Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out




Why your competition is stealing your best talent

There’s a few strange established talent practices in creative organisations. 

The inability to retain key talent effectively, training top talent to be at peak performance for the competition and investing money after the horse has bolted on a new person with the hope they may turn out to be as good as the person you’ve just lost! All of this with absolutely no guarantee of success and a hefty recruitment fee in the mix. Let’s not forget to mention the danger of negative ripple effect in the culture, people who are already stretched to capacity having to pick up another's work whilst you re-hire. Time and energy will be required to find and embed the new talent and client relationships will become vulnerable whilst the change takes effect. And all the time the talent that has recently left could have stayed another year+ easily with the right focus and approach to talent retention in place. Does this sound familiar?

In my 20 years of advising creative organisations on talent and ambitious leaders on career and professional development, I have seen the common mistakes and missed opportunities along with (sadly the minority) the agencies who do invest in retention and leadership development.

So if you want to avoid giving the juicest of your people to your competitors here are some thoughts that I hope will help:

1.   Without a Job Description how can you recruit well in the first place, assess performance, understand the purpose/contribution of the person's role or plan effectively for growth?

Start as you mean to go on….with a great Job Description. I cannot tell you how many senior leaders there are out there in the creative industry giving their best everyday with absolutely no agreed way of measuring their performance, assessing personal development needs or level of excellence against the job they are doing. Working as an Executive Mentor I will often ask the C-Suite if they have a Job Description and the majority of the time the answer is no, or they were given a draft of one when the took the role initially. If this is the norm at senior level then it follows suit that Job Descriptions are failing to inform or effectively motivate and retain across the business. 

2.   Succession planning, when done well, is one of the most effective ways of retaining your key people, and therefore skills, abilities and knowledge in your business

Let’s use the classic “fail to plan and plan to fail”. Do you have succession planning in your agency? Is it effective? In a recent Linked In study 45% of 10,500 people surveyed left their company due to lack of opportunities for advancement with 36% leaving as they wanted more challenging work. 

3.   Train your leaders in how to hold effective reviews and appraisals to give honest effective feedback

Communicate. Well. Regularly. By communicate I mean really communicate with a two-way conversation rather than a directive around what the business thinks this person wants, or how you can force fit their “growth” into what the agency wants.  Don’t hold a review once a year and expect it to remain “sticky” for a whole 12 months until the next one. The best companies I see retaining their people are the ones who actively encourage a coaching led culture with regular connection and feedback around a person’s performance, impact and future growth and actively invest in this.

4.   The cost of investment is far less than the pain of fixing the gaping hole left behind

Capre Diem. Is this just a cliché or a really accurate approach to retaining top talent?  I would argue the latter. When I used to work in recruitment I will confess I benefitted hugely from creative agencies not seizing the day and addressing development needs quickly enough. Hence, their people became vulnerable to headhunting when really they could have achieved growth and development from within if only someone was focused on this and making change happen when it most needs to. I appreciate agencies are always “busy” and often there is no-one in an official talent or HR role, or if there is this person is often maxed out. This makes it even more important the right expert advice and help is being brought into the business so talent isn’t leaking unnecessarily.

5.   Establish great new ways that recognize and reward people collectively and individually in a way that is unique to each business and not easily replicated by the competition

Get creative and innovative in how you reward people for their hard work, effort and contribution. The creative industry is all about innovation, connecting with hearts and minds, influencing behaviour and driving change. So let’s turn this amazing skill and resource on the industry itself and reap the benefits.

I will end this post with an incentive to take action. For me at the heart of retaining your key talent better is Executive Mentoring. I think leaders in the creative sector are woefully under-supported and there is so much more potential and powerful leadership available if only time, resource and commitment enabled this to be tapped into and released. Having effective leaders driving the recommendations I am making here, and there are many more I could make, will fast-track impact, strengthen your Employer Brand and secure your talent.

Coffee soon?


Sally Henderson is an International Executive Mentor helping aspiring creative organisations and leaders achieve greater results faster. Or put another way it’s my mission to make sure we all feel great to do great at work.  We can all achieve this so let’s stop tolerating less.

Find out more