Recruitment and succession planning: how to get the right people (and keep them)

Image for Kate Bastable By Kate Bastable

Lifespan in an agency is usually two to four years. So you could be facing a very high turnover. But the reality is, unless you’re giving people the chance to move up, their only opportunity for promotion is to move on. Four years is also a long time to work on the same projects with the same clients, and people sometimes change agency for the sake of variety.

This is all very standard and it’s nothing personal. But you do need to be prepared to lose some of your good staff… and have a plan for seamless succession.

 The natural temptation when someone leaves is to recruit. But before you put on your hiring hat, take a look around you. Is there someone who could transition into the vacant role? Look at the skillset of your current staff alongside what’s needed for the job, using a 1-5 score system for suitability. This will highlight any training needs or identify what skills are present or missing.

Promoting from within

You don’t need to wait until someone leaves, however, to start upskilling your staff. Develop a growth/needs chart for the agency and for each department, so you’re continually improving your current workforce. It’s always better to develop from within, so look at what training you can offer to meet the identified needs.

When it’s time to recruit

There will naturally be times that you can’t promote or transition from within, and you’ll need to look at recruiting. Track what works, and what doesn’t. Sometimes word of mouth can be more productive than a recruitment agency. LinkedIn can also give you a wealth of insight into who’s out there. You can see if anyone is ‘actively looking’ and it’s also a great source of indirect recruitment. Approach LinkedIn with a recruitment hat on, connecting with people who could be potential future employees.

Your people are your biggest asset here. They know the business inside out and can often recommend the right people for the role. Much like using tried-and-tested freelancers, bringing people in on recommendation can often work much better than cold recruitment. You could even offer some kind of incentive scheme, such as a post-probation referral fee or bonus to a staff member who recommends someone you choose to hire.

Getting everyone involved is great for employee engagement, too. Ask your managers and teams to build connections through networking channels and events, so you end up with a huge pool of talent to tap into when the times comes.

When you’re writing your job specs, you want them to be clear but not too detailed, so you can be flexible. A combined document works best – include the job specification (role and responsibilities) and person specification (essential and desirable skills, qualifications and behaviours). When it comes to recruiting for replacements, specs can then be signed off quickly.

Being a great place to work

People who work at agencies are often enticed by more than just salary and benefits. While these things are important, they also want to work for a company they’re proud to represent. Is your agency a great place to work? Spend time building your employee brand – think charity work, progression, environment, personality. Remember, your candidates are interviewing you, too.

Sending out an introduction pack and inviting them to look at your YouTube or social channels can tell them what kind of company you are. You’re telling them ‘this is what we’re all about, this is what you’ll experience when you work for us’. You know the kind of people you want working for you. Is your company culture one that’s likely to attract these candidates?

Interviewing: moving beyond the CV

Strong candidates are not just those that look on paper. You need to assess them on behaviour and personality, as well as skillset. Will they fit into your wider team? HR isn’t just a job for the HR department – department heads and managers need to feed into the recruitment process, too.

Interviews work best in stages:

  • Telephone/video interviewing can highlight skillset and personality, giving you a good idea of how well they know their stuff and whether they’d fit into your business.
  • Face-to-face interviews have been less possible due to Covid, but they are a great way of assessing suitability, and you can show the candidate around, introduce them to managers etc. You can also see how well they come across when not in interview – for example, front-of-house staff will see them when they arrive and leave. What are their first impressions?
  • On-topic assessment. This could be a presentation, for example, or asking them how they’d fulfil a pitch or a brief, depending on the position.

Post-hire postmortem

Doing some post-hire analysis can help you see how well your systems and processes are working and give you some ideas for how to polish your recruitment process. Did you hire the right person? Look at their performance and how they’ve impacted on their team. Could you reduce your recruitment times, or improve your processes in any way?

Some agencies use Applicant Tracking Systems to assist with their recruitment processes and manage data – always remember these need to be GDPR compliant if you do use them.

Graduate recruitment

Graduate recruitment is also key to business growth. This fresh new talent pool can be mentored, and hopefully stay and grow with you. However, lack of experience does mean you’ll need to give current staff the time to train graduates, and you need to track if this is cost effective. Really, you’re looking at the total cost of attraction, onboarding, employing and training against performance and longevity.

The reality of agency life is that people do move on. But with some upfront planning and refined recruitment processes, you can make sure you’re bringing the right people on board, in terms of skills, experience and personality.

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