Mad Men - What HR can learn about talent retention

Mad Men - What HR can learn about talent retention

Mad Men Bod

When Bob Dylan sang in the sixties that ‘the times they are a changin’, he was heralded as the voice of a generation. That generation had new ideas about society and work.

Now, as then, technology and ideas about the role of work are changing fast. Generation X with their notion of five year plans and job security are working alongside an increasingly tech savvy, and arguably more restless new generation of workers who know their talents, and are looking for more from their careers than just a paycheque.

It’s time to rethink what motivates your potential high flyers to do their best work.

AMC’s Mad Men, a show about advertising agencies in sixties and seventies America has gained a lot of publicity, not just for its critically acclaimed storylines, but in discussions about the workplace and changing workplace values.

Set in a period of rapid social change, one of the overarching themes in Mad Men is the concept that the show’s characters are looking for something more from their employment than simply money (although they do all seem to earn handsomely for their skills).

There is as much job hopping as there is bed hopping in the show, as each advertising agency struggles to gain, and retain, the top creative talent in the field.

There are certainly similarities to be drawn between the golden days of advertising as portrayed in the show, and the current job market’s cultural and technological changes. Then, as now, high performers in the workplace want to be appreciated, and value a company culture where they can grow and fit in. It is these attitudes that are beginning to take president over traditional job security.

With companies easily able to portray their brand personality as well as post vacancies online, the battle to retain top performers is paramount.

Mad Men fans have already seen Peggy Olsen work her way up from mousy secretary to a formidable copywriter – she was aware of her skills, and felt they weren’t appreciated at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Consequently, Peggy jumped ship. And who can blame her?

Despite knowing her value to the company, her managers did not communicate their appreciation of her work, and did not make apparent where her role in the firm was going.

In a modern working environment, your top talent is even easier for rivals to reach. Gen Y are so well connected via social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, they do not need to go searching for alternative career opportunities, they can find them without leaving their desk.

We also live in a world with recruitment consultancies around every corner looking for new talent. That’s why it is so important to communicate to your staff the value of their work, and where they fit into the company as a whole.

This is the main problem with the business relationships in Mad Men, and something that needs real consideration in the modern workplace. With online networking and career opportunities so easy to access, companies need to offer more than a good salary to retain their best performers.

Organisations need to nurture a great company culture, good communication and be aware of what their top talent want to achieve within the company.

It is for this reason that talented people respond well to having goals which clearly align with the company vision and mission. If your top performers are great at their job, it is not hard for recruiters or other companies to hear about it and get in touch with them. If they have no goals to challenge them or feel there is no career progression available where they are, what is to stop them from leaving?

Through communication, setting individual goals and forming career and progression plans, your top performers have something to work for and toward.

That means they will concentrate on doing their best for your company, rather than looking for the next big career break.

Understand the motivation of your top talent. If you don’t, they won’t be your top talent for long.

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