Operating Advice

Finding the right talent & cultivating the next generation of leadership at growing companies

Attracting, cultivating, and retaining top industry talent can be a game changer for any company trying to reach new levels of growth.

At NewSpring, the overwhelming majority of CEOs we partner with make it abundantly clear that talent is a critical factor in supporting their growth. As active board participants in all of our companies, we’ve learned that it’s not only about filling and retaining the key personnel roles, but also having robust leadership development, training, and coaching that drives value for growing organizations.

Working on the investment team at NewSpring Holdings, NewSpring’s dedicated buyout strategy, and as the Chief Administrative Officer of Avantus Federal, a government services platform of NewSpring Holdings, I experience first-hand the influence and challenges posed by the human capital side of the companies we acquire and integrate. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some companies to make difficult decisions that resulted in layoffs, competition for top talent still remains high. High performers today have many options and companies must be vigilant about going above and beyond to attract this talent, while keeping their existing employees satisfied and fulfilled. The cost of ignoring this critical driver of success is immeasurable.

Attracting and cultivating talent requires a focused mindset and a disciplined approach. For any CEO looking to improve their employee recruiting and retention processes, the following four areas are great places to start:

Bring intentionality to the recruiting process

Every business should strive to attract a broad and diverse talent pool. This starts by committing to running a diverse process from the start, with team members from diverse backgrounds who will bring diverse perspectives to the table leading to more informed decision making. A broad and diverse talent pool will allow companies to attract the attention of their next big hires.

With competition for talent high, growing companies will need to ensure their recruiting processes and practices are competitive. Recruiting goes beyond job boards; it comes from how culture emanates from each and every team member. Speaking about successes internally and externally and remaining transparent around goals and a shared purpose is key. Building a culture that makes employees want to be there will show through and not only lead to referrals, and also excite candidates in the interview process.

Referral programs are critical in recruiting. Approximately 28 to 30 percent of new hires over the last 10 years resulted from employee referral programs, according to staffing strategy firm CareerXRoads. These programs are typically cost efficient and faster than more traditional recruiting methods and tend to bring in candidates with a better cultural fit.

To successfully scale recruiting, growing companies must create a consistent framework to allow for a bespoke but consistent recruiting experience for candidates and internal interviewers throughout the hiring process. The job description, initial outreach, interview, follow-up, offer, and any scheduled touchpoint in between should be structured, uniform, and consistent across all recruitment efforts. This experience should also reflect the organization’s core values, beliefs, and internal culture. Doing so is especially critical in today’s socially distant era where prospects may never get a chance to meet employees face to face before accepting an offer. Recruiters and hiring managers must do everything they can to reflect their corporate culture through the screen.

Everything from the tone of the job description to the attire worn by interviewers represents the broader organization. Creating a consistent process gives candidates a better experience and provides internal decision makers with a backdrop to evaluate each candidate on an equal playing field. Accurately and openly representing the company to each candidate makes it much easier for both parties to see if the potential partnership will be a good fit.

Modern recruiting tools can help assess the types of characteristics or traits that the candidate has and can give companies an edge. Many of our portfolio companies use assessments like Predictive Index or DISC. These tools provide supplemental insights into how a candidate will function as a key player on a team or individually. When recruiters are unable to meet prospects face to face, these tools become particularly useful in assessing fit. But just like every other part of the process, these assessments must reflect the company’s culture and day-to-day life.

Lastly, hiring companies should leverage and promote their reputations or prominence. Winners are attracted to winners, and business leaders can use their own network, their company’s network, and their company’s accomplishments to attract high-performing individuals.

Interview with purpose

Just as candidates spend time preparing for the first meeting, interviewers would benefit from doing the same. Companies should arm their interviewing managers with useful information about the candidate, the position, and what the company is looking for in a new hire. Compiling a list of deal breakers can help weed out candidates early in the process, as well as going in with a full understanding of compensation and relocation expectations. It is imperative that interviewers also be prepared to discuss the company’s culture, mission statement, and values to ensure the candidate has a clear vision of the organization and what it’s like to work there.

Having consistency among the team of interviewers is also important. Words don’t have to be identical, but alignment on culture, values, and mission will give the candidate a strong sense of purpose for the role and company. Interviewers should ask candidates why they want the job, and not be afraid to walk away from interviews early if the candidate lacks what it takes to be successful.

Equipping a broad range of people to interview is something to assist in scaling; if the culture is imbued in the team broadly, the scope and scale to interview is expanded. Efficiency is important, but that doesn’t mean hiring managers should sprint through the process. Different interviewers should test for different things, allowing for a business to see a multi-dimensional candidate, and also showing the interviewee a coordinated approach to getting to know them. Taking extra time to prepare and outline the ideal candidate will help save time and effort later on. Finally, having a process to gather the information together for the hiring manager (plenty of applicant tracking software platforms do this) the day after the interviews so the hiring manager can make an informed hiring decision is a meaningful investment.

Balance career path with career patience

Business leaders today know that the ambition of their employees, both in junior and senior roles, is on the rise. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 87 percent of millennials and 69 percent of non-millennials list professional or career growth and development opportunities as important to them in a job. Growing companies are great places for ambitious employees to work. But not all high performers can rise in the ranks at a high speed or at a speed that they believe is fast enough. CEOs and managers must manage these expectations by balancing an employee’s aspirations for their career path with realistic career patience. This means providing the right amount of career advancement opportunities while growing talent at a pace that is right for the company and the individual.

Employee retention should also be made a management business objective. This can accelerate managers and CEOs in improving engagement by providing employees with opportunities for training, learning, and leading new types of initiatives or projects. Provide employees with mentors and coaches, work with them to identify gaps in abilities, and check in to make sure they feel supported. Simply communicating is a strong way to start to get that flywheel turning. What are the opportunities and initiatives that teammates can contribute to? These initiatives require some additional effort among remote workforces that no longer have frequent, organic touch points at the water cooler and around common areas at the office. Without these daily run-ins, it becomes much harder for managers to assess an employee’s sentiment about their role at the company. With the feeling of connection, recruiting, retention, and innovation will begin to flourish.

There are a number of online resources that provide next-level learning and development opportunities for employees. At Avantus Federal, the team leverages a customized and proprietary Integrated Talent Model that provides employees with a transparent and flexible view of their career path and the goals they must reach before achieving more seniority. This model offers a framework for employees to articulate an individualized career path, which can include pivot points for functional, subject matter, or responsibility growth. This transparent system empowers employees with clarity around expectations and performance and provides career flexibility on a level that other companies are unable to offer. In doing so, we’ve seen this model boost employee retention, satisfaction, and referrals.

Provide employees with tools to be happy

Based on the 21 years NewSpring has been meeting with CEOs and our most recent discussions with these individuals, we identified four criteria that employees use to measure their level of happiness in their roles. Employers that can enable satisfaction to their employees in these areas are off to a good start for improving retention rates, morale, and the happiness of their workforce:

  • My job aligns with my own values – Building a workforce that aligns with the company’s values starts during the recruitment stage. Hiring managers must effectively communicate the company’s goals and vision and ask questions about the candidate’s own values. From there, decisionmakers can assess if values align and if the candidate is a good fit for the company.
  • I feel connected to my coworkers – CEOs are wise to create a work environment that facilitates connections between colleagues. This has become a challenge as workforces spread out geographically. Managers must find ways to continue to engage and connect coworkers, whether it be setting aside dedicated time for employees to socialize, using video conference tools to build connections, or leveraging software platforms that have message boards for employees to regularly collaborate, communicate, and share ideas.
  • I have a good relationship with my direct manager – Even in today’s virtual work environment, managers should be a visual part of the teams they manage. Scheduling ongoing touchpoints once a week to check in on an employee’s workload and overall happiness also helps strengthen these relationships.
  • I am fulfilled by the work – Employees need to feel connected to the work they’re performing on a daily basis. Managers and CEOs must demonstrate to individual employees, no matter their rank on the org chart, exactly how their jobs are making a difference.

To meet the needs of today’s modern workforce, business leaders must open their minds to new ideas and approaches. By bringing purpose to recruitment efforts and making talent cultivation and retention a top priority, companies will receive a productivity boost that unlocks new levels of growth. From our perspective as board members, focusing on these initiatives is the best way to approach the human capital challenges that can often hinder growth.

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