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updated: 11/11/2019 1:47 PM

3 Important factors for attracting and retaining great employees

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I recently joined a panel hosted by the Daily Herald Business Ledger and HR Source on attracting and retaining great talent. My fellow panelists were Michael Larson, director at Nuphoriq and Amber Johnson, chief communications officer and senior research associate at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University.

The conversation could have easily continued for hours because it's a topic that so many organizations struggle with regardless of size, industry or reputation: attracting and retaining talent. The three main areas we focused on were the interview process, work-life balance and the role managers play. Here are some of the top take-aways.


We spent a lot of the time discussing how the interview process plays a role in identifying the right employees for your organization.

In order to protect the culture you've built, have a couple of people meet with the candidate. You can get multiple perspectives so that you're positively adding to your organization. Also, have people at different levels conduct the interviews. That way you can see if the candidate treats the entry-level employee any different from they do a vice president. It's also a good idea to check back in with your receptionists and ask how the candidate interacted with them. Were they just as kind and respectful as they were with the vice president?

Depending on the role, take the interview outside of the office. Whether it's a dinner or lunch, by getting them outside you can get a better gauge of them as a person overall rather than just as a professional. And if it's after hours, invite their spouse.

To identify the right people for your organization, you first must identify what is important to your organization. What are the company values that every employee stands behind? One example from the panel was if compassion is a core value, in the interview, ask the employee to explain what compassion means to them. If it takes them more than three minutes to answer the question, chances are they're not the right candidate for your organization.

If you have a team interviewing the candidate, be sure everyone understands their role in the interview process. For instance, the manager is there to identify skill-fit whereas human resources is identifying culture-fit, or a potential teammate is identifying if the candidate will work well with the existing team. This is especially important in panel interviewer. To avoid asking the candidate questions rapid-fire style, go in with a plan of who is asking what and who is asking the follow-up questions that will naturally come up.

Another upside to involving more people in the interview process (if done efficiently) is that it can provide the employee a bigger network once they start. They have people they can immediately interact with and who are invested in their success.

The goal of the interview, especially in today's war for talent, is for employees to feel comfortable and their true selves. That being said, the topic of stress interviews came up and whether or not they were still relevant. The consensus was that how they're done has changed over the years as the goal of interviews has shifted for employees feeling less stressed; however, an added "stress" element in an interview can be helpful to identify the right skill-fit. Rather than calling it a "stress interview," think of it as a realistic job preview. If the role has stressful situations, you want to know how that candidate will react when on the job because at that point they are a representation of your brand, and if they don't handle it appropriately, your company can suffer.

Work-life integration

There is too much pressure to give every facet of your life the same amount of attention constantly. It's not realistic and you will either burn out quickly or feel like you're constantly failing. However, when you practice work-life integration, you will feel more fulfilled. It's something you analyze quarterly or annually, not daily or weekly. Some days and weeks your personal life may need more attention and other weeks it will be work. When you look back at the entire year, you can see the wins in both areas and will be far more fulfilled. It's also about integrating and companies can help by inviting families and significant others into the office or to company events.


Explain the why. Today's workforce will do what they're ask and complete the task at hand, but they want to know the why behind it. They want to understand how the current project fits into the bigger picture, so proactively explain the why behind each initiative to get buy-in right away.

People want to work for vulnerable leaders, not robots. They want to hear about a time when their manager messed up and how they worked themselves out of the mistake. This isn't because they want others to have failed, but rather for mental relief that they're not alone if they do make a mistake. An error can be paralyzing, so managers need to help employees see beyond it and being a vulnerable leader isn't easy. No one wants to talk about their failures, but it can build incredible trust between managers and their staff. Another highly underrated skill that the best leaders have in common is the ability to deliver tough feedback effectively. It's a skill that can build the strongest teams.

• Sirmara Campbell is chief human resources officer at LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing, recruiting and culture firm.