magic bullet or a magic wand to help you stave off some of the employee turnover that you’re all experiencing. That’s just right now the economic reality for most agencies. But I do think that you can cut it in half by creating a future vision, both where the agency’s going and what the employee’s role is in that future, and also how the employee can get to the future that they want with your help. So focus on those two versions of the future. Sit down with your great employees that would crush you if they left, and help them understand their role and your vision for their role inside your shop today and down the road. Okay? Talk to you soon.

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