Keeping Them… And Keeping Them Happy

Staff retention can be a real issue. And from the many conversations we’ve had in recent months with professional services  marketing and business development directors, it seems the industry is acutely aware of this.

Career progression is important to most people and, alongside financial motivations, is the most commonly cited reason that people move jobs. However, for many workers career dynamism has taken a back seat in recent years as firms struggle with tighter budgets, leaving employees sitting tight, grateful for the job they have. But this is changing. Early indications for 2014 point to much more confidence in the employment market and as more firms recruit, career-minded professionals will begin to look for opportunities externally, particularly if they are unchallenged in their current role.

So, what should firms be doing to ensure they are effectively managing people’s careers? Internal infrastructure is the key to success.

Most firms we work with operate a fully operational HR process to manage and develop their employees. Career development should be measurable against a competency framework with clear steps between levels so that employees know what they need to do to climb the ladder. Outlining this from the interview phase will ensure you hire correctly from the start which, of course, is the catapult to ongoing success.

Appraisals should be conducted by the individual’s line manager with input from other key people the person has worked with, such as partners or managers from other teams. This will enable line managers to put a clear action plan in place. Not only will this give employees a clear goal to work against in developing their skills and performance, it also helps the line manager to navigate unrealistic progression expectations from their staff. It is appreciated, however, that career management processes in some firms are not so robust, so what else can you do to overcome the issue?

Over the last few years, firms have shrunk their support teams and often not replaced staff when they have left, particularly more junior staff. This has led to people taking on tasks that they were not originally employed to do or administrative tasks they haven’t done for years, which is certainly not good for career development. It is essential that feedback from exit interviews is listened to and actioned, whilst replacing leavers with someone with a more appropriate skillset will negate the need to recruit again in a few months’ time.

Another challenge is that many professional services marketing teams have quite a flat structure, which often provides a hurdle for ambitious individuals wanting to climb the career ladder. There is often a large gap between an ‘Executive’ and ‘Manager’ or ‘Manager’ and ‘Head of/Director’. It is worth considering the introduction of a ‘Senior Executive’ or ‘Senior Manager’ title to give employees realistic aspirational goals. Avoid titles such as ‘Advisor’ or ‘Specialist’ since such generic titles have no specific level of responsibility attached to them.

Finally, it is important to consider salary when promoting employees. Whilst this sounds obvious, benchmarking salaries both internally and externally is crucial. It is vital to give your employees the increase they would get if they were to make an external move. A nominal salary rise or no salary rise causes resentment and could still leave you exposed to losing a good member of the team. Don’t wait until you have a resignation on your desk to show people they’re valued.

All of this is pointless if you can’t get the sign off for a promotion and/or salary rise for your valued team members. This does happen and whilst it’s frustrating, it shouldn’t be the end of the matter. If you’ve done everything you possibly can, agree a timeframe in which you think it’s realistic to revisit things. If your employee knows that you are doing everything possible to change things, they will be loyal and give you a period of grace to address the situation.

The professional services sector has come a long way in recognising the value that support teams add to the overall growth of a firm, but there’s still room for improvement. If marketing and business development functions are going to continue developing, it’s vital that they continue to attract the very best talent from all sectors and to have clear and transparent development plans for their staff.

Anthem Consulting provides transparent recruitment, consulting services and talent management programmes to the Professional Services industry. Contact: Simone Timcke on 0207 822 4355 or Frosso Miltiadou on 020 7822 4352 or visit: www.anthemconsulting.co.uk