One Tip for Retaining Talent: Talk

Employees of All Stripes Want to Be Engaged

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
As the needs of the business change so must the talent and industry evolve. This week's Ad Age article Recognize the Power of the Cultural Consumer outlines quite clearly the need for diverse thinking. But something often overlooked is that the need to find great talent and keep great minds engaged runs up against the self-interest of the best candidates. Many of the best leave to explore opportunities outside of the agency side, siphoned off by marketers. After all, marketers too are striving for the same innovation and connection to consumers.

This is an industry problem particularly among top African-American talent, already in scarce supply, as the best and brightest take their skills and ideas elsewhere. While clients demand broader thinking and inclusion of diverse ideas, agencies find themselves scrambling.

Despite the perception, there are many agencies that are passionately and aggressively hunting for great talent that will increase the diversity at their agency. They are equally frustrated with the retention levels, finding themselves with no actual gains because that those that come in only replace the skilled and experienced employees that leave the industry.

Why do talented multicultural candidates leave the agency business? Surprisingly, it has little to do with money. The most frequent responses I've come across include (in no order):

  • Isolation
  • Lack of support
  • Not involved in engaging work
  • No career development
Obviously, keeping great diverse talent engaged, rewarded and inspired will definitely lead to broader thinking. But for some reason many agencies are failing to do that.

There are many things that need to be done to overcome that, but why not start with one of the simplest methods, one that is too often overlooked: conversation. There is the lack of dialogue among co-workers and management levels. Talking to each other and getting to know more about who we work with is not new and shouldn't even be a blog topic. But sadly, from what I'm hearing, it's not happening enough.

In an industry filled with passionate and creative people, how hard can it be to strike up a conversation? Personal passions, professional goals, client/brand challenges and ideas – all of these are easy topics.

What can you, as an individual, do more of this year? Start talking.

If you're white, pick a person of color at your agency that you don't know and start talking. If you are black or Hispanic reach out to someone that you admire -- someone higher up the ladder or a few rungs down, it doesn't matter -- and start talking. We're talking broadening ideas, here, so it shouldn't matter what the level or department -- even the receptionist may have an innovative idea. Take this person out for coffee or lunch or maybe a beer. Just to get to know them.

If you have no one of color at your agency -- or even visiting your agency -- you really have work to do (and I can find a fabulous student that would love to meet you).

Increased dialogue sounds simplistic but has the power to move minds more than mandatory training programs.
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