Media: Double Standards - How to defuse the industry's ticking time bomb

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 24 February 2011 12:01AM

Hanging on to leadership talent and management succession are imperative for the industry. Two talent experts reveal why it's usually nothing to do with money.

KATHLEEN SAXTON - FOUNDER, THE LIGHTHOUSE COMPANY

- What can businesses do better to retain their top talent?

Retaining talent is coming into sharp focus in 2011. The research we undertook as part of our New World Talent survey is clearly showing an HR time bomb ticking as the market starts to move and senior level talent set their sights on greater challenges once again. Creating meaningful and stretching roles, listening hard to the emotional clues and ensuring the leader of the business engages personally with your key talent were all cited as crucial.

- What are the emerging themes for leaders wanting to leave?

From the many conversations we have with clients and candidates alike, we find most are actually motivated by the growth prospects of the business, potential breadth of their role and the quality of the individual leader of the business. Lack of brave leadership, overbearing network rules and lack of autonomy are the most commonly cited reasons for provoking a restless soul.

- Does this mean the idea of succession management becomes even more important?

Any business that does not have a clear strategic plan in place for succession management is carelesssly building a time bomb of their very own! We encourage our clients to have an eye to who we like to call the "Vital Few" within their organisation and those who are being groomed to take over. However, there is no doubt that the sudden resignation of someone key can jolt and unsettle the slickest of management teams - which is why you need to stay close to your people more than ever.

- Is it sometimes positive to allow natural churn to provide refreshment at senior level?

The notion of natural churn as a refreshment strategy at a leadership level concerns me greatly. Super teams do not tolerate casual members. Refreshment is important but can be injected by engendering a culture that uses the collective brain, by bringing in outside consultancy and introducing some lateral bravery to incoming hires.

- How aware do you think the marketing communications industry is of this time bomb?

Those who focus on talent and people within their organisation will be very aware of the impending wave of movement. Many businesses also run internal temperature surveys and calibrations that highlight disquiet and building frustrations. However, those who assume they are immune need to act fast to motivate and secure their finest talent over the next 12 months.

- How open is the sector to encouraging lateral hires to resolve the leadership gap?

Through the many searches we undertake, I am encouraged to see more businesses than ever have a growing desire to find leadership talent from outside core practitioners. Seeing Mark Creighton's digital DNA in the driving seat at Mindshare invigorates the brand and Jess Burley and Philippa Brown's success at MCHI and PHD should encourage us all to look further than the usual suspects.

- What advice do you give to leaders looking to build a strategy for retention?

Decide who your Vital Few are and spend time seeking a deeper understanding of their ambitions, desires, Achilles' heels, secret goals and personal pressures. Only with greater knowledge of them as individuals can you hope to create a role or environment that keeps them motivated and loyal.

HELEN BROWN - CHIEF HR AND TALENT OFFICER, MEDIACOM

- What can businesses do better to retain their top talent?

In early 2009, I found myself in the company of four leaders who had a combined tenure of 71 years at the same company. When I asked why they had stayed so long, the EMEA chief operating officer responded: "Every time I thought about leaving, they presented me with a bigger challenge." While challenge is undoubtedly a key component in keeping A-players onside as it were, general opinion from paragons of resource management would also add: continued opportunity to learn, diverse (and ideally international) assignments, industry recognition and, of course, appropriate and timely reward.

- What are the emerging themes for leaders wanting to leave?

Although there are always exceptions, in general, leaders are not losing themselves to a midlife crisis of conscience by volunteering for VSO. In reality, leaders have families, mortgages and responsibilities they can't just walk away from. Good people leave because they are not given a good enough reason to stay. And contrary to popular belief, the reason people ultimately walk out the door is rarely about the money even if eventually it ends up being all about the counter offer.

- Does this mean the idea of succession management becomes even more important?

Succession is not important. It's imperative. If a CEO goes AWOL, most organisations should know who will step in: the question is who takes the reins two levels below that? Companies including Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo have also seen their ability to build depth in talent as a competitive advantage. Succession needs to be a part of the fabric of the organisation, a constantly evolving conversation between the company and the next generation of talent.

- Is it sometimes positive to allow natural churn to provide refreshment at senior level?

Monitoring individual performance allows businesses to take active decisions about its resource; both replacing due to natural churn and removing underperformers in preference for fresh perspectives.

- How aware do you think the marketing communications industry is of this time bomb?

Are CEOs aware of the midand long-term impact of a shortage of senior business leaders at the top end, management becoming disenfranchised with the hours and the work and leaving a hole in the middle, and fewer graduates of any ability being attracted to advertising and media? Yes, on the whole, marketing communications are aware but are they doing enough about it?

- How open is the sector to encouraging lateral hires to resolve the leadership gap?

There is still a lot of resistance to lateral hires in media agencies. According to many media mavens, it's technical, complicated, it has a language of mathematical acronyms more aligned to science than art. Then there is the view that a candidate from the client side won't thrive in an environment where the focus is on chasing the money, not sitting on it. Hiring from a broader church can only make an agency more attractive to work for and with.

- What advice do you give to leaders looking to build a strategy for retention?

Humans are pretty simple animals with the same basic needs; ask yourself what makes you stay, or go. Ask the same question of your leadership team, the answers are all around you, all you need to do is listen and then act on what you have heard.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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