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Shaping a Culture for Talent Attraction and Retention

Drawing on her experiences at HubSpot, Burke describes five factors that can transform your current organizational culture into one that attracts new talent and motivates employees to stay.


A group of people crossing a road.


The steady drumbeat of headlines about millions of American workers leaving their jobs each month makes two things certain. First, the talent market will remain incredibly competitive in 2022. Second, there will be no rest for weary CHROs who have already navigated through two years of a pandemic, because organizations are looking to us (again) to lead the way. When there’s a jump ball in your organization, assume it’s yours, and retention is no different. Retention cannot be solved by HR alone, but there’s no better time to seize the moment and turn the feedback into a compelling action plan to help you attract, retain and grow incredible talent. 

As HR leaders, we need to create a counterweight to all the forces that are driving the Great Resignation. In effect, organizations need to focus on the Great Retention. The most effective Great Retention plans focus on building organizationwide commitment to attracting amazing talent and being intentional about retention and growth for employees, regardless of whether they have been with your company for 10 days or 10 years. Below, I’ve outlined what I believe to be the five key elements of making talent attraction and retention part of your culture. 

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Make your rhetoric match your reality.
Often CEOs think employer branding is about marketing, and of course, a significant portion of it is. But if you’re building a great marketing engine and your product doesn’t match what you advertised, it doesn’t take long for candidates and employees alike to notice the gap. Moreover, sites like Glassdoor and Comparably are now becoming part of every routine job search, with upwards of 86% of job seekers reporting they examine reviews as part of their research.

Before social media and review sites were as ubiquitous as they are now, you had to know someone on the inside to find out what working at a company was really like, even at the team or location level. Now, it takes less than two minutes for a candidate to identify real-time feedback from existing employees. The best root question to ask isn’t “how do we market a vision?” but rather “how do we deliver a remarkable employee experience and ensure our external brand matches our internal one?” 

A good example here is diversity initiatives. In 2021, Sean Combs wrote an open letter to General Motors decrying the gap between the company’s charitable donations in support of diversity programming and the lack of Black-owned media in the company’s significant advertising budget. (In response, GM announced a five-part plan to spend more advertising dollars with Black-owned media companies.) It’s the perfect illustration of how organizations need to walk the walk on people initiatives and priorities, and how any gaps between walking the walk and talking the talk can create risk in employee and consumer perception. 

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The future is flexible.
Most headlines focus narrowly on companies’ decisions on whether they are adopting remote, hybrid or in-office policies. But I think theyScreen Shot 2022-03-30 at 20010 PM.png miss the broader picture of what employees are really looking for, which is flexibility in their entire work experience. Data from the WFH Research Project suggests that employees in technology and finance value flexibility as much as a 10% salary increase. Over the past three years, we’ve all challenged what’s possible without traditional 9-to-5 office norms. Now, we’re seeing employees valuing employers who aren’t rebounding to their old ways, not just in where people work, but also in how people work more broadly.

As companies get ready to return to offices, the shadow of COVID-19 lingers. So does the craving among employees for the ability to work from home, take vacations and structure their days and schedules in ways that work for their family. Flexibility then becomes not just about office requirements, but also about the degree of autonomy an employee has by default. I often hear people say they will offer flexibility “on request.” If leaders want to build an organization that drives talent attraction and retention, I would encourage them to move to a world where flexibility is offered to everyone as part of their employee experience, not something you have to ask for on special request. 

“But what about productivity?” That’s the question that often follows any push toward flexibility. While there is research to suggest that folks who work from home can be more productive, it’s more helpful to take a step back and think about how we define productivity. Without a commute, many of our employees are more focused and engaged during working hours. But equally as important, you’re far more likely to retain people in a workforce where parents, caregivers and other demographics disproportionately value not having to commute every day. That retention value is equally if not more valuable than any minor productivity dips or gains from a dynamic flexible workforce.

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Think beyond compensation. Vincent Greco, Ph.D., Head of People Analytics at HubSpot, has studied what drives our employees’ “intent to stay” metric, and the results may surprise you. It turns out that a sense of personal accomplishment and perceived potential for career growth outpace compensation as a driver for retention. That’s not to say that compensation doesn’t matter—it certainly does, but I think employers are missing the point if they focus on compensation and equity alone.

Can you increase internal mobility opportunities or offer rotational options for workers to consider lateral moves? Can you invest further in learning and development opportunities for your existing employees? Can you enable your managers to connect the dots more clearly between your company mission and individuals’ daily work? Those are just a few of the questions that drive more comprehensive and effective retention approaches, rather than focusing on reactive compensation adjustments alone. 

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Embed diversity, inclusion and belonging in your retention plans.
Lisa Mann, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer, Raines International, said in a Fast Company article about diversity initiatives that we need to move from “diversity as a statistic to a culture of accountability.” That means it’s not enough to just think about broader retention strategies. You have to think about retaining under-represented groups holistically, particularly women, parents, people of color and individuals with disabilities, many of whom were historically excluded from the old-school, 9-5 office experience. As an example, the culture of flexibility that I mentioned above can help with retaining parents, but it’s also important to consider how employee resource groups can partner with HR to drive retention versus just community, and how stay interviews and sponsorship can factor into your efforts.

It’s time for companies to move from intention to impact, and to think about diversity as a critical part of their retention strategy. Part of that is putting as much attention on retention and growth opportunities for under-represented groups as you do on recruiting them to join your company. HubSpot uses a program called Uplift, which combines stay interviews for underrepresented groups with manager accountability to develop growth plans that match career goals. 

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Listen to what people want versus the reality that’s easier for you.
One of the reasons people feel disillusioned right now is that they feel notably unheard. You still see employers pushing for a full return-to-office date in spite of COVID-19 being a lingering concern for all, specifically parents and caregivers. You still see companies pushing down responsibility on managers to decide if people can work remotely on a role-by-role basis, leaving employees’ potential career growth uncertain. You see managers unequipped with the flexibility they need to support employees on the edge of burnout.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing culture in a hybrid world. However, companies like Amazon that are delegating to managers to determine which days their teams need to be in office are creating potential inequity between teams in the business. They are also setting up potential for proximity, tenure and other forms of bias to inform managers’ approaches on hybrid inclusion. 

As an example, HubSpot was hosting online activities for parents and families early in the pandemic, thinking that was helpful to employees. However, HubSpot’s Senior Director of Culture discovered that employees wanted content to get their children offline. We changed our approach accordingly. You have to be willing to challenge your own assumptions about what people want, and be open to what employees are telling you. 

One of the biggest challenges right now of being a CHRO is feeling like you can’t do anything right. When you’re driving a strategy around hybrid work, COVID-19 safety protocols, compensation changes, diversity initiatives and global talent retention, you spend most of your day feeling like you’re down in the count. I like to remind CHROs that your job is not to make everyone happy, but rather to pick a compelling, empathetic strategy that drives recruiting, retention and growth for your organization. Give yourself a breather every once in a while. Great companies need to give people a break, so make sure you give yourself one, too. 

The pandemic has fundamentally changed how and where we work. It’s also led to people taking stock of their lives and the opportunity to reimagine it. Making talent attraction and retention core to your culture shows the millions of American workers looking for their next opportunity that you’re a company that cares about where and how people spend their time, talent and impact. 


Katie Burke is Chief People Officer of HubSpot.

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