How to Attract and Retain Talent


Regardless of whether unemployment is high or low, you want to retain both your superstars and rockstars since (according to SHRM) it’s estimated that turnover costs the equivalent of 6-9 months for salaried employees and roughly $3K for entry level employees making $30K or less. Also, I’m sure that readers understand the other impacts of turnover on productivity, morale and overall org culture. 

And in the Bay Area (as well as other expensive geo areas), it’s becoming increasingly challenging to pay a true living wage while attracting and retaining talent. And I deeply feel the growing frustration of hiring managers and business owners. And as a fellow blue collar worker and direct report, I absolutely desire to advocate for an equitable and sustainable work environment. Not only does this guide advocate for the triple bottom line, but also attempts to empower each individual contributor. 

Therefore, I curated the following ideas to pull from. Keep in mind that I’ve focused on including ideas that aren’t all that common, relatively easy to implement and affordable. And that this curation is by no means an exhaustive list.

But the long and short of it is: focus on strengthening the mutual trust between each and every employee. You can do this by not only implementing many of these suggestions, but by also letting employees be your guide in which of the following (or others!) would be the most impactful. And whenever possible, include your minority vote so that everyone feels valued.  You can always begin by getting the pulse of current employee engagement and here are some questions to get you started.  And ordale, by all means brag about what you offer whether it be a website or certification


  • Once extending and offer to a candidate, offer them the option to complete a survey about his/her work style that allows those onboarding and training to have a better idea of how to approach the process. Here’s a free resource that won’t require an email. 

  • Make the beginning memorable. New hires could find a backlog of welcome aboard emails and a signed note from leadership. Or coordinate a lunch/coffee break (sometimes even inviting friends/family). Or have team members take turns taking new colleagues to lunch during their first week.

  • You could ask new hires to make a brief personal introduction at a staff or all hands meeting following their start date. Encourage new hires to take their time and perhaps utilizing videos or other visual aids.

  • Have a mentor walk side-by-side with a new employee through their first year while providing a step-by-step guide and clearly defined tasks for new hires as well as their teams (which can always change). Mentors are intentional in pre-scheduling phased reminders for a 30/60/90 day touch base meetings as well as discussion points and questions important to cover to ensure the employee’s success. 

  • Schedule a 90-day check-in with HR so as to provide a direct one-on-one conversation to ensure there are no underlying barriers or to discuss anything the new employee does not feel comfortable discussing with their mentor/manager/co-worker. If there are challenges identified, HR engages the appropriate resources.

  • All new hires have the opportunity to attend a leadership chat, which are intimate conversations with leadership where they detail their life story and the path that led him to the organization. The sessions conclude with the connection between the mission of the company and the guiding principles (core values) that drive employees’ actions and activities every day. 


  • Begin staff meetings and retreats with a mindfulness/meditation exercise for even just 3-7 minutes. As a result, you may also find your meetings ending early! 

  • Where space allows, set up mindfulness zones for meditation and relaxation. 

  • Coordinate the logistics for a favorite onsite vendor such as CSAs, manicures or haircuts, dry cleaning, bike repair, onsite laundry machines or mobile libraries).

  • Whenever possible, offer telecommuting, flexible scheduling and/or compressed work weeks. These perks both supplement the cost of living but also clearly convey trust. 

  • No meetings before a certain time or after a certain time, even by day of the week. 

  • Every Friday during the summer, let employees leave an hour or two early.

  • Order healthy, ready-made dinners for employees to take home during stressful periods. You can also host a kids’ movie night so parents can drop off their little ones and go on a cheap date night.

  • Employees occasionally book their preferred live entertainment (with an allocated budget) during slow times.


  • Paid time off for group volunteer days based on the service offering, values and employee vote.

  • Encourage employees to protest and take political stands, whatever those may be. Create opportunities for interested employees to share recent experiences.

    • Organizations generally form long-term partnerships with just a few nonprofits. Consider switching on a semi-regular basis using the same voting system.  And while you can’t impose your political beliefs nor put substantial resources behind employee political involvement, you can certainly consider GOTV and current events that have a significant impact on your employees’ lives or whom the organization serves. But be sure to let employees drive this. 

    • For example, female employees at the feminine hygiene product company, Boxed, testified before Nevada legislators on why they should eliminate the "tampon tax," a 6.85 percent tax imposed on feminine products. Voters agreed and approved a measure to abolish the tax. 

  • Create opportunities for your staff to give back to the organization’s immediate community such as providing ample petty cash accounts and giving staff executive decision making power on how it’s managed. 


  • Have a series of three Career Conversations that focus on a) life story b) dreams and c) 18-month plan. 

  • Each year, employees participate in a comprehensive review process that begins with a self-evaluation, is followed by a manager evaluation, and ends with in-person meetings during which employees and managers discuss the results and share two-way feedback on challenges and opportunities. Employees and managers to continuously review the feedback from the review period and continue to give feedback throughout the year.

  • Online assessment tools to ascertain working and communication styles. Opportunities to talk about results with co-workers, if desired. (It’s important to be explicit that one can opt out of participating and/or sharing, even if having completed an assessment.)

  • Monthly training sessions (for all or parts of the org) with employees as instructors.

  • Series of mindfulness workshops on such topics as meditation or how to combat chronic pain. 


  • Stop whatever you’re doing and order Radical Candor. Schedule time to read it. Consider who on your staff should also read it. 

  • The same goes for the power of dissent from Charlan Nemeth’s In Defense of Troublemakers. Read it and then provide space for divergent thinking. Consider using Interest Based Problem Solving as a tool to get there. 

  • Implement millennial reverse mentoring to keep senior management connected to its younger counterparts -- as well as create a more equitable workplace

  • Organize a cross functional team of staff working together to identify opportunities for change. Perhaps participants are elected by their work group. 

  • Develop a selection process where employees shadow their bosses’ boss for a day, including lunch together and solicitations for their feedback

  • Form a cross company group that meets every 2 years to ask “are our values still serving us well?”

  • Identify individuals known as ‘catalysts’ who act as scanner who maintain an online improvements board and initiate working groups.

  • Spend some to analyze whether or not your forprofit should be employee-owned. Start this process by amplifying employee input on important decisions. 


  • Perhaps your staff will want to start with a self-assessment to measure perceptions about the nonprofit's culture. The Michigan Nonprofit Association offers a Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Assessment Tool.

  • Your don’t have to hire an expensive consultant to "do the work" internally to create more awareness about diversity, inclusion, and equity. This Diversity Toolkit: A Guide to Discussing Identity, Power and Privilege offers ideas for DIY facilitation that will stimulate conversation and learning. 

  • Start out with an exploration of the definitions (see this glossary, for instance) of various terms to spark deep conversations about how we individually interpret and experience discrimination of whatever nature. 

  • Ideally, have a dedicated manager of Diversity & Inclusion who sponsors Employee Resource Groups initiated by employees. This role also ensures senior leadership incorporates participants by embedding inclusion strategies in key aspects of the talent lifecycle, including recruitment, assignments, and succession planning.

  • In addition to recruiting minorities, also focus on hiring candidates who demonstrate a different way of thinking, doing or being. Research shows the latter is more correlated to increased innovation. It just so happens that diverse groups often think and do differently.

  • Senior management includes preferred pronouns on LinkedIn profiles and in their email signatures.


Again, the focus in this article is on small organizations and their corresponding budgets. Feel free to contact me for additional ideas for a more substantive benefits package. But orgs should begin with free or significantly subsidized health/dental/vision, sick time, personal days, etc. and consider the following:

  • Free medical review service day (can include significant others and dependents). 

  • 10 days paid leave for the death of a spouse, domestic partner or child

  • Take your child/friend/parent/mentee/mentor to work day.

  • Deliver a bag of groceries or offer a gift certificate to a restaurant that delivers when an employee experiences a significant life transition. 

  • If an employee is experiencing an emergency, clearly state that they can go tend to this and to not give a single thought to work until it’s attended to. (Because I’ve repeatedly heard from employees this doesn’t happen, it’s worth including here.)

  • A half dozen free financial coaching sessions. 


  • Have an annual "Values Day," when everyone gathers to talk about and reflect on the personal values most important to them.

  • Have two stuffed animals (or similar props) at a regular meeting. Invite people to nominate each other to win the “Killer Whale”  by asking an employee to volunteer to talk about some extraordinary work they’d seen somebody else do. Then, the winner of the whale the previous meeting decides whom to recognize next and so on. Concurrently, people nominate themselves for “Whoops the Monkey”. If anyone screwed up, they could stand up, tell the story and get automatic forgiveness. This practice can increase the feeling of safety to innovate even if mistakes occur as well as giving management a ‘head’s up’. 

  • Senior Management hosts a podcast and speak to topics that impact all employees.

  • During all-hands meetings, managers answer questions on the spot which are submitted anonymously by employees. 

  • Publish the business plan/strategy internally so any employee can comment, ask questions, or make suggestions. 

  • Organize chain-wide networking events where teams showcase special projects or accomplishments.

  • Include a 90-day check-in with their HR Administrator, so as to provide a direct one-on-one conversation with an HR team member to ensure there are no underlying barriers to a new employee's successful integration. If there are challenges identified, the HR Administrator engages the appropriate resources to address the challenges.

  • Have a virtual suggestion box where senior management review every single suggestion and each one with a name attached to it receives direct feedback. Work to ensure that suggestions are often implemented. Also, highlight an anonymous suggestion in an internal newsletter. 

  • Whenever possible, conduct exit interviews. The interviewer should never be their supervisor and ideally someone neutral that also has influence in facilitating the discussion around suggested changes.


  • Award ceremony at your annual party, organized by a representative cross section of your org, depending on interest.

    • Recognize both rock and superstars for instances of going above and beyond. (But be sure to ask if recipients feel comfortable being ‘on stage’.)

    • Music Video Awards.Have multiple teams create a music video using just one song, a mash-up, or original song. Then, during the annual party, employees have the opportunity to view at vote for their favorite. 

  • A citywide scavenger hunt!

  • Lunch with ED/CEO at 5, 10, etc year anniversary.

  • Quarterly paid field trips to tour a relevant organization or company followed by lunch and the rest of the day off. 


  • Reward creating magical moments for clients/customers with ‘tokens’ to trade for prizes like paid days off or a fun gift. Management does the same for staff with gestures like spa gift cards.

  • Referral bonuses upon hire or for those that stay for X months (varied based on the organization’s turnover).  

  • Working Advantage -- employee discount and reward programs. 

  • Wellness perks/discounts (from neighboring businesses). 

  • Cooking and/or wine/sake/tea pairing classes and/or tastings.

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