Event Recap: Attract, Retain or Ruin

TLDR – Short on time? Key insights below.

In July, we hosted an event titled Attract, Retain or Ruin inspired by feedback from the many Startups and Scaleups we work with. We believe in the power of collaboration (it’s one of our core values at The Culture Equation) this event grew from a desire to intentionally capitalise on the collective wisdom of the startup community, to identify pearls of wisdom that may help in better navigating these waters.

We have collated the top insights from both our panellists and our 30+ audience members, consisting of Startup Founders, People & Culture Leaders and Executives.

  1. What makes you happy at work? The people have spoken – Purpose, Culture and Team.
  2. Your Purpose must be clearly defined, so it can be communicated and embedded organisation wide. It must act as your ‘North Star’ defending your Culture against relentless change fatigue.
  3. Consider the power of V.I.P – Values, Impact, People
  4. Salary isn’t the be all or end all – hireright and for the long term by discussing non-negotiables that sit outside of salary.
  5. “Dream and Team” your Purpose is the mechanism that connects your people to a culture that is happy, healthy, resilient and high performing.
  6. Workforce cohesion is just as important as the technical capability of talent.
  7. Consider new trends in interviewing talent and focus on minimising bias.
  8. Look after them and they’ll look after you – take less of a transactional and more of a holistic approach to your people.
  9. Good Goodbyes – Don’t let one employees end, impact another employees beginning.

Want more? Continue reading.

Our wonderful panelists below


When your WHY wins

The term ‘Purpose’ is thrown around a lot, especially at the moment – so what is all the fuss about? As the tip of the iceberg, Purpose is unearthed by seeing the way your core job can impact and benefit the real world. As a result, employees are more satisfied, engaged, innovative and not to mention the multitude of positive benefits it has on a team.


We asked our audience “What makes you happy at work?”

Purpose, Culture and Team came through loud and clear. It was acknowledged how important it is to clearly define your organisational Purpose. That has a flow on effect to your ability to articulate and communicate your purpose which is critical to attracting and retaining talent. If you don’t live and breathe your company’s Purpose, then new (or existing) employees won’t be able to connect with who you are as a company, or identify whether this opportunity aligns (or doesn’t) with who they are, what they stand for and who they want to be.

It is common in fast growing scaleups, for employees to feel like they are working at vastly different companies year-to-year. In these instances, organisations can easily lose sight of their Purpose unless it is entrenched as their North Star; clearly defined and guarding against relentless change fatigue. The Culture Equation works with fast growing startups to assess and iterate upon their Cultural Pillars (Purpose, Values and Leadership Principles) to ensure they are are relevant, resilient and effective throughout these periods of rapid change.

Bernie Ferguson, Head of Technical Program Management at Canva shared some insights on an acronym coined “Be your own VIP”.

Whether you are looking at your Purpose and how it relates to your current or future team members, it is important to keep this in mind.

  • Consider the value; benefits, work-life balance and training.
  • Determine the impact; on projects internally, on causes that impact externally and on the ability to give back and volunteer.
  • The power of your people; It is not uncommon for talent to choose between roles based on their future team or leader. Evaluate the impact that plays on your business’s ability to attract and retain talent.


It’s About the Dream & The Team

If you were headhunted tomorrow, and salary was already taken care of, what would be your non-negotiables?

Discussing these non-negotiables with current or potential employees can ensure you are intentionally planning for culture add over culture fit. Transparent communication allows for understanding and improved psychological safety. As a result, you hireright and for the long term. Curious to understand if your interview process hits the mark?

When we asked our panel and audience about their non-negotiables, the majority of the comments were about the team that they would be working with. Whether it was ensuring they meet their immediate team members before accepting the job, checking out Glassdoor reviews as well as making sure their future leader didn’t have any potential red flags indicating narcissism or greed.

Kirstin Hunter Chief of Staff at Human describes this testing of synergy as “Dream And The Team”. If there is a clear vision and mission a company is striving towards, attracting and retaining

talent becomes easier, because employees who share in that same dream, can sign up, following their instinct to stay true to fulfilling their Personal Purpose through work. See how Purpose can be harnessed to attract top talent.

Notably, Kirstin acknowledges that group dynamics, individual personalities, differing expertise and work styles are not only inevitable elements of working in a group environment but that they play a pivotal part in the attraction and retention of talent. By incorporating this concept into your recruitment, you can highlight team cohesion rather than focus entirely on skills and capability.

Bernie from Canva noted, “If you were to put the top 5 best basketball players in the world on the same team, could we just assume they would play well together?”. No, because skills, capability, experience and drive aren’t the only factors impacting a team’s performance; there is a reason they spend so much time training as a team, undergoing drills and activities to build and sustain team cohesion and unity.

When working in teams, workforce cohesion is just as important as the quality of talent. Culture is the foundation of a business, the decider between who will succeed and who will fall.

Many companies now are hosting ‘Meet the Team’ during the hiring process, this is proving to be an interesting way of identifying which candidates stand out.

The power balance is shifting and this is one way in which candidates are reverse engineering the interviewing process. The traditional attitude of job interviews being solely one-sided is shifting into a more dynamic, two way process which considers job interviews as a chance for both parties to assess potential synergy.

Battling Bias & Blind Spots

In the hiring process the biggest piece of advice Alexandra Slimming Head of Global Benefits at Honan Insurance Group gave was how she had identified the tendency of colleagues to, often without thinking, to openly discuss and/or project their opinions of an candidate, to the next interviewer. It is not uncommon for a colleague to say “Oh my gosh you’re going to love this new guy, I interviewed yesterday. He’s going to fit so well into our team”. Alexandra acknowledges the immediate impact and influence that has on your subconscious thought, opinions and bias towards this candidate. This is a perfect example of Groupthink – a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. And how easily it can fuel bias and influence the hiring process.

Having said that, in the world of small startups, hiring a friend or someone in your network is common and can work. It can also be a disaster. It is an ongoing challenge for startups to walk the line between being completely objective and ‘of the book’ and hiring based on intuition, ‘vibes’ or someone who is a ‘friend of a friend’.


Look After Them, They’ll Look After You

Building your business in a way that people thrive, not only at work but in their personal lives too is paramount. If you’re going to capitalise on the passion people bring to work there is an obvious need for rest and recharge. As Alexandra suggested, if you want to retain your talent, you need to understand how people are more than what they do for you within the context of the workplace. It shouldn’t be such a transactional relationship. Workplaces need to work towards a more holistic view of their employees, where If you are engaged with and appreciative of your people, you will understand what motivates them (other than money).

Bernie emphasised the importance of leader accountability for their team’s health and wellbeing- “Your teams are your greatest asset and as a result, there is a responsibility being a leader to protect them.”Working at mega growth company Canva, Bernie emphasised the power of the multiplier effect. People play a huge role in establishing and maintaining a company’s Culture, and within fast-growing companies, that has to be monitored and reviewed often. Bernie stressed how important it is to have strong relationships with managers and coaches as well as intentionally striving for diversity.

Good, Goodbyes

Resignations are an opportunity for company learning. This forms part of the employee lifecycle, and should be valued no less than attracting, onboarding or developing talent. Good Goodbyes reflects the energy you are sending out into the ecosystem. It’s your reputation, it’s how you value and treat your people – on a employee lifecycle, a goodbye is positioned right next to a hello – consider how your farewell’s may inadvertently impact your hello’s. Your employee journey is important, it should be done intentionally and based upon your Purpose, Values and Leadership Principles – reach out if your employee journey has a life of its own.

Thank you to our panellists – Alexandra Slimming, Bernie Ferguson and Kirstin Hunter for all your wonderful insights. From the whole team The Culture Equation.

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