The Future of Work: Talent and Culture for the 21st Century

The workplace is changing dramatically with the emergence of the gig economy, low employee tenure, and the tech-enabled automation of tasks, among other developments. These changes are surfacing completely new challenges for HR leaders.

FirstMark and Bonusly, which builds software that empowers employees to send instant recognition to their colleagues, recently assembled a panel of HR leaders to explore “The Future of Work: Talent and Culture for the 21st Century.”

Moderated by Bonusly CEO Raphael Crawford-Marks, the panel included Greenhouse VP of People and Strategy Maia Josebachvili, Button Co-founder Stephen Milbank, and Jonathan Basker, interim VP of People at Handy.

The conversation was organized into three sections - Find Them, Grow Them, and Keep Them. Below are a few takeaways from this excellent panel.

Find Them

Use data. Do you know what day of the week is best to post a marketing position in Austin? Would a tweak to a job title attract more qualified candidates? Just like sales, marketing, and other departments in the company, HR performance can be optimized with data. HR leaders need to formalize a set of analytics that be used to make better hires, faster.

Understand the type of person that's going to be successful. Rather than asking "Can this person do this specific work function?" ask "Can this person help us achieve our business objectives?" It’s not just about finding the person you need to make spreadsheets, it’s about finding the person who is adaptable and can learn to do many things to move the business forward.

Have a go-to-market plan. Treat your hiring efforts like you're taking a product to market. Do you know your value proposition for the best candidates to apply to your company? Do you have a strategy for reaching out to qualified candidates on LinkedIn? Do you have a campus outreach strategy? Learn from other go-to-market efforts across the company and build a similar strategy for recruiting.  

Treating hiring as a passive activity is a mistake. You can't just throw the description up on a job board and wait for candidates to call. You need to own hiring as an activity, not as something that just happens. Again, treat the process like the sales funnel by breaking it down to sourcing, interviewing, and closing. It's the difference between leaving your company's future to destiny and taking control.

Know what you want. Best-in-class companies know they need to write down expectations for a given position in advance of the interview process. These should be a list of the specific traits or skills that will enable a candidate to be successful in the role. Once the team is aligned around these qualifications, you'll get more objective and better hiring outcomes. That said, if you don’t fully know what you want - maybe your small team is hiring its first salesperson - be willing to reach out to advisors that can help build the list of desired traits.

Provide some training to those who conduct interviews. A little extra effort behind the interview process can go a long way. Consider building some guidelines for team members conducting interviews. You want to align the most productive question types with the tone that properly reflects the company.

Grow Them

Try to make big gestures early on. When new candidates arrive on their first day, load their desk with swag, make sure they have answers to basic questions (like where to find the bathroom or supplies closet), and make sure they have a full calendar. Also, try to have a company-wide social activity when a new hiring class starts. All of these efforts will quickly integrate new hires into the team.

Know what your employees want. Consider conducting a regular survey to understand how employees want to grow within the organization and within their career. This process can also help identify how well employees are working with managers and how they like receiving feedback and recognition.

The day they sign the offer IS their first day. The transition involved in changing jobs isn’t easy on people. Make sure your company is providing support during the most emotional moments, which means starting the onboarding process the moment a candidate agrees to join your team.

Coach your coaches. Management isn't intuitive, so don’t forget to give your managers an opportunity to grow their skillset. For instance, give managers some guidance on how how to conduct performance reviews. This will establish some consistency throughout the organization and make the review process more productive and efficient.

Psychological safety is paramount. Coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson in a 2014 TEDx talk, psychological safety is a work environment where team members feel accepted and respected. They feel empowered to share ideas without fear that they will be judged harshly. Researchers believe that psychologically safe teams are more engaged, innovative with process, and learn learn more from mistakes.

Keep Them (or find a better fit for everyone)

Create a culture of recognition. People want a sense of purpose and they want to know that they're making an impact. Companies should be thoughtful about how they recognize the contributions of employees, be it through a bonus or a call-out in the company newsletter.

Hire and fire to your company values. Of course, to do this effectively you have to be very strict about your values. Every organization is different and every person is different, so establishing concrete values will help define culture and the type of people who will thrive in that culture.

Be OK with encouraging good people to leave. Maybe they're a good employee, but it's obvious the job isn’t the right fit. Have an open, honest, healthy conversation about the issue. Rather than having the employee lose motivation and sneak off to other job interviews, offer a month of severance and wish them the best of luck.

Build happy teams for the long haul. Companies are finding it’s not uncommon for employees to spend a year on the job and move on. It’s not a problem unique to startups; large enterprises also struggle with retention. Still, there are a few common characteristics among companies who retain employees for the long term. First, it's important for company leadership to set and communicate a clear vision that resonates with employees. Second, company culture is critical. Culture is not ping pong tables, cold brew kegs, or other perks. Rather, culture is the sum total of the relationships between your employees, how work gets done in your organization, and a reflection of how team members feel about coming to work every day.

FirstMark is an early stage venture firm. For more stories and insights from FirstMark, visit our content library and subscribe on SoundCloud and iTunes. To learn about opportunities at FirstMark companies, please join our Talent Network.