Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out




Tuning into talent and why it matters

If I say “Tuning in to Talent” what’s your reaction?  Do you think, “oh interesting let me read more” or do you switch off straight away and think, “ God not more HR/Recruitment waffle”? 

Talent has fast become a very overused and misunderstood word.  What does it actually mean in the context of a creative agency? Is it the brilliant strategic thinking that makes the complex simple so that creatives can create beautiful deliverables that drive commercial results? Is it the awards that recognise that agency for being an innovative leader in its field, celebrated for all it has achieved? Or is it the visionary leadership that has created a culture and clarity of purpose that everyone passionately believes in and wants to see fly?  Well you won’t be surprised to learn it is all of these things. And what is the single common factor amongst all of the examples I have just shared?  Yep that’s right people.

To me talent is just that people.  Pure and simple. People who show up to work each day with all their skills, brilliance, ambition, hopes, fears, insecurities and sometimes epic wobbles.  People are beautifully human and full of emotion yet where is the training on how to get the best out of people at work for leaders of creative agencies? It’s random and mostly reactive at best.  It baffles me that the majority of creative agencies, if they are honest, leave the “talent piece” to chance, hope and a “we will deal with it when we have to” outlook.  It just doesn’t make business sense yet is established common practice. So much opportunity and potential is wasted through mis-management of people and not being “Tuned in to the needs of talent”.  And the really crazy thing is that it doesn’t need to be this way!

At an intimate gathering of the great and good of creative agency leaders to share ideas and learning from leader to leader.  the focus was Tuning into Talent and I asked the audience to think about a time in their career when they were like a “Happy Dog” – tail wagging, eager, part of the pack (I shall reign myself in from more analogies J) and then to think about a time when they felt more like a “Grumpy Cat”. Alone, dis-connected, just not feeling it with no interest in being part of the pack.  Here are some of the examples I heard of the impact either being a “Dog” or “Cat” had on people. I think you’ll agree it’s powerful stuff.


Secure, Opportunity, Excitement, Loyalty, Happy, Inspired, Optimistic, Confident , Fulfilled, Brave, Energised, Empowered, Ambitious, Engaged, Protected, Appreciated, Valued, In Control


Unrecognised, Disconnect, Unhappy, Depressed, Stressed, Miserable, Trapped, Wasted, Frustrated, Angry, Disempowered, Over-worked, Isolated, Bored, Lonely, Misunderstood, De-motivated

Given how fast the world of work is now, it takes active focus, energy, interest and continuous commitment to be tuned in to your talent (and also yourself but that is a whole different blog).  Any leader looking to rally the troops has got to know whom his, or her, “Happy Dogs” are and where the “Grumpy Cats” lie.  (It is a good test of your authenticity around tuning into talent to check in with yourself on what is making you label a certain person a “Dog” or a “Cat”. Is it true or because you have formed an opinion of them that may indeed not be accurate or up-to-date?)

To help you be effectively tuned in to your talent as a leader here are some of my top tips.


- When is the last time you looked at the statistics around people? What do the facts tell you? Are they painting a good picture or a worrying story?

- How effective (or costly) is your recruitment process?

- What is your churn rate like?

- How much are you spending on recruitment agencies? Are you getting value for money?

Leadership team

- Are they aligned and tuning into talent brilliantly as a team?

- Are they communicating with each other about the people in the  

   business as a whole over just their direct report?

- Do you know if they themselves are a Happy Dog or Grumpy Cat?

Employer brand reputation

- Be brave – do you know your employer reputation on Glass Door and on

  social media in general?

- Have you checked in with your recent hires and identified what was it

   about your business that made them choose you?

- How does this compare to people who joined your company a few years    

   ago and/or a long time ago.  You need to be confident the messaging you   

   are sharing at interview is the most effective and compelling or you risk    

   unnecessarily missing out on your target talent


- When did you last review your approach to recruitment and reviews? 

- Do they work and are they well received externally and internally?

- Do you have the right tools in place to support your people tune into  

   talent across the business?

- Have you trained your people to be brilliant at bringing out brilliance in



- Do you know your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

  when it comes to people and talent?

- Are you taking action to mitigate the threats and realise the


- What doe the SWOT tell you about people, performance and culture in  

   your business?

I will finish this post with a call to action.  It is easy to talk about the changes that need to be made to ensure we are tuning into talent well (and by this I include all talent and diversity; not just tuning into great reflections of ourselves) so if you are a Leader of a creative business or simply want to become more tuned in to the people you work with make some time to address the points raised to be aware of how your people are feeling and performing and confident in your people strategy to deliver your business plan.

Afterall, what would you rather be in work (and life) a Happy Dog or a Grumpy Cat?

sally henderson