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Retaining top talent and maintaining the best workplace culture

In business, the people you hire can make or break a project, client relationship or partnership. So how do organisations retain their best staff and maintain a positive workplace culture? To find out, we asked four of our brilliant #LeadingLadies for their views and tips.

Julia Birks, Lead Strategic Designer at Isobar

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Image by Breeana Dunbar

Retaining top talent: We focus on creating a human and diverse place to work. For instance, we genuinely care about preventing workplace burnout, and addressing it when it happens. We live and breathe flexible work hours, and allow our staff to work with their leaders and team to decide the best time to hold meetings and get work done. We were proud this year to promote our new Executive Strategy Director into a three-day-a-week exec role, because we believe that spending time with your family and being a leader shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

We also ensure our benefits packages are resonating with our staff. We offer a fifth week of annual leave after two years of tenure, as well as winter/summer half-days that people can use throughout the year to take a mid-week break. We evaluate and benchmark against market remuneration rates to ensure our employees are fairly remunerated. Additionally, we’ve introduced standardised benchmarking to promote fairness and transparency around how we reward our people and reduce the impact of unconscious bias.

Fostering positive workplace culture: Our values are at the heart of how we get stuff done and contribute to creating a great working environment. Our whole organisation is involved in creating and defining our values. These values aren’t the usual stale buzzwords, they’re things like “Be Excellent to Each Other”, and “Give a damn”. We’re so proud of our values that we literally print them on tee-shirts and beer labels every year to give to our team and clients.

We also run a monthly national award called “Guru of the month”, where staff from across each of our Australian offices nominate team members who have lived the values particularly strongly, and the chosen winner receives a reward and public kudos at the agency.

Gemma Hudson, Managing Director at WE Buchan

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Image by Breeana Dunbar

Retaining top talent: In a talent shortage market, it’s incredibly important to retain the great talent you have. At WE Buchan we focus on ticking the four ‘Fs’ – financial, fulfilment, fun and future. We conduct annual benchmarking to ensure our remuneration and benefits are competitive, we pulse check job satisfaction, ensure our team has fun and prioritise helping them achieve their career goals. People often leave an agency if they can’t see a clear career path, so it’s vital to provide solid performance review processes and career development programs.

Flexibility is also key. As agencies we need to be nimble in the way we structure teams and develop staff. We allow staff to pursue non-linear career paths, emphasising their strengths rather than expecting them to tick every single box, and encourage them to follow their passion (e.g. switching sectors or pursuing clients/projects they’re passionate about).

Fostering positive workplace culture: We see our culture as something that is made up of all different elements that contribute to an employee’s overall job satisfaction. On a formal level, we appointed a HR lead to ensure we focus on our people. However, we believe culture is something everyone is responsible for, so we’ve also put in place a ‘people and culture’ sub-committee to champion our culture across the business and encourage everyone to have a voice.

Culture is so much more than shouting a round of drinks. It’s ticking the four ‘Fs’ I mention above but it’s about creating an environment where our team has a sense of ownership over the business and an ability to shape the agency’s direction. We treat our people like adults – trust them, empower them, let them learn, and let them shine.

Anna Leibel, Chief Information Officer at UniSuper

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Image by Phillip O’Brien

Retaining top talent: Understanding what makes your top talent tick is essential to retaining them, from how they like to work, how they like to be recognised and rewarded, to their career aspirations. By understanding them you are able to create positive work experiences that will keep them connected.

From there, help them design a career path that will get them excited, motivated and fulfilled. In addition to formal training, this can include job swaps (inside and outside your organisation), job shadowing, secondments or reverse mentoring. To nurture and guide them co-create a support network, my advice is to have a mentor within your organisation and externally.

Fostering positive workplace culture: seek.com.au set the bar for me on workplace culture back in 2001. With the start-up yet to make a profit, I observed, with interest, how employees gave 110% of themselves to bring the vision to life. My #1 strategy for fostering positive workplace culture is to create a similar environment through:

– Setting a vision for the future and bringing it to life for all, everyone needs to be clear on: what’s in it for the me (the individual), what’s in it for the company, what’s in it for our customers

– Helping others understand how their role contributes to the vision which provides purpose. A way of embedding this is building shared Key Results Areas across the business unit.

– Lead by example – it is very important that I love what I do and align my behaviours to the culture which includes being transparent, highly engaged, collaborative, curious, creative

Nicole McInnes, Chief Marketing Officer at OVO Mobile

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Image by Hipster Mum

Retaining top talent: Retaining anybody is hard in this market, let alone top talent. People need to feel like they are achieving something and making a meaningful contribution at work – that is the single most important thing in keeping employees engaged.

Of course there is a lot that can either contribute or take away from that feeling – like unfair criticism, manipulation, allowing staff to undermine others or turn on each other. But if you focus on enabling your team to contribute you will stay focused as a leader on how to make sure all the right things happen to allow and actually augment your team’s ability to feel like they are making a difference.

Fostering positive workplace culture: Honesty and purpose. Honesty is thrown about and almost a workplace cliche but lack of trust between people is the fastest way to destroy culture and productivity. Teaching your team how to communicate openly, creating an environment where they can be themselves and making sure as a leader you are real is so key to everyone’s engagement and success.

Purpose is the other part – linking what someone does everyday to the purpose of the business gives even the shitty parts of their job meaning. Meaning creates engagement, contentment and satisfaction. Clarity of role is also a part of purpose and stops infighting – friendly fire can be a real issue for companies and it comes from lazy leaders not able to make the tough calls on who does what. It is the responsibility of leaders to clear all unnecessary ambiguity and remove any insecurity that is the root cause of infighting, to create positive collaboration.

Discover workplace insights from all of our #LeadingLadies.

Learn more about attracting and retaining top talent from our Founder Anna O’Dea.