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Key takeaways from some of the best talent strategies in the U.S.

October 26, 2018

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Retaining talent is number one on the list for many, if not most, organizations.  Today’s employees can change jobs with much more ease than even five years ago.  You can google “employee retention” and find hundreds of how to’s, but why not learn from those who are already winning the war for talent.

Some of the best talent strategies are found in companies such as Netflix, Whole Foods, and one less known company, Big Spaceship.  

Netflix is well-known for their culture.  The culture deck that went viral back in 2009 is said to have been a defining document of Silicon Valley.

Key Take-Aways – 

  1. Only hire “A” players – Focus on character in the hiring process.  A typical organization has a few “A” players, a large amount of average performers, and a few poor performers.  Netflix former chief talent officer, Patty McCord, asked why they aren’t hiring just “A” performers since they perform the bulk of the work and get the best results.  Netflix found that the key to finding “A” players is to focus on character more then technical skills when interviewing.  She stated in Harvard Business Review, ““The best thing you can do for employees—a perk better than foosball or free sushi—is hire only ‘A’ players to work alongside them.  Excellent colleagues trump everything else.
  2. Develop great managers – Good managers are not always star performers.  They should be leaders first, and doers second. Building and maintaining a great team should be a manager’s number one task. 

Whole Foods
The grocery industry is known for high turnover, yet Whole Foods has excelled at employee retention.

Key Take-Aways – 

  1. Create a values-driven culture – It’s important to create core values that employees can embrace.  A study by Gallup showed that 50% of employees feel they have different values than their employers. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey believes that modern businesses need a higher purpose to help inspire employees around a common cause.  Whole Foods includes “support team member excellence and happiness” and “serve and support our local and global communities” in its company’s core values.
  2. Empower your team in the decision-making process – While unconventional, Whole Foods employees are encouraged to interpret the company’s values and make most corporate decisions on their own.  Decisions are made as a collaborative effort between managers and employees and kept at local stores. It’s a very democratic system that at times can slow down the process, but they have found that the culture of ownership it creates outweighs any inefficiencies.

Big Spaceship 
Big Spaceship, located in Brooklyn, New York, is a strategy, design, and technology consultancy.  They are well-known for their “no-nonsense, produce great work, and don’t worry about the rest” culture.  In their employee manual they state, “We are humans.”  When you go to their website under careers it says “humans, not robots.”

Key Takeaways – 

  1. Don’t underestimate the value of fun – At Big Spaceship they believe work and play should be intertwined.  They promote human connection.  As one of their workplace principles states, “The health and harmony of your team is part of your job.” They allow dogs in the workplace and encourage movement throughout the day.  They believe it is unproductive and unhealthy to sit all day.  They embrace unconventional hours.  What matters to them is producing great work.
  2. Responsibility leads to caring more – Big Spaceship has found that giving employees autonomy promotes engagement.  They treat work like a team sport with a fairly flat leadership structure. They state, “Life is easy with someone is telling you what to do.  It’s also boring and prevents you from being invested in what you are doing. Since you control your own destiny here, you’ll likely be more emotional about your work.  We believe that is better than the alternative.  Can you imagine coming to work each day and not caring? We can’t.”  This approach forces employees to solve their own problems and assume additional responsibility.

While these three companies approach talent differently, they all have the common theme of trust, collaboration, and autonomy.  While the interpretation of how some of these themes could work in other organizations depends on location, company size, employee demographics, etc., they can be helpful to consider when reviewing your talent retention strategy.

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