Priya Bala
Dec 23, 2015

2016: Is the talent war worth fighting?

Don’t let 2016 become a minefield of salary wars and neglected development, writes Font's Priya Bala.

It’s no longer acceptable to admit defeat with high levels of turnover
It’s no longer acceptable to admit defeat with high levels of turnover

As much as we like to think we are different here in Asia, the truth is we are still fighting for talent in a global marketplace. People are mobile and career opportunities are presented every day that may entice people to make a move. 

The war is still very much playing out in the marketing and advertising sector, and it will continue to do so into 2016. But when you are in the thick of it, ask yourself: ‘is this worth the battle?’

No, I’m not telling you to give up in your recruitment efforts. But why don’t you take a step back to ensure you are fighting for the right reasons? Targeted recruitment is important, but we believe clients need to spend more time looking into retention and development. It’s just no longer acceptable to admit defeat with high levels of turnover, writing it off because “that’s the way our industry works.”  

It’s time to renew your focus to do everything you can to support, retain and help develop key industry talent as we move into 2016. 

Don’t get stuck in a salary-bidding war

Stop battling over people who are leaving their jobs every six to nine months. This ridiculously high turnover will only keep happening if we let it. We know that talent jumps ship for minor pay rises — and they do this because it works. If they can leave one agency and join another to do the exact same job but get paid 20 per cent more, of course they are going to go. 

However, it is a lose-lose-lose situation. The former company loses a good hire because they could not offer anything else besides money to retain them. The new employer has, out of desperation, offered above-market rate just to get someone in the role. The employee, meanwhile, has priced themselves out of the market and potentially leapt into a role with responsibilities and deliverables that they can’t handle. 

When you find good people, you need to be proactive in helping them reach their goals by grooming your leaders to truly manage and coach their people. Don’t make money the focus. 

While a candidate may have only 70 per cent of the competencies required at present, they will reach the level you need them to be quickly if you invest in their growth and development. It’s not a perfect system and some will still leave, but we are confident more will stay for the right reasons in 2016 if you take this approach. 

Be smart about skill gaps 

There are still some natural skill gaps in the Asian talent market compared with elsewhere. This is typically due to the maturity of a product or service offering in Asia, and so the melting pot of local and international talent will continue. 

However, it’s important to be smart about filling these skill gaps and knowing when you need to bring in expertise from offshore. We have been seeing this in the areas of data and programmatic, and this is likely to continue in 2016. 

But it’s imperative that you surround these foreign experts with a strong local team, who will learn from them and whom you can coach to become experts in their own right. 

Build this knowledge sharing into the KPIs of any international talent you hire and give them the room, time and resources to achieve these goals. 

Ecommerce talent pool is still shallow

There is no doubt we are seeing a huge drive for ecommerce talent, and this is only likely to continue. It’s a developing skill set in Asia, which is only just transitioning out of dependence on brick-and-mortar retailing. This is truly exciting, as a more integrated offering is coming to the market and impacting skill sets across the entire ecosystem, from retail operations to technology and marketing. 

In 2016, the drive for people who truly understand human-centred design and design thinking will continue to rise. Right now, this talent pool in Asia isn’t meeting the demand at the skill level clients want, but with the right approaches to learning and development it will only be a matter of time. 

Your value proposition is your lifeline 

Across the industry, many verticals are merging or crossing into each other’s territories, meaning different competitors are taking shape. What has remained consistent across all this change is that all sectors are being challenged to stay clear on what their value proposition is — and being able to demonstrate this to clients and talent. 

At the end of the day, profitable growth is critical and businesses of all shapes and sizes need to be more confident to walk away from clients or customers who simply don’t get it and are not willing to pay for the service. 

As price and margins get driven down, the industry is continually challenged to be more creative about delivery. From a business point of view, this can drive innovation. But when this happens, we too often see good talent pushed to their limits from  working in a highly-strung, high-pressure environment where their contributions are not being recognised and celebrated. 

Good talent won’t want to work with people who treat them poorly -— they will just leave. What happens next? The client gets grumpy because they keep losing their key point of contact. So, is your value proposition working for you, or is it costing you more than you realise? 

Priya Bala is regional director at font Asia


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