Sizing Up Your Talent Department

Why the Industry Needs to Stop Understaffing Its Most Important Function

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It's a common refrain in advertising: Talent is "at the heart of everything we do," which is why it's amazing to me that so few of us treat it that way. Brilliant people are our industry's most valuable asset, yet talent and human resources departments are almost always the most understaffed in an agency.

Talent departments are responsible for attracting great people, onboarding them, keeping existing talent happy (or at least persuading them from leaving), minimizing friction between volatile personalities and much more. They live in crisis mode, and putting that responsibility on just a handful of people is only making the problem worse.

Most agencies have more staff dedicated to looking after their computers than their talent. Yes, we can't live without computers, but are we really putting enough commitment toward the talent our industry needs to thrive? Agencies need to think about not just expanding their talent practices, but also affording them the freedom to attract and nurture great talent that's the right fit for the agency.

Time to size up
Think of it this way: If a major brand decided to switch agencies with the frequency that creative, strategic and account people change jobs, how big would the team be that managed the challenges created by that instability? The answer is simple -- far larger than your average agency talent department. The expertise and quality of your talent or HR practice is crucial -- you need bright, strategic and agile leadership. And the more people you have focused on talent, the greater your ability to stay close to the inner workings of your business.

Agencies are still siloed, unwieldy propositions. The rate of work being churned out keeps everyone focused on the moment right in front of them and every department is focused on different briefs, has different gripes, different systems and different challenges. It's a CEO's job to create an organic culture that supports all those worlds, but having talent experts on the ground provides the information and insights necessary to create and curate that culture. It also helps lay the seeds of culture across an organization, which is far more effective than any once-a-month all-agency meeting.

Why now?
The "understaffed talent department" problem isn't a new one -- talent management and recruitment has always been a desperately underappreciated aspect of the communications business. To be fair, our industry has improved its focus in recent years, but agencies are still far behind the average Fortune 500 Company that treats HR leaders as important components of the board.

The reason now is the time to step up our efforts two-fold. First, we're battling with outside industries for talent, not just each other. Companies like Apple are trying to lure top-tier creatives. They've struggled somewhat, but that won't last forever. We need talent departments that can be strategic enough to keep talent happy and inspirational enough to remind them that our industry offers some of the best creative jobs in the world. Second, the next generation of leaders cares far more about quality of life, company purpose and internal culture than they do about a pay raise. The only way you can improve in those areas is through a truly strategic, hardworking and properly sized talent department.

Make talent central
Talent leaders are some of the brightest minds in our industry and have skills that few others have. We need to give them a larger role in driving the culture of the agency and shaping the decisions being made by our CEOs. That means making their face a fixture at the agency and involving them in major business discussions like new business, shaky accounts and mergers. No one will understand the cultural impact of these things better than a smart, strategic talent leader. They can and should help CEOs plan for downsizing, upsizing, or the best ways to announce and onboard new clients. When handled well, these are the sorts of things that employees notice, appreciate and share with their networks. Give your talent department a place at the boardroom table, and I guarantee you will become more informed about your agency and better positioned to make decisions that keep it happy and healthy.

So as you begin planning for 2015, I urge you to keep one thing in mind -- does your talent practice really fit the size and culture of your organization?

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