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Better Hiring, Attraction, and Retention: 6 Key Takeaways from the New York Times, Part 1

As unemployment goes down, the talent wars heat up. Employers are realizing that they must adapt in order to attract, motivate, and retain the best talent in 2018. Some are simply entering into bidding wars with their competition, increasing pay or perks in order to make their employment offer seem more attractive. But bidding wars aren’t sustainable and our research shows that, in terms of long-term success, they don’t work.

If you want to win today’s talent wars you have to create a winning culture.

Tessa Ann Taylor has created a stellar example of how strong culture can lead to better hiring and retention practices in her position as Engineering Manager at the New York Times. Her strategy, which she outlines in the article Diversity, Inclusion, and Culture: How to Build Great Teams, was originally designed with team diversity in mind. But Ms. Taylor’s approach to hiring and onboarding is, in my view, exactly the same type of approach that should be adopted by every employer today.

This is the first of two posts in which I’ll share my top 6 takeaways from Ms. Taylor’s diversity strategy, which can be applied to any organization’s hiring practices. I’ll start with the first 3:

 

1) Widen the Scope of Your Hiring

The first places most managers and organizations go to look for new applicants are the very same places where they’ve found successful hires in the past. But one potential downside of this type of successful hire profiling is that recruiting from the same sources over and over again can lead to a homogenous population of employees over time and thus undermine your efforts to develop a diverse workforce.

One of the first challenges Ms. Taylor faced in her new position at the New York Times was diversifying her applicant pool. Despite the large number of applications and referrals from old go-to sources, there simply wasn’t enough diversity of candidates. So, she diversified the sourcing of their applicant pool:
“After I joined The Times as a software engineer, I attended and recruited at conferences like Grace Hopper, Society of Women Engineers, Lesbians Who Tech and a variety of hackathons that cater to women and under-represented groups… The recruiting team and I were able to significantly change the makeup of the candidate pool and find some great candidates we otherwise would not have considered.”

Diversifying your sourcing is not only a good strategy for creating a more diverse team. It also gives you a greater advantage in today’s talent wars: If you are competing for a limited supply of talent, you had better diversify your sources of potential candidates so you can increase your applicant pool. Think outside the box and target places that should be good sources of talent, but that you may not have given a fair shot in the past. If you’ve sought applicants from prestige sources, but those sources are no longer yielding enough quality applicants, perhaps it’s time to consider looking at top talent from sources you may have originally deemed second-tier.

 

2) It’s Worth the Effort to Hire that One Great Person

There is a lot of attention in the talent wars going to the technical skill gap. Yet, every day in our work at RainmakerThinking, the stories managers tell us about good hires gone bad, and bad hires gone worse, are about failures in the soft skills, not the hard skills. This tells me two things: that technically skilled applicants are already successfully making it to the interviewing stage, and that soft skills are not being sufficiently assessed during the hiring process.

At The Times, Ms. Taylor recognized this, and made sure to factor all aspects of a candidate’s skills and attributes into the hiring process:
“As a team, we make a concentrated effort to ensure that the process is as fair and unbiased as possible. Each candidate sees the same – or close to the same, schedule allowing – group of people, all of whom ask the same – or close to the same – questions. There are also a variety of people on the interview panel: some to assess technical ability and some to assess soft skills… The final hiring decision is consensus-driven, and all aspects of the candidate are taken into consideration.”

One great hire is much better than three or four or five mediocre hires. One great hire is usually someone who possesses not only the technical skills, but the soft skills and other attributes, that make them a great fit for your team and organization. Taking the time and effort to properly assess both the technical skills and the soft skills of your potential hires means you are that much more likely to hire that one great person, and ultimately keep them.

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3) Culture is What Truly Makes You Stand Out as an Employer

It’s almost become a routine: which so-called “prestigious” employer is going to be outed next for its toxic company culture? These types of companies are usually ones that have developed great customer brand reputations, such as Uber or Nike, but their employer brand couldn’t be more different. It’s not enough to rely on your customer brand to bring great talent through your door, and trendy perks only do the trick for so long. If you want to build an employer brand that attracts great talent and keeps them working for you, you have to build a winning culture.

Take Ms. Taylor’s own career experience as an example:
“Before I was in a position to create, influence and codify the culture on my team, I got to experience the difference a good culture can make. I’ve worked on all-male technology teams for my entire career, but when I arrived at The Times and joined the CMS team…I immediately noticed something was different.”

That “something” was an attitude of respect, openness, and modesty shared by her coworkers:
“Collaboration was valued over being right, and everyone was truly committed to moving the whole team forward, rather than personal victory.”

Wouldn’t anyone prefer to work for an employer known for creating a culture of collaboration and progress, rather than personal victory and ego? The trick with culture is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. It’s one thing if your company culture makes you stand out in the employer marketplace and attracts new candidates. But if that winning culture doesn’t make it past your recruiting brochures, you’ll never have hope of retaining those new candidates for a meaningful amount of time.

It’s everyone’s job in the organization to shift company culture, especially leaders and managers:
“When I became an engineering manager and focused on hiring, this culture made me feel comfortable hiring more women. At the same time, I realized that it was my responsibility to maintain, codify, and elevate the culture.”


These three key takeaways are a great starting point for any organization looking to improve hiring, attraction, and retention efforts. Read Part 2 of this series and the remaining three tips for winning the talent wars in 2018.