Attracting and keeping senior talent

Written by Jonathan Ross
01 Nov 2022

Agency owners should have high expectations for senior leaders being considered for long-term incentives or ownership succession.

For agency owners, their expectations should be very high for those senior leaders they want to lock in with special long-term incentive plans. Leaders under such consideration must consistently demonstrate their ability to:

  1. Drive meaningful leads and new business wins to the agency with minimal ownership involvement.
  2. Manage large, complex client relationships with minimal ownership oversight.
  3. Organically grow client/agency relationships to include the expertise and resources of the entire agency.
  4. Provide clients with high-end strategy and sophisticated content.
  5. Identify and seize opportunities to differentiate the agency from competitors.

Additionally, the agency’s senior positions should be occupied by people who will enable the firm to:

  • Provide a consistently high level of program execution to clients.
  • Build the next generation of senior leaders around them.
  • Create team and agency-wide alignment on:
    • Mission, vision and values.
    • Role, authority level and accountability.
    • Metrics and incentives for roles.

You need an agency culture that’s a magnet for talent.

The four basics for attracting and keeping senior talent.

First, compensation for senior leaders must be market competitive including their:

  • Insurance benefits.
  • Pension plan.
  • Meaningful performance bonus (20-30% of salary in good years).
  • Written bonus plan which clearly states the metrics that trigger the bonus.

Second, you need an agency culture that’s a magnet for talent. Such a culture is based on a deeply entrenched mindset devoted to inclusive input into agency decisions, learning and development of talent (including a leadership pipeline). A healthy culture often includes:

  • Values that ownership and senior leaders reflect through their behaviours.
  • Consistent decision making based on mission, vision and values.
  • Consistent and transparent communication to staff.
  • An Executive Committee that provides meaningful input on major decisions.
  • Meaningful professional development which trains staff for the next level.
  • Clear roadmaps for advancement based on defined metrics.
  • A review process which provides valuable feedback.
  • Challenging work (and clarity on how you assign it).

These magnetic cultures provide clear and compelling values that everyone in the agency lives by… and how you expect clients to treat agency personnel.

Third, in today’s world, offering some level of workplace flexibility is becoming a must. For many senior leaders who need to balance work with family, this may mean a hybrid approach which combines in-office work with work-at-home time. Actual work hours may vary from official office hours if deadlines are met.

Fourth , senior leaders want to have significant input into how the agency’s major decisions are made. For independent firms, this can be one of your biggest assets in recruitment. We believe that owners owe their senior team a voice. In return, the team owes the owner alignment once a decision has been reached.