Lessons from Mad Men: How to Keep the “Peggy Olsons” on Your Team

Erin Couch
May 20, 2013

office workerClose the door. Kick up your feet. Mix yourself an Old Fashioned. I’m going to level with you on something.

Employee retention. It’s a common problem that hits all industries globally – star employees being lured away by better opportunities. Have you had this happen? Do you worry about it at all? How could you have stopped it?
As an avid (obsessed?) watcher/enthusiast of the AMC series Mad Men, I always think back to the season five finale whenever I hear the phrase “employee retention."

Why? Let me break it down for you.

Peggy Olson, originally a secretary in the Manhattan ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Price (SCDP), rose from the ranks of coffee getter, wife distractor, and phone operator to one of the best copywriters the agency had on staff. At the end of season five, feeling unappreciated and overlooked Peggy left SCDP to work at a competing agency. This left good ol’ Don Draper stunned, humbled, and scratching his head over the loss of his go-to team member.

Whether this has already happened to your company or there is concern it soon will, it’s easy to see how the fictional world of Mad Men can translate into the current dilemmas of today’s businesses.

In fact, according to a recent survey done by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), 25 percent of employees deemed “high-potential” by their employers said they plan to leave their current company within the next year.

So, how do you keep these rockstar employees interested in staying with your business? Here are some ways to help keep them aboard and happy.

1) Challenge and recognize.

Have you fallen into the trap of thinking a gift card will be the glue to keep your best employee stuck to your business? Perks and trinkets are nice, but they won’t help your best employees down the path of improvement. According the CEB survey, when asked what drove them to perform better in their current role, the majority of the high-potential employees stated that feeling connected to corporate strategy was top on their list

Action step:
One way to keep your high-performers engaged is with a mix of recognition and challenges that will improve their skill set (without completely stressing them out). Give them more input on a project or get them involved with high-level company strategies. Chances are the high performers are waiting for the challenge. Why not give it to them? When they succeed, give them the recognition they deserve in a meaningful way.

2) Make them your go-to recruiters.

Allowing your high-performers to act as a headhunter for new talent not only helps you grow quality staff, it’s also a great way to boost the loyalty of those doing the recruiting.

Action step:
Look into starting your own employee-referral program. Try putting together a task force of employees who are willing to start this program. This will give your staff more buy-in and will get them involved in improving the company they work for.

3) Money talks.

Small bonuses can always be a great motivator for staff, especially during tough economic times. Outside of top performers, it may be best to look at staff that have hard-to-replace skills and reward them. Do your employees know what they can do every day to improve their chances of increased pay or bonuses?

Action step:
If you have questions on how to create a pay and/or bonus structure that will increase your bottom line, not just your payroll expenses, check out CEDIA's related Business Toolkit webinar (free to CEDIA members). In this webinar, Increasing Profits: How to Create Attractive and Motivational Pay and Bonus Structures, Leslie Shiner of The ShinerGroup takes an in-depth look on how you can make bonus plans work for your company and to help you retain your star employees. Get started now!

About Erin Couch
Erin Couch is CEDIA's Marketing Manager. She can be reached at ecouch@cedia.org.



CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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