Relocating staffers can keep them and the agency happy

Firms are always seeking ways to keep top talent, promote cohesion throughout the firm, and boost client confidence. As Andrew Gordon discovers, transferring employees can help on all three counts

Firms are always seeking ways to keep top talent, promote cohesion throughout the firm, and boost client confidence. As Andrew Gordon discovers, transferring employees can help on all three counts

With hiring on the rise as the economy improves, agencies are also looking at ways to hang onto the employees they already have. Firms are keenly aware that their best and brightest employees today could very well be someone else's tomorrow.

One way agencies are trying to retain employees is by giving them the option to work at different offices, either in different regions of the US or overseas. Employees often leave agencies to move to other parts of the country for both personal and professional reasons. But by showing a little flexibility, agencies can hold on to those employees. And that means less turnover on account teams.

Text 100 provides employees such opportunities because it recognizes the importance of having one's job evolve with one's life. Senior account director Alison Rizk transferred from the London office to the San Francisco headquarters five years ago. She says she made the move for personal reasons. But Text 100's willingness to let her transfer shows the agency's dedication to keeping good people.

"When you hire good people, sometimes they need to move to pursue their life path," adds Rizk. "We try to accommodate those life paths."

Transferring not only keeps those employees happy, but the agency as well. The firm retains that employee's skills and demonstrates to the entire staff that it is committed to their personal and professional well-being, explained Sheldon Lamphier, MD of human resources at the Zeno Group.

Transferring employees can also keep account teams intact, helping build cross-office teams and strengthening client work. Many clients cite account team turnover as a major reason relationships with agencies go sour.

Moving employees between offices also teaches staffers not to see each office separately, but as part of a collective whole. Plus it allows staff to share culture between offices, helping create a more consistent culture throughout.

With four offices, Allison & Partners strives for a cohesive, consistent culture. That includes sharing clients. So having staffers transfer between offices can help do that while keeping employees and clients happy, says Andy Hardie-Brown, partner and COO.

But that's if all goes according to plan, he cautions. Expectations need to be set well in advance of the move. As chemistry between employees is key to keeping an office happy, Hardie-Brown says he advises employees who want to move to visit the other office first to see if they'll be content there.

"A person can feel adrift in a new office or city," notes Hardie-Brown. "Making sure there's chemistry between that person and the new office is important to making this work."

Managers in both offices must communicate often to discuss the needs of both the employee and the client. Open communication is critical to setting expectations for all involved, adds Lamphier. Even though the employee is staying in-house and will be familiar with the overall agency culture, each office brings its own idiosyncrasies. As such, there will be a learning curve.

"There should be a meeting before and after the relocation," advises Lamphier. "I've seen employees get completely overloaded and get pulled in every direction. Everybody wants a piece of that person at once."

Not every employee who wants to move is given the opportunity. While agencies are often willing to bend over backwards to keep talented employees happy, agencies ultimately need to determine what will keep clients happy and the firm successful. Sometimes that means moving employees; sometimes it means telling an employee no. Each request needs to be weighed individually, with the needs of the employee, the offices, the overall agency, and the clients taken into consideration.

And agencies shouldn't assume it will be a smooth move, warns Matt Morgan, a Text 100 AE who transferred from the London office to San Francisco last summer.

"There has to be a willingness for the company to cross over into your personal life," says Morgan. "Your work is your life the first few months after a move, especially if you come from a different country. It takes time, whether you're looking for an apartment or trying to get a Social Security card. The company needs to appreciate that."

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Points to ponder in transferring employees

  • Does the agency risk losing the employee to another firm if not transferred?

  • How will the move impact client relationships?

  • How long will it take the employee to get acclimated in the new office?

  • Will the move create a void that's difficult to fill in the office he or she is leaving?

  • What does the employee stand to gain by moving?

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