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More than 70 percent of Americans are disengaged from their jobs, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report.

Was this a wake-up call for you and your agency? It should have been.

We know it takes a whole lot more than summer hours and donuts to overcome disengagement. Employees need to feel inspired and challenged in a way that fits whatever stage of career or personal development they’re in. And careers in the 21st century are no longer straight lines. We have to start letting go of the old lockstep career progression within agencies and allow employees to explore changing roles -- when their talents and their career goals match up with agency needs, of course. Allowing this freedom can help you retain your best talent, as well as inspire more creativity and better client work.

Take me, for example. I’m a Wyoming native from a cattle-ranching family. I’ve worked at the same agency my entire career. Sounds like the sort of person who fears change, right? Never assume.

I started as an intern and soon moved into an entry-level PR role. But I quickly learned that I was hungry for the sort of challenges I saw on the advertising account side and worked with my manager to make the transition. I spent the next phase of my career working to master account management. I was fueled each and every working day by the autonomy and frankly, by being just a little bit uncomfortable.

Now, in another new role in human resources, I help manage the success of other employees who have made purposeful transitions into new roles. The account executive turned analyst, the PR professional turned copywriter, the developer turned studio artist -- they all amaze me with their ability to build on their own strengths and channel their renewed energy into results for the agency.

Advertising professionals have seen the power shift from brands to consumers. As the search for great talent in our digital age intensifies, we are seeing the same shift from employer to employee. Just like customers demanding engagement from brands and new ways of communicating with them, employees are demanding a new relationship with their employers and more engagement with their career path.

Here’s how agencies can hold up their part of the bargain to help staff change roles and in the process, keep their best talent.

Embrace the Fact -- One Size Does not Fit All

Empower managers to customize employee experiences and career paths, even if that means throwing out standardized job descriptions (and it does). Effective managers see, support, and adjust to employees’ differences. They can help make smart role changes by taking something an employee is naturally good at and expanding on those abilities even further.

Empower via Collaboration

Create a physical environment and a culture in which creativity and ideas come from everywhere and everyone. This empowers people to think freely and exposes them to the other roles and skills in the agency. Working in successful cross-functional teams allows employees to bring their individual expertise to the table, often outside of the role printed on their business cards.

Test, Learn, and Don’t be Afraid to Fail

Give employees enough room to explore, learn, grow, and fail without severe consequences. Personalize growth opportunities and challenges and agree on a realistic trial period with frequent check-ins. If the wins outnumber the roadblocks, forge ahead with the transition. If not, embrace the failure and look for a new path forward for the employee.

Embrace the Millennial Sense of Entitlement

Now that I have your attention. Whether the millennial sense of entitlement is a truism or a myth, you must rethink your talent strategies if you want to truly engage and retain millennials -- and many others, quite frankly. This doesn’t mean promotions with accompanying raises every three months. It means an environment where Gen Yers can see a personalized path forward. Job rotations, internal “exchange programs,” cross-functional teams, and many other methods can fuel the ambitions of great young talent.

And who knows... Your next great account manager or creative may already be sitting in your office -- in another department.

Originally published Nov 14, 2014 2:00:00 AM, updated December 03 2014