Five Principles to Attract, Nurture and Retain High-Performance Talent During a Pandemic

Scott Lerner, CEO at Better Choice Company, a growing pet and wellness business shares principles that have dramatically improved his organization's ability to retain and inspire top talent.

Five Principles to Attract, Nurture and Retain High-Performance Talent During a Pandemic

The Great Resignation is here to stay. Over 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. Why? Because of discontent. Discontent with their workplace. Discontent with their quality of life because of work. A recent Gallup survey confirms this. As a CEO, when I read this data, I'm starring truth in the face: It's us. Not them. 

What we define as the workplace has changed drastically. Remote working has blurred the lines between home and office. It's removed barriers, such as commuting, and added obstacles like extended hours and isolation. Many companies have shifted to complete remote work environments and recruited people that will never come to an office. 

We hired over 25 remote employees in the last year. People I hadn’t met face-to-face before giving them an offer letter. 

The clock doesn't dictate working hours anymore, for good or bad. And though it may not feel natural, it is the new normal and is here to stay. As a leader, you must embrace it and find a way for your employees to excel in it. Stop focusing on when people can return to the office and repeatedly moving the goalposts. Instead, focus on how you can recruit and retain the right talent in the current environment. Compensation is not the sole reason people leave a job; according to an MIT Sloane study, a toxic culture, job insecurity, and lack of recognition rank higher.

I've adopted five principles to attracting talent and keeping them motivated, connected, and engaged. I strongly believe these principles have dramatically improved our ability to retain and inspire top talent. In the past year, we’ve only had one unplanned departure and a significant number of internal promotions.

  1. Strengthen connectivity. Make it a daily job for people to connect. In remote working, isolation is the enemy – for business and mental health. Businesses should create virtual social opportunities like happy hours or lunch and learns. Still, leaders need to create authentic moments to connect with employees. I spend 30 minutes every morning chatting with folks through Teams – a virtual water cooler moment. I talk to them about their lives. It helps me be more empathetic and accepting. How will I know if employees feel burned out if I don't speak to them?

    Forcing connectivity also helps to recruit. Remote working often requires more extroverts than introverts. It also requires self-starters. It is important to screen for a remote environment when you meet new prospects. If they don't perform well under that forced connectivity, the dynamic won't work.  
  2. Encourage cross-functionality. Finance talks with supply chain. Marketing talks with HR. People don't just want to be part of a high-performing team; they want to be a part of a high-performing company. And that means connecting employees across job functions. It gives people a well-rounded view of the entire business and makes them feel part of the bigger picture. For example, our marketing and innovation team works in lock-step with our supply chain team – with all of that interaction occurring virtually. By working together, we’ve been able to develop products that can succeed in a challenging supply chain environment and respond quickly when ingredient availability changes overnight. 
  3. Create an HR department focused on culture and talent, not process. I changed our HR lead's title to People and Culture Manager. I shifted her primary responsibility to focus on connectivity. We audited the interactivity within the organization and created moments for communication and connection, such as town halls. The goal is to look after people and the culture in which they operate. You learn their stories. That trickles down to the policies and benefits you provide. For example, our employees wanted us to show our pet-friendly side more. So, we introduced puppy-leave for new pet parents to take time off. 
  4. Establish a culture of trust to empower employees. As a leader, you must trust your workforce and treat them like adults. The motto I preach is "let people own their day." That means if you want to work at 7 am or 7 pm, it's your choice. The more you empower people to set their schedules, the more you get. This is a hard task for many leaders, but it must start at the top. Everybody operates differently, and you can't treat them the same. Especially today when home life and work-life intersect in ways, they haven't before. We adopted an unlimited PTO model to demonstrate trust, and no one has exploited it. 
  5. Set clear objectives and use tools to assess them. People feel discontent when they feel unclear about the organization's direction or unsure about their role. It's essential to establish clarity of objectives from the onset. We have a system of transparent annual goals that we track and measure, so we're constantly evaluating performance. Everyone knows what they need to accomplish. It's very structured and clear, and without it, the entire team can't win. Not sure if people understand their objectives and goals? I teach my management an old Marine Corps trick called back briefing. It involves finding a way to see if people absorb the information. Asking questions to make sure the data is flowing correctly. 

    Finding high-performance individuals is one thing. Keeping them is another. Leaders should take charge of the process from recruitment on by creating a culture of connectivity. CEOs dream of having teams that go above and beyond and live the brand promise. You can't have that if there is a disconnect between leaders and people. 

    About the author
    Scott Lerner is CEO at Better Choice Company (NYSE: BTTR), a growing pet and wellness company committed to leading the industry shift toward pet products and services that help dogs and cats live happier, healthier, and longer lives. Scott has over 20 years of experience in the consumer packaged goods industry, holding senior positions at PepsiCo, ConAgra Foods and Kimberly-Clark. He managed iconic brands such as Naked Juice and Quaker Oats, Scott Tissue and Parkay Margarine.

    Image courtesy: Pixabay