3 ways to retain marketing talent — and why it’s important to do so

The ongoing layoffs in some industries offers a confusing picture of the labor market. Marketing teams are also facing budget pressure as companies cut down expenses.

It could be easy to think that focusing on retaining talent is not as important under these conditions but that’s the wrong way of looking at it. The retention of talent is always important, especially during tough economic times.

Marketing teams need to do more with fewer employees, which means each of those humans need to contribute to driving results. It’s not enough to simply throw bodies at challenges. 

In this article, I want to share three ideas for how to attract and retain world-class talent. These ideas will touch on the things the best people are looking for when choosing their next career.

A menu of opportunities

Let’s start by looking at Coca-Cola, recently named the number one employer of choice by the American Opportunity Index. The ranking takes into consideration several factors such as hiring, promotion, wage, culture and diversity policies.

Coca-Cola has 80,000 employees globally so this is a serious achievement. Out of all the things Coca-Cola does well, I want to highlight two.

1. Coke offers total visibility on internal opportunities through an online portal. An employee from India can easily see and apply for an opportunity in Europe.

2. Coke encourages all employees — from truck drivers to engineers — to take short assignments to build skills, anywhere in the company.

The brand realized that smart individuals leave companies when there’s nothing left for them to learn. Their massive size works to their advantage by providing countless opportunities for employees to move into completely different fields. 

Marketing teams may not have as many different job roles but there’s always room for finding new opportunities. Perhaps it means rotating people through different roles, different campaigns or different challenges. 

The message Coca-Cola sends to prospective employees is that they care about their career progression. Every marketing team can emulate that ethos.

Offer a serious commitment to helping your team members progress in their career. You might even consider helping them land a role outside of marketing, in sales for example. Teams that offer this commitment will always stand out over those that offer the run-of-the-mill benefits around mental health, fitness, and so forth.

Coca-Cola demonstrates that retaining talent is actually not complex. It’s all about thinking about what ambitious and driven individuals want. Salaries and benefits play a role, of course, but these individuals want to be challenged in their professional life. It starts by offering multiple opportunities to do so.

Dig deeper: Why we care about marketing management

A say in decisions

It’s not a secret that employees, especially younger ones, are clamoring for having a say in the decisions made by their team. Organizations are being forced to move away from their top-down decision-making into something more democratic.

I’m not saying that all decisions should be put to a vote. That would likely lead to chaos and indecision.

Let’s take strategy formulation to see how decision-making is changing and how you can make similar changes in your team.

When I help organizations formulate strategy, we do it in small groups of six to 14 individuals, exclusively leaders with P&L responsibility. This small group makes the final decisions on where the organization should go.

However, before we all gather in a room, the organization seeks opinions from everyone else. Surveys, town halls and one-on-one conversations surface the major concerns and ideas, all of them which affect the strategy itself.

You can attract and retain talent by setting up something similar. The final decisions may be made by the CMO or VP of marketing but there’s room to solicit opinions and feedback from everyone else. It’s less top-down in one direction and more top-down-top in both directions.

I also see more leaders embrace more delegation on bigger decisions. This is another level from just soliciting advice. You can start to give individuals autonomy and the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

Before delegation happens, the top-down-top relationship needs to be established. Once that is the case, then you can explore other ways of letting go of all the decision-making power.

Degrees or competencies?

The American Opportunity Index mentioned above has a category for how effective organizations are at taking employees without degrees into high paying jobs.

College degrees aren’t going away but marketing leaders should question their use when selecting candidates.

College degrees are a proxy for a list of highly desirable traits: the ability to complete assignments, critical thinking, teamwork and others.

The obvious counterargument is that someone could develop these traits without going to college.

The goal when hiring talent is to find someone who can contribute to the performance of the team. Leaders need to identify the traits needed and look objectively at a person, with or without a degree.

This is even more relevant in a world where AI is replacing all the routine tasks such as creating assets, posting on social media, writing text and so forth. The competencies needed are changing into soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and strategic thinking,

College degrees will eventually adjust but their relevance will be questionable in the meantime.

Don’t dismiss job applications who don’t have the standard degree. They could still have all the valuable traits needed in a rapidly changing world. In fact, their lack of degree could be a breath of fresh air.

Talent is the foundation for success

Retaining talents is always a priority but if budgets are tight and economic conditions are uncertain, then it is even more important. Great talent helps teams accomplish more with less. The rise of technologies like AI means talent has to play an even bigger role as the small, routine tasks disappear.

We explored three ideas in this post. Offering a menu of opportunities to showcase your commitment to helping employees progress in their career by learning valuable skills.

Offering a bigger say in how decisions are made, starting by soliciting feedback and eventually moving to full delegation. You can call it empowerment, autonomy or something else. Ambitious individuals want it. 

Finally, we looked at how college degrees may be obfuscating great talent. You can change this by focusing on competencies, especially those that will be highly desirable in the future.

Talent is still one of the major factors contributing to the success of organizations. Make sure you’re doing all you can for yours.

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