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Hang on to your talent

Kate Marks

Salary matters, but it’s not the only factor for employees

One of the many challenges we face in the current rather more buoyant market is hanging on to our staff. Or rather, hanging on to the staff we want to keep. The recent recession showed us not only that hiring the right people in the first place saves many problems in the future, but also that nurturing internal talent and retaining it is a much more favourable option, creatively and commercially.

As the market has expanded, companies are finding that disgruntled staff may seek employment elsewhere, talented staff may receive compelling offers from other companies, and hiring talented staff may require significant salaries. Salary is obviously one reason why people stay or go. If your salary structure is significantly lower than that of your peers, consider revising it. But, if you have little money to spare, what else can you do?

As unlikely as it sounds, salary alone is becoming less of a motivator. There is an increasing need for interesting and meaningful work, with opportunities for personal and professional development, in a stimulating and supportive environment, where there is an effective feedback and mentoring structure, and interaction with like-minded people. By those standards, creative companies already have an advantage.

So, it’s not all about money. Different people are driven by different things. Here are some ideas on what you can do in your practice, whatever your financial resources, to attract and retain the staff you really want.


Speak to your staff regularly and make open communication a key element in your company’s culture. This might seem obvious and you probably think you already do it, but do you set aside one-to-one time with people to find out how they are getting along and what their aspirations are? You may conduct regular formal appraisals, and that is part of this exercise, but you need to mix formal with informal. You can find out about issues before they become serious and cause grievances or resignations, but you can also be sure you’re aware of the talent pool in your office.

Provide challenges

The most creative people gain their ideas from new experiences. You can try this by taking someone outside their everyday comfort zone so that they are not only kept on their toes, but they see things from a different perspective – this stimulates innovation. I’m not suggesting forcing people to do something they don’t want to do and leaving them to fail; that would be tantamount to bullying. It’s use your knowledge of individuals’ potential while ensuring support is available if need be.

Offer opportunities

Again, this means using the aspirations expressed by your staff to ensure they have the chance to follow their own chosen path of experience or learning. It could be a new building type or client sector, or a new part of the contract. You or other more experienced staff can act as coaches or mentors. This enables developmental opportunities to be pursued, but if any mistakes are made, the situation can be rescued. As we know, we learn from our mistakes.

Employee involvement

Seek input from your staff. Give them the chance to share what they know or think. Try asking for contributions at staff meetings – people may be reticent at first, but keep up the momentum and it will become a natural part of events. You don’t have to agree to all suggestions, just listen, discuss, then try things or make your own decisions. Be sure to give feedback as to why you’ve chosen not to try something, so that you don’t crush the momentum.

Embrace flexibility and autonomy

Technology is enabling more flexible working practices and this requires a perception change by management. No longer can you simply look across the studio and see who’s there and know who’s working. Your staff can work in their own way and this could be at home, in a coffee shop, or on a bench in the local park. If the results are good and within the appropriate timeframe, it really doesn’t matter where it is produced.

Public recognition

A simple ‘thank you’ can work miracles in terms of staff being appreciated. Whether the public forum is a staff meeting or a company intranet, make it as prompt as you can to maintain the momentum and relevance.

What all this boils down to is you investing more time in really understanding your staff. The rewards are manifold. Increasingly skilled, enthusiastic, loyal staff are more likely to stay with you through bad times as well as good. They will also enhance the innovation and creative solutions that you can provide to your clients. An increasingly talented workforce gets your company’s name out there as a great place to work. 

Kate Marks is founder of Evolution HR and author of HR for Creative Companies




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