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Agency Owner’s Guide to Hiring, Onboarding, and Retaining Top Talent

Published 23 April, 2020
Marquis Murray
Written by Marquis Murray

In recent weeks, the job climate has changed and if one thing is certain it's that there’s little to suggest that things will go “back to normal” any time soon. Though many business owners were forced to make staffing changes, there are equal amounts of small and medium-sized businesses that haven’t slowed down. The need for qualified and exceptional talent is still important for a large percentage of business owners.

In today’s day and age, finding exceptional talent with the right background and culture fit is crucial to success, but for agencies, having a smart and creative talent pool isn’t just a competitive advantage, it’s a necessity. If you want to grow, your talent needs to be able to keep up with the demands of your client base. Therefore, it’s no surprise that hiring and retaining top talent is one of the biggest challenges that agency owners face. 

So, let’s start at the top. We’ll uncover everything you need to know, from finding and retaining top talent to establishing performance plans that foster success and ensure results.

Building a Strong Recruitment Process

The first step in attracting and hiring top talent is building a strong recruitment process. From creating a clear job description to an easy hiring process, it all matters.

  1. Understand Your Needs
    Before anything else, you need to think about your requirements in a candidate. Which skills and qualities are a must and which ones are nice-to-haves? It’s important to know what you’re looking for because it guides the rest of the hiring process. With a clear understanding of your needs you’ll be able to:

    • Write a differentiated job description
    • Properly source qualified candidates
    • Set realistic expectations
    • Reduce the time spent hiring
    • Improve your quality of hire
  2. Write a job description
    A good job description is one that is unique to your company, highlights results and identifies impact. It’s not just about the requirements. It’s about painting a picture of what the role entails and what success looks like, so you can get the right talent excited to jump in and explore the role.

  3. Build your talent pipeline
    This is where you actually start building your talent pipeline. Look for talent through multiple sources, including;

    • Your careers page
    • Job boards like Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn
    • Employee referral programs
    • Proactive candidate sourcing
      • Good candidates don’t just have to come to you, you can go to them. 90% of global professionals are interested in hearing about new job opportunities, so don’t miss out by waiting for talent to find you, reach out yourself.
  4. Conduct interviews
    The interview process will vary from agency to agency and role to role, but a standard interview process would be to have candidates go through a phone screening, onsite interview, reference checks, and the offer stage.

  5. Manage talent relationshipsRecruiting today has to be agile and flexible. You might find a great candidate who isn’t ready to think about a new opportunity for another year, or turn down a great candidate but find a new role they’re a better fit for a few months down the line. Be strategic about these relationships. If you find good candidates nurture those relationships, so that when the time is right you’re still top of mind. 

Identifying Top Talent:

Hiring employees who work hard, produce results and keep clients coming back is the ultimate goal. But how do you determine if a prospective candidate will deliver all that? 

It’s always difficult to determine if the candidate has the qualities you’re looking for, but during the interview process, there are usually some traits that are easy to pick up on.

  1. Passion
    When considering potential employees, look for passion. It’s easy to tell if the person wants the job for just the pay-check or because they genuinely are interested and passionate about the work involved. People who care about what your agency does will also be happy to put in the hours and contribute to driving you towards success.

  2. Reliability
    Reliability isn’t just about making sure the prospect will show up on time for their job. It’s also about making sure they’re a good fit in the long run. Ask questions about their long-term plans. Do they intend to stick around and grow in your organization or do they aspire to open their own business one day? It’s fine if they do, but to build on the foundation you’ve already established and move forward from there, your employees need to be in it for the long haul.

  3. A Team Player
    One of the most important traits to look out for in a candidate is their ability to be a team player. This is someone who is pleasant to work with, is happy both in and out of the office, and can  communicate well. 

Skills can be taught, but qualities and character are something that comes with the person. Even if a candidate seems like a rock star and has all the qualifications and experience in the world if they’re not the right fit for your agency it won’t be a pleasant working experience. So, next time when you’re hiring, instead of just focusing on the skills make sure the person you hire has the qualities you’re looking for.

Attracting Top Talent:

People don’t want to work for just any business. They want to work with companies that stand out, whether it’s because they have a great reputation, purpose, job, leadership, perks or something else entirely. Unfortunately, many agencies struggle with this. From perks to job descriptions, everything appears the same. Top talent doesn’t want to work for the average agency, they want to work for the best. If your agency is struggling to differentiate, it’s time to rethink your recruitment strategy. 

Think about what makes you “great”. Are you the most awarded agency in your region? Do you have Fortune 500 companies as clients? Maybe you have a TED talk with 5M views or maybe you offer the best perks in the industry? Find what makes you unique and promote it. 

The key to attracting top talent is to raise your brand’s visibility. Find where your target talent is and reach out to them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage your existing employees to promote your agency on the channels they regularly use - in other words, create an employee advocacy program. 
  • Invest in talent-focused content such as blog posts, videos, or infographics and promote it on platforms your target talent uses. 
  • Use PR to get your agency mentioned in articles and roundups. Being labelled as a “best place to work” can do wonders for your visibility.

Retaining Top Talent

Once you find the talent you want with the qualities you value, you should do everything you can to hold on to it. Your team should feel happy, inspired and empowered, and here’s what you can do to achieve that:

  • Create a fun, inviting culture at your agency that keeps employees loyal and dedicated.
  • Understand what kind of work each employee likes doing, assign them to relevant projects, and provide a sense of ownership
  • Offer flexible benefits based on the employee’s changing needs.
  • Focus on getting people into projects where their passion will be best utilized.
  • Figure out which employees work best together and pair them in teams 
  • Be supportive and provide opportunities to develop new skills

Fostering Success with a Performance Plan

Now that you know how to attract and retain superstar employees, you also need to know how to ensure they succeed in their roles. 

It’s all about planning and open communication. When onboarding a new employee, develop a performance plan that clarifies expectations and gives them goals to work towards. This way your talent feels motivated and you get a clear picture of their performance.

If you're asking how to stay organized through all of this, process management tools like Asana or Walk Me are great when it comes to onboarding. Remember, this has been done before. Don't overcomplicate it.

To create a successful performance plan, consider the following steps:

  • Identify the role’s key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Establish a set of monthly KPI targets you expect them to hit
  • Get the new employee’s buy-in on the plan and metrics.
  • Conduct weekly or monthly one on one meetings to review progress. If they’re:
    • On track: highlight and celebrate their wins so they feel empowered, accomplished, and successful
    • Off-track: provide support and guidance to identify roadblocks and improve performance

An example of a strategist role performance plan could look like this:

  • Month 1: Meet with all team members and read strategy documents for all current clients
  • Month 2: Join account managers on monthly calls with 90% of current clients
  • Month 3: Support account managers with 3+ proposals, as a primary strategist for the new prospective accounts.
  • Month 4: Take over strategy on 50% of current accounts, and at least half of new accounts.
  • Month 5: Recommend how the agency can improve its process for creating client strategy deliverables.
  • Month 6: Identify options for a new strategy service offering

A well-defined performance plan that’s built on consistent, constructive feedback will not only help your employee but also your agency. The benefits are clear. Your talent feels valued, which increases their commitment and performance and your agency grows because clients are happy, results are showing and processes are seamless because your team is a well-oiled machine.

Key Takeaways

In the face of increasing competition and higher expectations from candidates, getting the right people on board is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. By differentiating your agency, empowering your employees, and focusing on the right skills and qualities you can find top talent that truly fits your company. 

All in all, proper processes for hiring, onboarding and managing top talent can be the difference between you and your competition. If you’re ready to build a team of superstars that make your agency the go-to choice then contact us today!

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Topics: Systems and Processes Onboarding