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Why is your top talent 'really' leaving?

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Why is your top talent 'really' leaving?

Can you remember any instance of asking your employees about the changes to be brought within the organisation and actually implementing them? When was the last time you appreciated your employees for their valued contribution to the organisation?

In Indian agencies, it’s just a matter of filling those long forms and taking a secret exit interview, asking for suggestions which are never put to practice. This has led to high rates of attrition, which is one of the biggest challenges faced by the Indian advertising business today. The industry has seen a series of high-profile exits over a last couple of years such as the exit of the blue-eyed boy of JWT Rohit Ohri to the creative hotshot Bobby Pawar. High attrition rate raises the question of what is being done to retain the most important assets.

Sapna Srivastava, Chief Talent Officer, South Asia and Asia Pac, JWT shared that attrition is a burning issue as the agency is losing talent to not only other advertising agencies, but also to other sunrise sectors.

It is often said that advertising is a people-focussed industry, but agencies aren’t doing enough to build employee satisfaction. It is also observed that people are shifting between agencies, but they are not necessarily leaving the profession.

Roopa Badrinath, Group HR Head, Rediffusion-Y&R said, “Like all other industries, advertising agencies are not immune to the challenge of attrition.  As markets keep opening up and new verticals get formed, there are more opportunities for younger talent to experiment on a larger canvas. The opportunity to try one’s hand at bigger, different, and perceived to be more responsible and lucrative projects can be enticing; add to that a generation that is not averse to taking risks.”

Agencies should create a culture that gives employees intellectual stimulation, visibility and recognition within their peer groups and across the organisation. Recognition is an important aspect of talent management.

Rita Verma, Senior VP, Organisation Development, DDB Mudra Group said that high attrition rates have always been a major challenge in the advertising industry. This is especially due to this industry’s nature in terms of people joining for people, people moving in or out with a shift of brand, people exploring entrepreneurial options, etc.

Rediffusion: Reviving its leadership
Some believe that Rediffusion has lost its glory, while some call it ‘the troubled agency’ with the exit of giants such as D Rajappa, N Padmakumar, Ramanuj Shastry, Jaideep Mahajan, Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, Mahesh Chauhan and Meenakshi Achan. However, the agency has tried to bring the mojo back by roping in expat talent like Sam Ahmed as the Vice Chairman and Chief Creative Officer and Komal Bedi Sohal as the National Creative Director.

Rediffusion employees have access to a large repertoire of online courses to upgrade their professional skills at the Y&R University. More recently, as an effective employee engagement programme, Rediffusion-Y&R has started ‘Re-think’ – a proprietary programme that will serve as a regular learning platform of ideas to catalyse creativity. In addition, training programmes, which are function-specific, are conducted from time to time. To name a few, all the senior leaders of the agency have gone through an intense workshop on the art of coaching.   
Mid-level employees have had a day-long expedition in the art of creative thinking with some inspirational examples of its applications to make it a lot more possible to imbibe in daily life. Employees at various levels across the agency have been inducted into the Brand Asset Valuator (BAV), which is the proprietary tool of Y&R. Account Planners, for example, have gone through an intensive Semiotics workshop.

“Through these different levels of engagement, we strive to impart a sense of accountability and ownership in them for the success of the brands that they work on, which eventually leads to their individual and organisational success,” Badrinath added.

JWT’s savior mantra
JWT has also seen the exit of a lot of priced talent in the recent past – right from Rohit Ohri, Managing Partner at JWT Delhi, who had an outstanding track record and managed almost Rs 100 crore of business for the agency, to the ‘Pepsi boy’ Soumitra Karnik, who was the Executive Creative Director and Vice President, JWT, and Agnello Dias, the man behind many path-breaking campaigns. The agency has seen turbulent times with the exit of some of the best minds such as Tarun Rai, Anuja Chauhan and Elvis Sequeira earlier.

Srivastava said, “JWT has a very robust talent management programme that is aimed at identifying talent and then developing it through multiple training initiatives, with the intent to retain the ‘stars’. JWT approaches training in a very structured format, with multi-disciplinary workshops for each management levels i.e. Junior Management, Middle Management, Senior Management and Top Management. These workshops cover the advertising processes, marketing and communication challenges, leadership skills, etc.”

“In addition, to help upgrade job skills, we have discipline-specific workshops for all key departments. Stars at all levels are also nominated to attend global workshops,” she added.

Within the JWT system, there are programmes such as High Potentials Programme, Happiness Quotient, International Opportunities, etc. The High Potential Programme is JWT’s global recognition where each year about 47 people across the network get selected on the basis of their exceptional performance and potential.

DDB Mudra’s retention play
Verma of DDB Mudra Group said, “We have always been at the forefront when it comes to effective people management. We take great pride in having an attrition rate which is lower than our competition and definitely lower than the industry average. Having exhaustive online training modules have helped immensely as employees can avail of the learnings at their time and pace.”

There is a series of online training programmes which cover different professional modules and many developmental programmes too such as career progression plans and succession planning that are being carried out. Several employee engagement activities play an active part in knowing the pulse of people. Initiatives such as ‘Star of the month’, ‘Star of the quarter’, and ‘Extra punch awards’  help in keeping the competitive juices active and employees aiming for glory. Regular participation in forums such as ‘Great Place to work’ helps in getting accurate feedback from employees thereby, leading to necessary corrective action being taken. Internal initiatives such ad ‘DDB Voice’, which is an employee engagement tool, helps in gauging mood of the employees and leads to a constructive action plan.

Hence, it brings to the conclusion that agencies have to do a good job of training and motivating employees. They have to come out with innovative methods to inspire employees to stay with the organization, which are beyond compensation, benefits, vacations, etc. There is an urgent need to invest in good training programmes for key talent and engage them in frequent dialogues with industry leaders to help them grow better.


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