Talent Development and Agency Success

What happens when a company prioritizes listening to their employees?

“There are three elements that contribute to an attractive work culture: work, fun and growth, all of which are important, but not in equal parts. Agencies tend to focus on the most superficial of these elements—the fun—even though it’s a nearsighted tactic. That’s because agencies don’t know (or don’t bother to determine) the underlying problem: lack of growth opportunities.”

AdWeek, March 13, 2018

Within this industry, our life-blood is our human capital. Our employees’ knowledge and innovation are how we and our competitors survive, thrive, and continue to prove our worthiness and indispensability to our clients. Yet, as an industry we have trouble holding on to employees: the average turnover rate, estimates the ANA, is 30%. Why? At CMI/Compas, we have a much lower turnover rate and a high rate of returning (boomerang) employees. We also have industry-leading employee tenure. So in response to this continued trend of employee retention issues across our industry, we are sharing what makes CMI/Compas different.

First, Listen

People will tell you what they want; the importance of listening can’t be overstated. We hold employee focus groups, exit interviews and stay interviews. We also survey all staff anonymously regularly.

Then, Give Them What They (Really) Want

The information we glean from listening only has value if we use it. As the AdWeek article pointed out, many of the benefits that agencies seem to think resonate with employees are missing the mark. What we’ve learned is that our employees want to grow professionally and as humans, by receiving opportunities to do new and challenging work, as well as working mindfully in an environment where new ideas are welcome, and gratitude is encouraged.

In the agency world, trendy office furniture, craft beer, and social outings have often been the industry’s main response to retention, morale, and other HR issues.  But data shows us that this is not what is keeping employees happy or engaged in the workplace. As more and more millennials compose our workforce (44% of agency talent notes AdWeek), they are ranking the need for career growth and development higher than ever before and higher than other generational groups.  Lack of growth and opportunity are top reasons why millennials are willing to make the leap to other organizations quickly and without looking back so they don’t miss a step or stall their progression on the career ladder. Not because of the lack of foosball or happy hours or having to leave their pets at home.

CMI/Compas provides fun perks such as fun committees, company events, summer Fridays, flexible work arrangements, and gym membership discounts.  But we have also placed a top-shelf premium on employees’ career development, taking a vested interest in the long-term and short-term career goals and growth of its employees.  In 2011 we built a dedicated talent development and training team to create the structure to meet our talent development programming. Upon hire, all employees are equipped with an onboarding program that includes performance goals, an assigned mentor and training specifically designed for their role.  They also meet with their managers to create milestones to track their progress with real-time feedback.

Our employees are provided with extensive training at each level of their career in the organization, so they can hit the ground running and make impact on the business.  Entry level hires are entered into a media new hire class that teaches them what many schools are not: how to execute and plan media. Employees then progress through internal job training programs within their role.  We also offer external training opportunities that truly speaks to them and can give mobility options. Additionally, our employees are presented with development plans, and participate in 1:1 meetings with their managers to discuss their development. CMI/Compas lays out expectations and pathways to success and growth through its skills rating grids that give clear and transparent goals to help employees take charge of their own career progress. Every employee is reviewed annually by senior management including the CEO, Stan Woodland. A major piece of this approach is to make sure discussions are happening with all of the decision makers around internal promotional opportunities and who is ready for the next challenge. In the past 12 months, more than 25% of our staff earned promotions.

Our Leadership support of career progression and mobility is also a key differentiator for us. As part of our 2-year CMI/Compas’ leadership program, employees are given the tools to make the transition from individual contributor to leader and the provided guidance once they take on a leadership role to acclimate themselves into their new role.  Managers are equipped with leadership skills long before they enter supervisory roles. There is a strong belief and accountability that is placed upon managers to help develop their employees, as an integral part of how we deliver on our company mission. Our program prepares our leaders to coach and develop their own employees, hire inspired talent, and also show success by how many individuals stay with our company and grow through multiple career levels.

Furthermore, tuition reimbursement, sponsored educational opportunities, and company-provided industry learning opportunities are some of the many benefits offered to team members so they can continue to hone their skills and add to their experience.  Employees are not only encouraged but expected to take part in conferences and industry events to enhance their knowledgebase and grow their networks. Teams are challenged to provide thought-leadership as part of their growth, as well, getting the opportunity to push the envelope with innovative ways of changing the healthcare media landscape.

Do we offer free coffee and fun employee events? Absolutely. But more importantly we offer career building opportunities that each of our employees can benefit from.

And Then, Listen Again

We never “set it and forget it.” Once we initiate a campaign, we measure to make sure we’re doing it right. Employees have responded in the best way possible; record high employee engagement and record low turnover, in an industry where folks are completely accustomed to having to pack up and move to the next agency to get to the next level.  As a result, CMI/Compas boasts talent from all parts of the career continuum from new grads learning the ropes to veterans celebrating 20+ years with the organization who didn’t need to take their proverbial ball elsewhere to develop.  This range of fresh perspective and experience has helped the agency uniquely position itself to its clients and potential talent as a source of stability and innovation resulting in record breaking year over year growth which equals happy employees.  All contribute to how we live our values and support our employee value proposition: