I never wanted to be a solo prospect research practitioner. I named my company intentionally because I always knew that I wanted to build a team of people to go on this wonderful, crazy journey with me. So hiring people was always going to be in the cards for me. And that’s kind of scary when your name is on the door. When it dawns on you that others will be helping uphold your reputation.
Choosing well is important. So is setting up the value proposition.
Over the course of the 12 years since HBG began, I’ve hired 18 employees. Thirteen of them are still working here today. Two have more than 8 years with the company and one (who had left) even returned with great additional experience. That kind of longevity and (dare I say it?) job satisfaction are rare these days.
Back in the day
In the beginning it was really hard convincing prospective employees that HBG was a “real company” that was here to stay. Even early employees have confessed that they weren’t sure but were willing to give it a go. And here we still are.
There are still folks who don’t realize that each member of my team (that wants to) works full-time, has health insurance and an employer-matched 401K, as well as all of the other usual boring stuff like paid vacation and sick leave, disability and life insurance, continuing education and a great resource library to play with.
Yes, all that stuff is expensive (and some of it isn’t even required by law), but when you compete for employees with some of the finest nonprofits in the world like we do, that’s the cost of doing business. My team is among the best in the business – they could work anywhere. So why would they stay at HBG?
I think that if we want to attract and hold onto great employees, we can learn lessons from donor-centered fundraising. What if you treat employees like your nonprofit treats donors?
• You ask them to contribute and you thank them for their contributions.
• You involve them in decisions that impact the organization.
• You care about them as individuals with families and a real life.
It translates to practical values. A little bit more.
• Flex time.
• The ability to work from home.
• Project variety.
• Engaged clients who respect us. (That which you pay for, you tend not to leave sitting unread, right?).
We don’t have to offer the little-bit-more, but I wanted to create a company that I would want to work for. We expect 100% from each person, every day, and in return they know that if their kid is suddenly sick or their hot water heater blows up, we’ve got their back.
Of course, we’re a business, so it’s not all Kumbaya-around-the-campfire here. We expect things like quality work every day, showing up on time with all brain cells firing, and providing Ritz Carlton-level customer service to clients. Everybody has to track their time religiously and be flawless in maintaining client data security and confidentiality. We don’t mess around with those things and I know that sometimes the red editing pen can be a little …trying. But it’s clearly all worth it.
Can you do this in your shop?
I do think our company’s shared values help people stay on track and focused, and they help us attract (and retain) a great team. And even if you don’t (personally) set the tone for the whole division in which you work, your department can set its own values.
If you’re a hiring manager, here are some other ingredients in the employee-retention secret sauce recipe:
- Vet prospective employees carefully to be sure they’re the right fit (here are some interview questions from me and great advice from Mark Egge)
- Give people the tools they need, point them in the direction, provide ongoing support, and then…
- Get out of their way. Micromanage at your own peril. But…
- Check in with them periodically to provide guidance and to show you’re interested in what they’re doing – not to tell them how to do it.
- Be consistent.
- Shield them from inconsistency from higher-ups.
- Be their advocate.
- Praise them when they do well. Show them the right way when they fail -constructively.
In recent years, I’ve noticed that great employees have become much less hard for us to find. In fact, they’ve started coming to us proactively. I’d like to think that they’ve heard about – and share – our values and want to get on that train.
Does your office have a value proposition that makes people want to work there?
What do you do to attract and retain great employees?