Sally Henderson
Executive Mentor
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Blog

Sally Henderson

Investment sucks

Investment sucks, or at least it must do right as so many creative businesses choose to not invest in their people and therefore limit performance.

I have made it my personal mission to champion the rise of people development in the creative industry and invite you to help me with this. 

I have had countless conversations with both leading figures and up-and-coming talent, about the importance of investing in people’s development to which I hear lots of agreement and accord. When it comes to getting creative agencies to commit to investing in their people however this is much harder to achieve.  Yes there is always the challenge of future forecasts, pipeline and demands from others for margin etc. yet failure to adapt and evolve the creative industry’s approach to people and development will result in the demise of a brilliant sector. 

We know that:

·      the career needs and desires of new generations are different and more demanding of employers regarding investment and development

·      diversity (in all its glory) needs to become normal and not an initiative

·      convergence of markets and competitors results in even more pressure on creative agencies to attract and retain the best in show and more choice for said talent about where they take their skills. You can bet the management consultancies and tech firms have a robust, attractive and effective people investment approach and budget!


If you are still not convinced that “Houston we do have a problem” I have shared some of the common challenges creative business face below.

It is assumed when you tip over a certain level of salary, let’s say £50k, that the people skill fairy flies in and bestows bountiful people skills upon you.  Now because you are being paid more you know how to recruit talent, motivate and manage your team and lead with aplomb.  And if you don’t you will probably be left to discover this for yourself regardless of the wider problems and costs this creates

Creative businesses are happy to loose money in an established way when it comes to people and recruitment.  Risk and fear-led recruitment are sadly the norm. 

“We need this person now for a new client win, we haven’t got time to make sure we are all clear on who we really need for this hire, let’s just stick to what and who we know and work with that”. 

And one of my favourites:

“Well, if it doesn’t work out we can just get rid of them”. 

Hiring a mid-weight candidate will cost a minimum £7-9k not to mention all the down time throughout the recruitment process and on-boarding.  Think of the damage that is done to the employer brand when the wrong people are brought into a business.  It takes years for the positive “pub chat” to build up about a business yet just one bad experience poorly managed has the power to radically change and damage employer reputation in the industry, sometimes irrevocably.

Leaders are hired not just to lead but also prove why they were brought in on such a large salary to the business.  Rarely are they offered objective support or guidance to deliver this.  It is assumed because someone is “senior” they know all there is to know about the leadership role they take on for a business.  And if they don’t know, well they are paid to find out on their own and be resourceful right?  Even the best athletes have coaches and teams around them helping them reach peak performance and strategically plan for continued success based on their individual needs.  Coaching is becoming more prevalent in the creative world yet there is still a long way to go before leaders are given consistent development programmes and support to look after their emotional wellbeing and practical skills growth equally.  To me investing in your senior talent is a no-brainer as the benefits will touch upon the entirety of the business.

So how do we take action to improve the experience of people at work in the creative sector?  Here’s a quick check list to help you identify priorities and take a top-line people skills audit:

Ask yourself the following questions to see how effective people skills are in your business and mark between 1-5 to identify where to prioritise taking action:

·      Can your leaders manage the recruitment process effectively from creating a clear brief, that is specific to current needs and not based on habitual thinking, through to successfully securing interesting, exciting talent against the competition?

·      Are you able to effectively, and consistently, promote your employer brand and talent attraction points to prospective high calibre talent?

·      Can your leaders make effective talent judgement calls in interviews?

·      Do your leaders know how to review people well, giving honest feedback yet motivating individuals and teams to strive for new goals and learning?

·      Are you aware of your own unconscious bias in the workplace, its impact and how to address unconscious bias successfully?

·      Does your business coach for high performance looking after emotional wellbeing and practical skills growth?

·      Does your business have a clear understanding of your people dynamics both internally and against the market?  Where are the key challenges and opportunities and what’s the strategy to address/realize them?

I started this blog asking for help with my mission to get creative companies to invest in talent to future-proof an industry I love. I welcome being connected to creative businesses and their owners/leaders who recognize the value of investing in people with the balls and budget to boot!

Thank you it’s been good to share

sally henderson