Yesterday I read an interesting article in Mint, where CEOs of six of India’s large advertising agencies shared their perspectives on attrition and how they’re coping with it.
The article, because it appeared in Mint which is a “business paper”, set the context as “attrition being a part of reduced ad spends and global slowdowns”. The CEOs likewise, donned their CFO/leaderspeak hats and spoke about how the market is affecting/not affecting them.
Good show gentlemen, I am sure most of your clients who read the article are going to sleep easy now, knowing that you have your resources under control.
Or can they really rest easy..?
With all due respect to the six CEOs, three of whom I have personally worked with, I think they left out some key factors which affect attrition, and advertising agencies in particular.
It’s not that they are not aware of these issues, and it’s not that attrition is something that’s popped up with the recent global slowdown. Attrition and Advertising are synonymous in many ways, since forever.
Here’s my perspective; the perspective which the fully aware gentlemen did not share…
WHY DO PEOPLE LEAVE?
The obvious answer is a combination of remuneration, individual ambition, scope for growth, relationships, brand opportunities, and such. These are always discussed and then ignored as “part of life in our business”. By accepting this as so, little or no mentoring is done. And ironically, attrition is nurtured instead.
WHY DO PEOPLE STAY?
While the answers to this question is the same as the above, little or nothing is done to go deep into the matter, and make a concerted effort to make people stay. Remember, it is cheaper/easier to make people stay, than constantly be on the lookout for newbies to join the ranks.
In my opinion, here’s what you can do to make people stay:
DEFINE A CULTURE:
The longevity of a employee/company relationship is almost always based on culture fitment. You either fit in, or don’t. So you stay, or you don’t.
In most agencies, culture is neither defined, nor practiced as a religion. Instead the agency culture remains a closely guarded secret of the top management. And in a best case scenario people are second guessing the culture in order to fit in; or in the worst case, doing their own thing.
And if you think about it, some of the elements of culture are the same reasons for leaving or staying.
Discuss Define common goals (we want to be seen as the best vs we want to be seen as the largest…)
Discuss and Define ambition (we want individual stars in our agency vs we emphasise teamwork vs …)
Discuss and Define remuneration (financial, emotional, short term, long term…)
Discuss and Define work style (slave drivers, pushovers, proud professionals…)
IMP: Do this as a part of culture and pre-emptive process, not as a last-ditch effort in exit interviews!
While culture should be the umbrella thought/practice, here are some specific drivers of attrition:
In most ad agencies roles are loosely defined and bastardised to suit the moment. Which is why you find people duplicate some and ignore other aspects of their job.
As a result people either slack off, or clash with each other, never attaining efficient use of talent.
Result: You stay until you feel good and useful. You leave when you feel you will be useful elsewhere.
Documented Best Practices and Process:
Very few agencies have best practices and processes in place. Even if they are documented, they are not always practiced.
This leads to arbit functioning, varied interpretations of briefs and deliverables, and general overall ‘might/desig is right’.
Result: People don’t really learn and take away anything satisfying. Because the next day, “the best way of doing something” will be another way!
Working late, working nights, and weekends at a stretch seems to be the way of life in most agencies. Worse, people flaunt their late hours as greatness and valor, and as a sign of their committment.
This is actually delusionary greatness, covering up for the above lack of role definition and best practices.
Result: You don’t have a work life balance, and even though most agency people live in denial, they keep shifting agencies thinking the grass is greener on the other side, until they eventually reach creative flameout.
Few ad agencies today can claim to provide adequate professional training and refresher courses to its people. Add to this the fact that most people hired from scratch haven’t been trained to be “an advertising professional”.
Everyone is plug-and-play, brining their own set of values, protocols, beliefs and way of working.
People swim or sink.
Result: You swim until you get tired, or discover you don’t know how to swim. Then you go to another pond, hoping you last longer, or they don’t realise you cannot swim. And so on, to another pond.
Respect comes in many forms. Financial and Emotional. Agencies often believe by throwing money at people they can ignore emotional respect. Or by providing “good work” opportunity they can ignore financial needs.
But keeping “business and client needs” usually over-rides everything leading to a “do what we can to deliver” attitude which then over-rides role definition, best practices, and working hours leading to a total lack of respect for fellow human beings and their individuality.
Result: People leave, not just for other agencies, but as the trend suggests, for other industries!
While we complain about bizarre salaries being given out to our people, and their subsequent demands for more, we forget who perpetuated this practice in the first place.
We ourselves over the years have pursued talent with sky-high salaries and fancy designations. We have created legendary stories of growth, and perpuated himalayan levels of management that now only create and feed expectations all around.
At the same time, our industry has grown much faster than our resources and talents have professionally.
Result: We find ourselves today constantly fishing in a sea of mediocre flotsam and complaining about their demands for name and fortune! Complain we do, but we pay, and then pay some more when they leave for some other bait.
Okay, so this is not rocket science. And it can be seen as the perspective of someone who has left the rat race of advertising to pursue other things “less challenging”.
Yes, life in advertising is challenging. The question is, does it have to be?
What are we as leaders doing to reduce the challenges and make the industry happier, more efficient, and more effective.
What are we doing to gain the respect and loyalties of not just our clients, but also of our own people?
What are we doing to stand proud as an industry that can add incredible value to the lives of all those it touches?