Whether you hire seasoned industry veterans or fresh faces straight out of school, getting the best results possible requires a culture of continuous education and development.
With unending Google algorithm updates, new features constantly rolling out, and new software and automation tools transforming workflows, the minute you feel comfortable with the landscape is the minute you’ve fallen behind the times.
Not only is industry-specific education vital to success, but soft skill development also needs to be treated with equal urgency.
From organization and time management skills to communication, interpersonal skills, and etiquette, fostering a work environment where staff can develop these traits will deliver a return on investment.
It can be a challenge to balance training against client projects and other demands on time.
Just as the responsible choice is to set aside a portion of your paycheck for savings, you need to set aside a portion of working hours for proactive skill development.
Here are some approaches that have worked for my digital marketing agency.
1. Create Individual Growth Plans
Motivated employees want to know they’re on the path to somewhere fulfilling.
For one team member, that desired destination is to start their own business one day.
For another, it might be to take a senior role in the agency and secure a salary to buy a home and start a family.
For a third employee, they are quite happy to stay in the same position for years, but want to be able to shape the role’s responsibilities to its maximum potential.
Have a dialogue with each staff member and document these short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals.
- What are the actions they need to take to get there?
- What are the skills they need to get to that destination, and thrive when they get there?
- How can you as a manager empower them to reach the goal?
There are immediate training requirements to work in an agency, such as a degree or diploma in a related field, or equivalent work experience.
There are also relevant certifications, whether it’s Google Analytics Certification offered through the Google Analytics Academy, or something academic like a Project Management Professional (PMP) credential.
From skill development online through sites like Lynda or Codecademy to local seminars and national conferences, there are countless options to grow technical and soft skills to stay at the forefront of new developments in the field.
Work with each staff member to develop a personalized, individual growth plan with target goals and specific action steps to get there.
Meet regularly to review progress and add new action items as needed to continue forward momentum toward the goal.
2. Initiate Company-Wide Training & Growth
Individual goal setting is essential for improvement, but company-wide training and growth is just as important.
Not only does this set an agency-wide culture of curiosity and enrichment, but it ensures everyone is moving forward as a true team, not just a collection of conflictingly motivated individuals.
There is not much value in having one all-star team member who absorbs every new feature at Google Marketing Live into their DNA if this information doesn’t get shared with the rest of the team and incorporated into the workflow to benefit clients.
Your agency training plan should have some structure to it.
- What are your core values and are they lived out by the team?
- What are the key messages you want to communicate this year?
- What are the biggest knowledge gaps?
Create a structured training schedule that addresses these items.
In addition, you should also be flexible to dedicate training time to resolve issues as they arise.
Are you seeing a spike in interpersonal conflict? Roll out conflict management.
Are staff a little overwhelmed by an influx of new clients? Work on time management skills.
At our agency, the sweet spot is a weekly company-wide training session. We provide lunch and meet in the employee lounge to explore a variety of topics, from customer service best practices to process refinement.
3. Keep a Flexible Training Routine
Every team member has a different learning style.
One employee might learn best from watching a webinar quietly at their desk, while another needs a hands-on experience for the lesson to soak in.
For this reason, we try to keep our format flexible.
Sometimes, it’s a presentation.
Others, an “Ask Me Anything”-style Q&A session.
We have group discussions, watch videos, or have interactive activities.
4. Make it Fun
By-the-numbers presentations about process and professionalism are vitally important — but they’re most effective when balanced by fun activities, too.
Mix it up with trivia, quizzes, and team-building exercises (the Marshmallow Challenge is a particular favorite).
Prizes and rewards don’t hurt, either.
5. Bring in Outside Help
You have a lot of knowledge to share, and the internet is a wealth of free and paid learning avenues.
Another option is to invite guest speakers. They will offer a different perspective on your industry, or give you insights into a related field.
These guest speakers may be specific to marketing, or they could be related to soft skills — a business coach, a motivational speaker, an etiquette expert.
You may even want to invite outsiders to give staff guidance on the pursuit of their life goals — a real estate agent, mortgage broker, or financial planner.
6. Involve the Team
Though your agency will benefit greatly from the growth and maturation of your employees, this is also a personal journey. Involve team members and challenge them to contribute.
What would they like to learn? Do they have any topic ideas to suggest?
You can also get help from your team in gathering materials for the session, or an employee may even volunteer to lead the session.
This can be highly beneficial as a form of “shadowing” and provide interdepartmental clarity.
The most successful companies place a premium on education and growth. There’s a reason one of Google’s “ten things we know to be true” is the belief that there’s always more information out there, while Nike has the maxim “be a sponge,” where they encourage a culture of curiosity.
Though you hope to hire staff who bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the table, digital marketing evolves so rapidly on-going skill development is essential.
Think of ways you can create and maintain a company culture built around seeking and sharing knowledge.
Though it’s not easy to prioritize time for training against all the other demands of running a business and keeping clients happy, the investment will pay off in spades.