How to attract and retain talent: tips for publishers

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Much of my consultancy work is with MDs and Founders of independent media businesses.  We usually start talking about growth strategy.  With good customer insight, peer best practice and business analysis, this is a problem that can be solved, given a little research and thinking time.

The real challenge is often how to assemble a team to deliver that strategy, and the difficulty of hiring, motivating and retaining talent can consume most media business leaders.  Whether it is editorial, analysts, marketers, sales, or tech disciplines, it feels an uphill struggle to recruit and direct a team.

I have been investigating this issue recently, partly as I am chairing a conference for independent media leaders, Making Publishing Pay, and we are running a workshop session on this very topic.  Here’s some of the tips I have picked up so far….

How to attract talent

The first step is to make your organisation an appealing place for new recruits.  This might involve thinking about the working environment, the quality of technology, the ease of transport and availability of food and drink nearby.  To widen the range of people you hire, it pays to have flexible policies on weekly hours and the potential to work remotely part of the week.

But most important is the culture – will potential recruits feel they will be valued, provided with training and development opportunities, and be able to contribute positively to the business?  If longstanding staff members are unwelcoming to newbies or the company appears to be resistant to new ideas or unwilling to be flexible, your candidates may be put off.

Next, you need to consider how you source new candidates.  It pays to target broadly, maybe considering taking on experienced returners with young children on part time hours, or creating apprentice style roles, or drawing in more experienced specialists on a one or two days a week or retainer basis.  Consider building an extended network of people who might not be available now, but may be in future, and encouraging your staff, customers and “alumni” to look out for prospects.  Don’t restrict yourself to people with “media” experience – there are plenty of related sectors that allow people to develop transferable skills.

Invest time in the recruitment process, understanding what candidates are seeking in terms of development, and tailoring what you offer.  In a small team, cultural fit can be as important as skill set. One entrepreneur says he looks for good people and then builds the job role around them, rather than hiring to a specific brief.  Cultivate a mindset of “always be recruiting.”  And actively try to diversify the people you are hiring – try to move beyond the personal networks of the core team.

How to retain talent and keep teams performing well

Managing a small team, keeping them focussed on strategy and feeling valued and stretched is half your job as a publisher (the other half is staying close to customers).  Retaining talent is a mix of getting it right across many factors: here are some to monitor:

  • Pleasant working environment – good tech, efficient support, easy to access, food and drink nearby or on-site
  • Flexibility – making it possible for people to work flexible hours, work remotely or even take an extended break or sabbatical for personal projects
  • Development and training opportunities, and personalised feedback
  • Recognition, feeling valued and listened to
  • Clear purpose and values – the CEO of a mid-sized media business I know believes that having a clearly articulated purpose has helped in hiring experienced people from larger organisations and keeping them for longer.
  • Tailoring job roles and projects around individual skills and aspirations
  • Positive culture – allowing “toxic” staff to stay in post and obstruct new hires is a recipe for disaster.  Do your best to change their behaviour or even persuade them to leave the organisation.
  • Inclusion and diversity – a broad mix of background and life experience can hugely help creativity and problem solving, but you need a welcoming environment for any “minority” hires, whether that is based on gender, work experience or cultural background

This might feel like a long list and a great deal of work.  But consider how disruptive it is when a recent hire doesn’t work out and you have to embark on a recruitment process all over again.  And be aware that the reason someone has resigned might be a factor in your workplace and current team, not that they are unable to do the job they were hired for.

There will be more practical tips and real-life experiences shared in the “people” workshop at Making Publishing Pay on 26 February.

In the meantime, if you have practical experiences to share, or you want to talk through a particular people challenge you face do get in touch.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.

Read more about Carolyn

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