4 things every leader should do right now to attract and retain top talent

Woman sitting in front of computer talking on virtual meeting

First published in Forbes.

To compete during the Great Resignation, some agencies are upping their game: Top salaries? Check. Unlimited vacation? Check. Flexibility and endless perks? Check. So why are people still walking out the door?

In a post-Covid-19 world, many people are feeling less and less fulfilled both at work and in their personal lives. Research with our team shows that what they really seek is a feeling of belonging, comfort and purpose. To keep and attract dedicated team members, it’s important for leaders to focus on the idea of not just keeping people well paid, but keeping them well, period. Here’s what I’ve learned to help attract and retain great talent:

Live your mission.

Mindsets are shifting, and people want to find meaning in their work. Focusing on the work delivered but not the why leaves them searching for purpose. Agencies must provide outstanding insights and compelling creative and meet detailed KPIs. This won’t change.

To inspire talent, move beyond table stakes to focus on the underlying reason and emotional connection to the purpose behind the work. For us, it’s working with life sciences companies that are changing the standard of care. Reminding ourselves that we play a part in moving medicine forward for the good of patients helps us push through challenging moments.

What’s your higher purpose? Why do you exist? Answer these fundamental questions and infuse them into every corner of the organization. As a leader, take time to have conversations regularly at every level, not just in the C-suite. Communication and affirmation are key to ensuring your mission and values align with the daily experiences of everyone within your organization.

Operationalize culture.

Now that you’ve identified your reason for being, rethink your notion of culture. It’s inevitable that hybrid work models will likely take longer for culture to take root. And while you can attempt to find the easy route with Zoom hangouts and happy hours, it’s important to recognize that lasting culture in this new landscape will take more effort and time. So accept it and get on without delay.

As a leader and a direct representation of your culture, you want to be consistent and clear. Your actions should align with the culture you’re trying to build. Every decision you make, no matter how big or small, should be put through this filter.

For example, I have asked each member of our organization to come up with a personal goal for the year—learn to cook, learn to fly, spend more time volunteering—and put it as part of their yearly goals. Not only does this show that we care about them personally, but it also gives me a great opening question for each interaction I have. By making it personal to each and every member of our organization, we are instilling a caring environment—one that cheers for the whole person and that starts to take on a life of its own.

Be empathetic.

As leaders, we need to lead with empathy. Slow down. Be patient with your team members as they learn. When something doesn’t go as planned, try to resist frustration. Instead, ask questions. Then ask more. Soon enough, your team will feel heard and understood. Once they feel secure, let the magic happen.

Embrace remote mentoring.

As more teams work from home, managers need to be willing to make the necessary changes—especially when it comes to young employees who are just starting their careers in a less-than-ideal situation. (Working alone from their tiny apartment or from their parents’ dining room table probably isn’t how they’d envisioned the start of their career.)

My personal goal in each interaction, regardless of their tenure in the workforce or on our teams, is to leave them better than I found them. I ask how they are, what I can do to make their lives a bit easier and then follow through on what was discussed. I encourage leaders to reach out beyond their direct team to get a wider view of the entire company. We institute a yearly check-in from leadership to every single employee and then take a discerning eye to what we learn and develop the goals for the following year based on that feedback. Then we share the organization’s goals back to the entire team, so they know we heard them.

I also encourage implementing a mentor program, which can be invaluable to employees at all levels. We have instituted, at the suggestion of a team member, onboarding mentors—someone that a new employee can turn to as they learn the ways of the agency. Having a Sherpa during that experience has been invaluable, and the satisfaction level of our new employees has dramatically increased.

The reason why we work is what helps our teams push through challenges, come together and grow. And creating a culture based on empathy and mentorship is what makes our teams feel heard and taken care of. These learnings are shaping our new normal and instilling a strong foundation for what’s to come.

Interested in hearing more from Carolyn Morgan? Connect with her on LinkedIn!


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