Operating Partner and CEO in Residence at Gridiron Capital and the Best-Selling Author of The Elephant’s Dilemma.
In my role at Gridiron Capital, I get to study some of the fastest-growing companies in the country and learn how they manage their talent. This is of particular interest to me right now because, as I’ve written about before, the competition for talent has gotten fierce.
Companies are now competing outside their industry for new hires, and many are unequipped to do so effectively. From what I’ve gathered, the best companies at attracting and retaining talent have three commonalities that span hiring, training and culture. Let’s dive into each one.
1. A Marketing Mindset In Hiring
This is my favorite lesson from watching high-growth companies. They approach hiring not from an HR perspective, but from a marketing perspective. You might have seen this referred to as “recruitment marketing.” In marketing, it’s common to create a potential customer funnel. So for hiring, you do the same thing, except instead of selling a product, you’re selling a career.
Recruiting staff members think like marketers: “I’ve got my pipeline of leads, so I need to make 10 calls today, and of those 10 calls, my conversion rate suggests two of them will be hired. How can I improve my approach so that I’m making six calls — not 10 — to find those two hires?”
Yes, there are companies out there that will provide recruitment marketing for you, but you lose internal flexibility and responsiveness to a critical business operation: right job, right candidate, at the right time. The best companies bring this process in-house, in my opinion. They work in tandem with their marketing department to develop lookalike audiences based on their existing talent pool then target ads to that audience.
These might be folks who don’t have their resume updated because they weren’t looking for a job. They just clicked on an ad, filled out the information on a landing page (that was optimized by the marketing department) and were contacted by a member of the recruiting team (who shows up to work every day with a pipeline of potential hires staring them in the face).
It’s a radically different approach that feeds into the next two points: training and culture. After all, if you don’t retain talent after hiring them, then your efforts here don’t matter much.
2. Multiple Layers Of Consistent Training
No matter a new hire’s background or experience, excellent companies set them up to succeed with training that is both comprehensive and consistent. Notice I didn’t say “complex.” From what I’ve seen, the best training programs are digestible, repeatable and scalable.
If training isn’t scalable and repeatable, it won’t be consistent for all new employees, meaning the quality of service will vary (and probably suffer). And if it’s not digestible, then you’re not really setting employees up for success. New hires must be able to understand what you’re teaching them and act on it. There can’t be a disconnect there, especially when you consider that many employees are now being hired in industries they’ve never worked in before.
Some companies are scared to hire people with no experience, but there’s a hidden benefit to this hiring practice that you might be missing. As I’ve heard from many founders, VPs and executives, these hires are a blank slate. You’re not fighting against their preconceived notions (“Well, we always did it this way … ”) or coaching bad habits out of them.
The best companies also have multiple layers of training — e.g. corporate L&D training and also field-level training — that were a core pillar of their business from the start. Training wasn’t something they added once they reached a certain size; it’s what allowed them to scale.
Finally, here’s a bonus lesson I’ve learned, and it’s one of my favorites: Create a direct line of access between your training organization and your product development department. Who better to drive innovation than the folks using the product a thousand times a year?
3. A Culture That’s Lived Out Every Day
I’ve seen a lot of companies with a culture that is nothing more than a slogan. It’s a phrase the company slaps on wristbands or prints on T-shirts, rather than something that’s live out every day. This kind of inauthenticity is a major turnoff for both Millennials and Gen Z, as the vast majority of both groups care deeply about the values of the organization for which they work.
One of the best ways I’ve seen to embody your culture is throughout the hiring process. The best companies use their values and their culture as a filter to screen potential hires. They’re looking for skills, yes, but also the right culture fits, which can be harder to identify.
Here’s how serious they are about finding the right people, especially as their company scales: I’ve seen SVPs interview every manager candidate who walks through the door. We’re talking hundreds of people, but that’s how important the culture is to them. They know if they don’t find the right culture fit, their whole business will corrode from the inside out.
And even though it sounds like I’m not a fan of slogans, what I do favor are cultures that can be summed up simply. For companies in a high-growth mode that are constantly looking to surpass their competition and blaze new trails for themselves, simple is better. I’ve seen that when you provide your team with a single North Star, it ensures they’re all rowing in the same direction. The key is ensuring that North Star doesn’t become a wristband that’s tossed in a drawer.
Empowering Talent To Own Their Roles
In August, Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Bot, which is designed to “eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks.” While the world was picturing a future similar to The Terminator movies, I was reminded of a lesson I’ve learned from several high-growth companies, one which I’ll sum up this way: “There are no paper pushers here.”
Don’t worry about the Tesla Bot. Instead, keep your focus on answering the question: How can each person we hire add value to our organization?