Don't Let Opportunity Be a Victim of Recession

Your Employees Need to Be Challenged

By Published on .

Karen Albritton Karen Albritton
Employees will gladly make sacrifices in tough times, but they have their limits. They will eagerly cut back on travel, training and other optional expenses. They will accept cuts in benefits. They will even forgo salary increases or bonuses. The one thing I find employees have the toughest time sacrificing is opportunity.

Our agency recently had a run of five straight years of double-digit growth, and some folks were admittedly becoming overworked. As the economy cooled late last year and our growth slowed, some of these hard workers initially welcomed the chance to catch their breath. But that didn't last long.

After a couple of months at a manageable pace, our people have gotten a little antsy, particularly those who had been stretched the most.

How could I tell? Part if it is in the office energy level. Our normal frenetic pace, which sometimes bordered on frantic, has become merely fast-paced. Even employees with healthy client loads started asking about new assignments or jumping in on new business.

And while our turnover is almost nil these days, two employees are leaving -- not for more money or for a promotion, but rather for different "opportunities."

What's an agency leader to do? We can ill afford to lose great talent. And now, more than ever, we need our employees engaged to produce great work and keep clients happy.

  • First, I believe agencies have to match their resources with the work they have to do now. No one welcomes the pain of layoffs, but being overstaffed reduces opportunities for everyone. In time, underutilized employees will leave, and you won't be able to choose who does. If you take the initiative, you can increase your chances of hanging onto people with great potential.

  • Give people the chance to cross-train. Earlier in my career, during a downturn, I made the transition from media planning to client services. That lateral move created more opportunity for me than any new client win or promotion ever could. With the growth of digital, there has never been a greater opportunity -- or business imperative -- for agency people to learn new skills.

  • Go all-out on new business. Heaven knows most of us can use some new work. Use this time to enroll more people in your new-business efforts, from prospecting to pitching. We recently did spec work when it wasn't required. We were able to get more people involved in the pitch, and everyone was able to enjoy the satisfaction of winning.

  • Take this opportunity to freshen up your agency marketing. If you have the time and resources, consider a brand refresh, a new reel or perhaps even a new website.
Most importantly, keep talking. Let people know where the business stands. No one can predict the future with certainty, but talk about where you think the opportunities will be. Talk about opportunity in staff meetings and in individual conversations. Don't be bashful about telling people what kind of business growth has to happen to justify new assignments or promotions. Share the responsibility for creating opportunity throughout your agency.

Finally, if you have a list of things you're going to do when the economy improves -- things like new space, restoring bonuses or new technology -- put create opportunity at the top of the list.

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Karen Albritton is president of Capstrat, Raleigh, N.C.

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