Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out




Why your best talent is destroying your business

Sounds crazy right?  How can your best talent destroy your business?  Well sadly pretty easily.  Here’s how…

Creative agencies work at pace and on short timelines, are very very client/externally focused and people are often promoted on skills that don’t always include what I term “people powers”! Let’s unpick this a little.

The love/hate of agency “buzz”. Agencies by their very nature are successful as they attract people who love change, thrive on pressure and deadlines and are ever evolving to seek on better ways and new ideas. Or so we are lead to think.  Once you start to peel back the layers you find not everyone thrives with uncertainty, can operate in an agile fashion over extended periods nor loves constant change.  They pretend they do or get great at coping rather than thriving.  Certain profiles in agencies love consistency, security and predictability.  And we need this blend.  This can cause conflict and lowers performance yet gets ignored or papered over as leaders in agencies often aren’t brave enough to pause to better understand the motivations and needs of the key talent in the business.  Especially at senior level.

Client is King.  I say those days are over.  Client and agency need to be equal partners invested in a mutually valuable outcome and gain.  How can we expect to drive diversity, lower stress, reduce burn-out and mental health challenges if we are paying homage to a very old-fashioned model of working?  Client as King will never create a relationship where the best work is created or the most effective agency structure is achieved.  Time and time again I have seen agencies waste talent due to being too externally focused or again fail to be brave enough to tackle blatant talent problems because the focus is too geared on external needs and demands.  It’s more a case of failing to think inside the box rather than outside in this situation!

Bad promotion.  Here’s a corker.  In a recent Linked In research piece 41% of people left their jobs due to being unsatisfied with the leadership.  It’s quite astounding how many leaders are promoted into senior roles based on fantastic skills such as creativity, strategy, client development etc. with little, or no, investment in leadership skills or people management.  It’s true when they say that people don’t leave a business they leave their manager.

Pace and character profile conflict, client is king and poorly supported promotions cause a creative agency to lose talent, weaken (or ruin) an employer brand and it extreme cases cease to exist altogether.

Without investment in critical leadership and people skills the very talent deemed to be stellar and crucial to growth, and profit, could in fact be destroying the company. Sometimes this is glaringly obvious, other times it can be a slow, subtle effect but just as deadly.

So what do you do to prevent this?  Doesn’t every creative business want inspiring and attractive leadership, to win awards for outstanding creative work and yield bountiful commercial results from all the hard work and commitment that goes in to creating impactful work?  These can only happen when you have the right people in the right roles performing in the right way.  Here’s my top tips to ensure your top talent is thriving.

1. Invest in leadership development

Sounds so obvious doesn’t it yet in my 20 years of working with creative organisations to identify, develop and retain top talent this remains the exception over the norm

2. Understand the motivations of your people

Recently I have been delivering Motivational Maps to creative businesses and the results have been terrific. So many assumptions happen at senior level, especially when the senior team is well established and moved into “familial” territory.  Having a neutral, science based perspective on the top, and bottom, motivators enables better talent development, higher performing teams and retains critical talent more effectively

3. Be brave to pause

I’ve mentioned this a few times in this post.  Often people, talent and leadership problems happen because they were left to grow from little niggles that, if handled well, could have ben transformed into growth and development over blocks and missed opportunity.  Taking stock of your ‘green lights” and “red flags” to plan talent and leadership development effectively will save you thousands I can guarantee, not forgetting leaders will sleep better!

4. Emotions are the key

In my Executive Mentoring I have a saying “you have to feel great to do great”. When leaders feel positive about who they are, how they lead and the value they deliver you are on to a good thing.  Then you can work most effectively on core skills and practical growth.  If the “feel good factor” is missing no plan, investment or strategy will be as successful as it could be.  Yet creative agencies aren’t prioritising investing in the emotional well-being of core talent? Go figure….

 5. Commit to people

Words without action go nowhere.  We’ve all received the memo with great intentions, completed the employee satisfaction survey that goes down the rabbit hole and had the encouraging reviews that go precisely no-where (or sends your talent into the arms of a direct competitor!) My biggest advice, no matter how big or small the step, is to commit to investing in your people brilliantly and the rest will follow.

So here’s my call to action for anyone in a leadership or talent-related role in a creative agency.  Let’s change the status-quo and lead the field in developing leaders and reaching the maximum potential for ourselves, where we work, the clients we partner and the impact we wish to have in the world. I’m game. Are you?


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.

sally henderson