Season 1: Finding and keeping great people

Khalilah Olokunola Chief People Officer at TRU Colors

Harmony and happiness live at the heart of great teams

Bringing great people in is one thing. But how do you keep them over the long term? How do you make them feel their future is with you?

In many ways, the company values that attracted someone to you in the first place—equality, kindness, generosity, for example—are what will make them want to stay. So ensure those values are being maintained and upheld, each and every day.

Let’s be honest, if their relationship with the company turns out to be purely transactional—“This is what we expect from you; this is what you get paid in return”—you can’t expect them to stick around. The truth is, the most talented people seek companies with a strong culture and people-focused values. A place where they, as individuals, feel supported and valued. If it becomes clear they’re not, they’ll soon be on their way.

Build the systems for success

So, how do you do that? Well, small gestures go a long way. Saying thank you; recognizing people’s talent and tenacity, and acknowledging the time they put in each day, is vital. But goodwill and positive intentions alone are not enough. You need to implement a more strategic approach. Offer personal and professional development programmes, and team-building activities. If a member of your team is sociable, and a natural leader, why not give them the opportunity to curate a calendar of in-house events? It’ll help them feel recognized and empowered, and everybody benefits.

Actions speak louder than words. Initiatives like this show you mean business and that you care about your team’s personal and professional growth.

Plan for the journey

Consider the needs of the individual when it comes to how you approach onboarding, your commitment to appraisals, and team activities. Think about what the trajectory of a happy and committed employee looks like. What might they need from you to make that happen? Use these ideas and insights as the premise of your planning, and build programmes and processes around them.

I’m chief people officer at TRU Colors, a people-focused, for-profit start-up based in Wilmington, North Carolina, with a social mission to unite gang rivals and foster community. During our extensive onboarding programme, we provide training; we give people time to conduct further research into what they’ve learnt; we give them an opportunity to present their findings, before reinforcing their learnings with a “beyond the block” experience. This is when we put them in a different department to see if they can apply what they’ve learnt. It gives them a sense of ownership, it builds confidence, and brings new people together.

Investing in people pays off

Remember, it costs more to hire people than it does to keep them. So, let them know they count; it’s an investment. Show them that you care. And this goes beyond their “job.” It’s also how you deal with personal situations that arise. It could be that someone is struggling with a disability or health issue and needs some time off, or a team member’s family needs emergency support. How you respond in these moments will go a long way to keeping hold of your best people. If your policies are rooted in kindness and compassion, your actions will be remembered. So be there for them.