On a 1-to-10 scale, how important do you think it is to attract and retain top talent to fulfill the mission of your organization?
If you said “12,” think again. If you said “15,” you’re getting closer.
If your goal is to build a flourishing workplace culture that can increase your organization’s influence and impact, I’d up it to “18, or even 20.”
Is there a way to effectively jump-start, re-fuel, or even accelerate your current effort to attract and retain outstanding talent?
The answer is “Yes.”
I asked Tara VanderSande, a gifted, experienced consultant, strategist, specialist in staff development, to take us inside Outstanding Talent, the third driver in our new continuing series on the “Eight Ways to Build a Flourishing Workplace Culture.”
Moments into our one-to-one conversation, Tara led out with the subtlety of a cymbal crash:
“Organizations with leaders who understand the importance and relationship of talent to their mission and fully prioritize their people are the ones that thrive. The greatest contribution you can make to the future success of your organization is talent sustainability. You must make a strategic investment that ensures both a stable workforce today and tenured leaders tomorrow through rigorous selection, intentional development, and competitive rewards.”
Give me a picture. What does this look like? I asked.
“Think about your organization. Visualize a gathering of your key leaders in a large room. Consider the vision and goals you have entrusted to them. Consider the people they lead and shepherd.
“Now, fast forward ten years from now and imagine that same room filled with your organization’s key leaders. The reality is that if you aren’t intentional about your talent strategy now, you may be looking at an empty room.
“How well you attract and retain fantastic people will determine the future health and growth of your organization.”
More on this, later. First, what do we mean by “Outstanding Talent.” Tara’s words struck a chord.
“Organizational success is highly affected by the fit, experience, and giftings of the people it attracts, retains and promotes into key professional and leadership roles. Thus, we define Outstanding Talent as having highly qualified people with the necessary calling, character, competence, chemistry and contribution to achieve the organizations mission.
“Outstanding talent leads to high-performance, and sustainable organizations that meet their goals and make a mission impact. There are two phases to this factor: recruiting/hiring outstanding talent and then once hired, rewarding, retaining and promoting them as employees.”
“I’ve experienced this in a couple of organizations whose leaders prioritized their people resources as highly as their financially resources. The strategic mission was supported by the employee value proposition, and the staff could feel the support in every area.”
“As a result, in each organization we had huge pools of highly capable candidates applying for jobs without any advertisements. Plus, highly-gifted people turned down attractive job offers, even in times of difficulty, to stay with the company.”
Six Commitments: How do you set a standard for Outstanding Talent in your organization? Tara suggests you start with these six commitments:
- Search for applicants from diverse groups and experiences who can add both a high level of skill and integrity;
- Hire high-quality people who are aligned to your vision, mission and values;
- Create clear job (role) descriptions and expectations for every position to assure job clarity;
- Match meaningful, challenging work to people who feel and know their gifts are aligned to the work they’re required to do;
- Empower, trust and respect employees as an essential part of the team to fulfill the organization’s mission;
- Provide compensation and benefits that demonstrate that their employees are valued as people.
This backdrop lets you focus on the four essentials of Outstanding Talent:
“In today’s tight labor market, recruiting has become a challenge for non-profit organizations, and in particular, churches, parachurch ministries and even Christian-led companies,” says Tara. “When it comes to recruiting top-tier talent, organizations need to get creative. For instance:
- ‘Consider seeking passive candidates, people who have the talents, passions and skills you need, even while such people are currently working in other organizations.
- “Cultivate positive relationships with former employees. Spend more time to build bridges of communication and trust with former employees whose workplace experience with your organization will show up on job boards and throughout social media. Positive word-of-mouth exposure becomes free advertising for your organization.”
- “Cultivate future staff through volunteer development by offering add-on opportunities for strong volunteers, constituents, and donors. This will help inspire and equip future volunteers whose outstanding work makes them synonymous with outstanding talent.”
Tara couldn’t resist sharing these two, choice insights:
- “Never compromise on character. You cannot develop character on the job. Yes, we believe people can grow and change. But you cannot risk the health of your organization hoping this will happen.
- “Your best hiring interviews occur outside of the typical one-to-one Q&A interview format. Get out of the office and make connections. This can help you make sure you select the right person with the right skills for the right role.
How well you attract and retain fantastic people will determine the future health and growth of your organization.”
After investing time, energy and money in attracting, recruiting and hiring a new employee, you want to keep him or her in the fold. How can you help ensure this happens?
“Your organization’s culture of contribution is going to create staying power. A culture of contribution informs staff how they will be rewarded for above-and beyond learning, teamwork and skills-growth, not just monetarily. A culture of contribution then rewards staff who add higher levels of productivity and effectiveness to the organization. When employees feel needed, valued and affirmed in their possible or likely future with the organization, they’ll want to stay where they’re working.”
Take a pulse: “To retain top talent, leaders need to have a pulse on the overall staff culture. This means managers must take the pulse on the needs of each individual. After all, managers have a front row seat to the desires and motivations of their team.”
Sometimes, a great illustration is born out of loss, or pain, such as the retention strategy. Tara offered:
“After the housing market crashed several years ago, our organizational budgets were tight. Ministries were forced to give up certain things for a season and make do.”
Stay Conversations: What could we creatively do to take the temperature of our workplace culture and retain our people? We decided to meet with multiple staff members to make sure they were still engaged and know they were still valued. We called these ‘Stay! Conversations’ because we wanted the people to stick around.
“In these conversations, we asked our senior leaders and staff a three-part, open-ended question:
- What would make you want to stay two, five, and ten years from now?
- What’s been a recent blessing you’ve experienced at work, and at home?
- What are the barriers that are keeping you from being aligned to, and engaged in, your work?
Remove Barriers: “I remember one staff person who sang in our Sunday worship services, say, ‘I would have such a better work experience if I could have one more microphone on stage. We’d love to have one more vocalist to provide a greater sense of diversity on stage, but we can’t do that right now without another microphone.’”
“We said, ‘Consider it done.’”
“The Lesson…ASK: You never know what’s keeping a person from feeling more engaged at work until you ask. By comparing the collective responses to our current engagement data, we were able to get a clearer focus and direction to help shape our culture, as well as recognize and retain our employees.
“Rewarding employees,” says Tara, “is more than compensation. Rewards may be public or private acknowledgements, additional opportunities for development or influence, and monetary input. For organizational rewards to truly encourage strong performers, it also requires clarity and consistency. When employees understand the definition of a ‘great job’ they really can attain it. And, when strong performers are consistently rewarded, they trust that the value systems you advocate, and model are the ones you’re going to put your money behind.
4. Promoting: Think Lattice, not Ladder
“When it comes to promoting their people, organizations are becoming more collaborative and less hierarchical,” says Tara. Hierarchical promotion is the traditional approach of ‘going up the career ladder.’
“We really need to begin thinking of job promotion less like a vertical ladder and more like a lattice, or trellis whose diagonal, crisscross stringers allow for professional growth that’s not limited to north-and-south direction, but instead makes room for new work exploration, job role, and fulfilling work.”
“When you think of work opportunities and development as a lattice there are more ways to grow, expand and influence your talent. Providing, and then communicating, and advocating for growth paths will demonstrate your commitment to developing your talent from the inside. Yet, nothing is automatic.
“I remember an exiting staff member who told me, ‘I’ve loved working here, and I’ve really felt valued. Yet, I felt I’d never get promoted unless my director died. Since she’s in good health, I figured that would be a quite a long time, so I had to start pursuing other opportunities.’
“I thought, ‘Oh, we might have retained him if we had a lattice approach where his skills, talent, and passion could have intersected with new work opportunities within the organization.’”
Strategy in Action
Each of the eight culture drivers that make up the FLOURISH Model, including Outstanding Talent, are strategic action steps in the making that can lead to a healthier culture.
“Ensuring Outstanding Talent doesn’t need to be complicated or convoluted. Organizations with highly engaged staff often have clear, concise, consistent processes that attract, retain and reward outstanding people. Here are three non-negotiables:
- Establish a robust hiring process for every role.
“Establishing a robust hiring process for every role ensures fantastic fits, builds trust and increases diversity. Every human is prone to bias selection. We are drawn to people that are like us or resemble people we have an affinity to. Although it’s completely subconscious, our bias can get in the way of making a great hire, especially if the individual has a different style, background or culture.
“A consistent process demonstrates to all your staff that the organization’s values and needs come before your own. Structured interviews, multiple observations. and creative conversations will decrease your bias and increase the likelihood of landing Outstanding Talent.
- Create a culture of accountability to build talent sustainability
“Accountability is simply defined as having responsibility for fulfilling your personal and professional commitments. High performing teams understand their individual and collective responsibilities and how they align to the organization’s goals.
“Without shared expectations, recognition is arbitrary and biased. Recognizing and rewarding pre-defined behaviors and outcomes will encourage the pursuit of excellence and builds trust within the team.
“It’s important to note that accountability does not mean micro-management. A culture of strong accountability will cultivate freedom. The more an individual fulfills his or her obligations with excellence, the more freedom he/she has to influence the what, when and how of the work. “
- Investing in people development will ensure your organization will exist in the future.
“We are all familiar with the parable of the talents. As leaders, God has given us very specific talents to steward, including his most precious resource, his people! Good stewardship requires wise investments for the purpose of growth that honors and glorifies God.
“Why would you spend time, money and energy to hire a fantastic person and then let them drift in your organization? If you want to retain this fantastic person, then you need to create a path for their future.
“Investing in people doesn’t require large monetary sums, additional staff or extravagant programs. In its most simple form, investment means providing your staff with opportunities for growth and greater levels of responsibility and influence. By providing clear definitions of success and explaining rewards and responsibility for accomplishments along the way, your leadership pipeline will have a solid bench from which to deploy leaders as needed.”
Outstanding Workplace Culture Ahead
I asked Tara what she would most like to say to leaders who know that that the health of their workplace culture is tied in large part, to hiring, retaining, and rewarding their talent.
Create Ambassadors: “Each and every person in every organization is an ambassador for the mission God has given us—from the person responsible for grounds and landscaping, to the person making worshipful music, to the person writing a creative piece of marketing. Each person is going to reflect the mission God has entrusted to the organization.
“The only way this will happen is if we care for our people, invest in them, value them, listen to them and help them contribute to the overall mission so that, in the end, they, in and through the organization, are successful.”
It’s Your Turn
What two or three headlines or paragraphs might you highlight and email to a colleague, a team, a or a friend in ministry?
Coming Up Next in on our Continuing Series
“The Eight Ways to Build a Flourishing Workplace,
“Unleash Your Outstanding Talent”
Director of Consulting Services
Best Christian Workplaces Institute
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