Mar 8, 2022

Attracting + retaining great people through purpose

Finding it hard to attract great people? You’re not alone.

With VC investment reaching record levels in 2021 and the shift towards remote work still in motion, hiring great people is no longer a straightforward process for many. And, if this isn’t the case for your startup, you will certainly be envied by your peers, with the vast majority of respondents to a recent Sifted survey agreeing that the competition for talent has seriously ramped up in the past 12 months. 

So, how can we become more attractive places to work?

It’s key to be intentional about how you plan to attract great people to join your team and there’s no better way to do this than with an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) framework, like this one here from the team at Mercer, which forces us to think about “what an employee gets from working here” through contractual, experiential and emotional lenses. 

Looking again at the 2022 Sifted survey responses, the three most important factors for candidates when considering joining a new company are currently Positive Mission (69%); Flexible Working Environment (68%) + Salary (66%), which shows the importance of a strong EVP across multiple areas. 

With 74% of respondents also reporting to Sifted that they put more of an emphasis on company mission when looking for a job than they did 12 months ago, could it be that Purpose has become the most important factor to get right when looking to attract great people?

Let’s find out, with a little help from a friend.

Confido - search partners for mission-driven tech for good startups

Enter Craig Turner, Founder of Confido Talent, who can confirm first-hand that the Product and Engineering talent they speak to on behalf of their clients really do care about more than just money. “For two-thirds of the candidates we speak with, wanting to do something more purposeful and meaningful with their work is a key reason they’re open to a new role”.

Craig also cautions that simply being mission-driven isn’t enough. After all, “every founder, no matter what their business does, will feel they’re on a mission and driven by that mission. What candidates care more about is why that business was founded - what is its purpose? Is it for good?”

This is why Confido only partners with what Craig labels as “Tech For Good” startups - those that have clearly been designed to solve an important problem for our society or planet.

For Craig, being clear on what you can offer candidates is the first thing to get right

“You can’t compete on everything in the talent space, so pick the two or three things that you’re really good at and that few others can offer, then lead with this message when you’re reaching out to candidates.”

That’s to say, if you’re not a “For Good” startup, you can still find success by offering above-market salaries + benefits, highlighting fast-track career opportunities and shouting about a truly flexible approach to working.

Purpose is a winner but not a magic bullet

Whilst candidates are attracted to businesses in multifarious ways, Craig is under no doubt that having a compelling purpose is the most powerful tool for attracting great Tech talent in 2022.

“The company’s purpose is what really stands out. Top engineers are a privileged group of people - they’re paid very well, work flexibly, have great progression opportunities and are probably receiving 10 to 20 recruiter messages each day. They’re extremely hard to attract. By leading with purpose, you can create an instant, personal, emotional connection between the candidate and the company”.

So, does this mean that Craig’s Tech For Good clients are able to “under-index” on other parts of their EVP (salary, benefits, wellbeing, etc.) because they “over-index” so strongly on purpose?

“No. Whilst this attitude exists I think it’s a bit naive. Expecting people to take a job that’s 5 days a week in an office with a below-market salary just because they like what you’re doing and what you stand for is overly optimistic.”

“You have to be competing on all the basics like pay, flexible working, good benefits, strong culture, good career opportunities - then the differentiator is the mission and purpose”.

For your purpose to stand out, tell your story authentically

Even for legitimately “For Good” startups, it’s important to remember that you’re still competing for talent with other businesses that also have a compelling purpose, so the way you tell this story to the outside world is crucial to get right.

“The story you tell to candidates has to be authentic. It has to be really clear that your values and your purpose as a business really do align with that story, and that the story is told consistently across all channels and touchpoints. Make sure that your careers page, your job adverts, the way you act in the interview process and the way you talk about your business on a podcast all line up. That story then becomes really strong.”

Craig also recommends focusing on remembering who the storyteller is;

“I recommend that early stage businesses have the founder or CTO do the first stage interview with Tech candidates. They will always be best placed to talk about the mission, the purpose, why they've set the company up, and to create a really strong bond between the candidate, the company and what they’re trying to achieve early on.”

“If you’re using external recruitment partners, work with only 1 or 2 and really spend time making sure they understand your story and company.”

And in the age of The Great Resignation, it’s key to focus on delivering what you say you will

With around 25% of UK employees planning to find a new role in the next 3-6 months (Randstad), you’d be forgiven for arguing that we should be focusing more on retaining our people - keeping them healthy, happy + high-performing - than on attracting new ones. 

That’s exactly why developing an EVP that not only tells a good story to the outside world, but also delivers on that message in practice, day-to-day, is the key to sustainably growing a great team. Tell candidates why working for you will be great for them - and then, when they become employees, work hard to make sure the reality is even better.

Delivering on your EVP may be the one area where “For Good” companies have their work cut out. Whilst with contractual must-haves like compensation and benefits it is easy to ensure you follow through on what was promised in your job ads, the less tangible nature of important emotional commitments, such as the promise of running your business in a purpose-driven way, come with innate challenges. Does the mission that was so exciting from the outside remain motivating after 6 months of working there? Does the commitment our people have to creating impact on the world lead to a culture where individual wellbeing suffers as a result of too much urgency to achieve the mission?

We asked Craig what he’d observed; 

“I think the opposite is true. In fact, the type of people that create Tech For Good startups have a very empathetic, people-first approach, so from my experience they’re more likely to get feedback from their employees, listen to people and focus on wellbeing”.

And lastly, Craig’ shares his advice on how to over-deliver on purpose for the purpose-focused people you’re bringing into your team:

“Make sure you have a proper strategy around your impact as a company. How are you impacting your local and wider communities? Make sure your people feel that you’re doing good not just with your product but through CSR and volunteering too!”

Let’s summarise all that goodness…

  • Attracting people is hard. Be intentional about which parts of your EVP you will over-index on!
  • Does your startup have a legitimate “for-good” purpose? Great - shout about it, but make sure you still pay good salaries, provide flexible working and offer great  growth opportunities.
  • If purpose isn’t your strong suit, be strong on a few other areas and make sure you’re  transparent and authentic with the outside world about what makes you great.
  • Crucially, to keep a healthy, happy + high performing team, focus just as much on delivering a great EVP as you do telling your story to the outside world.
  • To retain purpose-driven team members, focus on CSR not just your product’s purpose.

Written by People & Culture Partner at Unleashed.Company Tom Jewell.

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