Experts Discuss Retention Strategies and Importance of Big Picture

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“We do a lot of employee recognition programs," said Heather Farley, COO for Access Intelligence, during a recent session titled Recruitment, Retention and Talent Development: Tips and Tricks to Build a Happy Workforce That Sticks Around. "Any time that an employee has financial success closing on a new client, selling more ads or hosting a webinar that outperforms—or even sends out an email that gets a higher response—a [congratulatory] email goes out. When they open the email, it rings a bell.

“We have 250 people in four different offices. So [a program like that] creates a sense of a community. Success brings success is our philosophy.” A second, popular initiative for AI involves a media associate program. College grads are carefully scouted and hired, and then go through a rotational stint in sales, marketing, technology and content—before being permanently placed.

“Young people bring perspective,” Farley said. “We do find that having that broader view of the company has helped them have a much better understanding of how the whole business functions. It accelerates and propels them quickly. We also offer a referral bonus to our internal employees for referring new employees. The sticky rate for those people tends to be high.”

Farley was joined on the panel by Stephanie Eidelman, CEO, insideARM, and Jack Farrell, managing director, Jack Farrell & Associates, a search firm that specializes in the publishing arena.  

“Challenges at a small firm are so different,” Eidelman said. But she still makes sure there is a growth path for her employees. “Time after time we have demonstrated that people can change responsibilities here. We often have created roles around good people; it’s nice to have flexibility to create jobs that way. We need people who have the ability to deal with ambiguity and change—and things developing in real time.”

During the 2001 recession, Access Intelligence had to freeze salaries and looked at other benefits to offer. They decided to close the office at 3 pm every Friday.

“I just started hearing how much employees liked it,” Farley said. “So we kept it even when the recession ended. One manager recently told me that she met with all 50 people on her team; she gave them a short list of questions—what do you like most? What can we do better? Resoundingly what people love best is getting that jump on the weekend. ‘Don’t ever take that piece away.’ That has been huge for us. So there are things you can do that don’t cost money. Rarely do people move on just for money.”

Farrell emphasized that “soft” benefits can be as valuable as hard ones. “Quality of life certainly matters,” he said, “even more so with young people. I read that 50% of the current workforce are now millennials. How are we going to keep these people happy and engaged? Summer hours are popular. And these days everyone works all the time anyway so the work will get done.”

Eidelman also wants her employees to see the big picture and encourages transparency. “We are inherently a rotational program. We work in the same room. There’s a 'daily huddle' every day where we see who owes what to whom, who’s expecting what, etc. I put up revenue numbers on a white board every day. I try to give everybody as much information as I can.”

An SIIA connection resulted in a big win for Eidelman. She said that she had SIPA past president Meg Hargreaves, SVP & chief operating officer for CQ Roll Call Group, to thank for recommending a wonderful IT person. And she has since made it a point to find out what makes him happy. "I gave him the autonomy to make technology decisions, so he got to pick the new platform we’re going to develop on,” Eidleman said.

She added that it takes due diligence to retain your best employees, though it may not be easy. “I told each employee to schedule a lunch with me at their convenience to talk about you,” Eidelman said. “[One employee] wondered what that would be about. It made him uncomfortable. So the method differs for every person.”

People are looking after their own self-interest more than ever, Farrell concluded. “Companies have to find where that loyalty [will emerge from].”



You can listen to the entire discussion and view slides here.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…