Hiring in 2022: Attracting and Retaining the Future Workforce

Written by Claire Davis and Christine Edmonds | February 8, 2022

Key tactics and strategies for recruiting, HR, and people leaders

Over the last few months, ICONIQ Growth has been proud to partner with BambooHRGem, and Pave to explore recent trends across employee retention, hiring, and compensation. This joint research effort culminated in the first chapter of a series on The Future of Work, which details how these trends have unfolded in the tech industry over the last two years, and how companies and people leaders are adapting to this change.

As part of this research, we surveyed Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) and Heads of People at technology companies. People leaders participating in our study unanimously highlighted ongoing challenges with employee retention as well as increased competition in recruiting over the last few months. And in response to these shifting dynamics, most people leaders reported that their companies were innovating on recruiting processes, incentive programs, and workplace policy to stay competitive in the talent market.¹

To follow-up with these findings ICONIQ Growth participated in a webinar with Cassie Whitlock, Director of Human Resources at BambooHR, and Heather Dunn, Chief People Officer at Gem, to discuss how their teams are thinking about attracting and retaining talent in 2022 and beyond.

Below are the five key strategies and tactics that emerged from our insightful conversation on this topic with Heather and Cassie, coupled with several data-driven findings from our Future of Work study. For additional insights, you can watch the full webinar on-demand here.

1. Rethink your professional development programs, and regularly discuss career progression and performance with employees.

The importance of professional development to employees is hard to overstate and only likely to grow. In the last two years, 78% of tech employees that contributed to the “Great Resignation” cited lack of professional development as a key contributor to their resignation decision. It was the second most cited reason behind job satisfaction (83%).² For employees who stayed at their job during the same period, professional development was cited as the most relevant reason for staying, with 97% of employees reporting it as relevant and 52% of employees reporting it as their primary reason.²

Heather shared how she’s seen this priority showing up more and more in recruiting conversations with candidates: “There are definitely some things shifting in the conversation and types of questions candidates are interested in…I’m seeing a ton of questions around ‘what does career progression look like? What does internal advancement historically look like? Are there actual programs in place?”

The speakers agreed professional development was a key focus area for upcoming people initiatives, and both foresee challenges ahead related to effective and equitable development programs as hybrid and remote workforces become more ubiquitous.

Some of the key tactics discussed included sharing transparent information with employees on career paths, regularly checking in regarding performance and career progression, and providing tangible learning and development opportunities. In addition to these, Cassie and Heather had great ideas for how companies can further build out their professional development programs:

Heather brought up “stretch programs” as a great way to provide more career progression options. In essence, stretch programs provide employees the option and flexibility to horizontally transfer from one role to another. Heather shared that she’s “piloting some programs where employees can trial a new team for a certain period of time, have a regular [performance] evaluation,” and then transfer into that team should the trial be successful.

Cassie agreed about the importance of providing cross-departmental career paths. She said she’s also been thinking about molding and expanding roles to cater to the specific strengths of an employee. Cassie recognizes many employees are often thinking about “what’s next” in their career by looking at different roles, teams or companies. However, perhaps more emphasis should be placed on the opportunities that exist in an employee’s current role, she said, such that the role can be shaped around that person to better cater to their strengths and career goals.

Apart from formal performance reviews — ideally twice a year — try implementing more regular, informal performance check-ins to provide employee feedback. BambooHR research showed 61% of employees prefer to receive feedback in real-time as projects are completed via informal meetings with their manager rather than during annual performance reviews.³ Gallup research also demonstrates that weekly feedback has myriad employee benefits, including increased engagement and motivation.⁴

2. Redesign your recruiting process to be honest and personalized, and implement new talent acquisition strategies.

All of the tech CHROs we surveyed reported recently observing increased competition in recruiting and hiring. The CHROs noted that now, candidates often have other active offers in-hand (100% of respondents agreed), and require higher salaries or expanded benefits (89% agreed) along with additional work flexibility (61% agreed).¹

Cassie remarked, “This has been one of the most interesting labor markets that I’ve ever been a part of, and there are so many external influences that are infusing pressure into [these trends]…The reality is there are just opportunities out there, and there’s been a shift in what matters most [to people]”.

At Gem, Heather tries to make the candidate experience highly personalized, which could take many different forms such as wishing candidates luck with other interviews, sending company-branded swag, or creating tribute videos in which executives and team members welcome each candidate that receives an offer.

During our conversation, one HR professional noted that implementing a personalized candidate experience may mean reducing the total number of applications or open roles a given recruiter is responsible for at one time. The employee should feel like this is a candidate-oriented experience, rather than an automated process.

Cassie agreed, and emphasized the importance of applying a mission, vision, values framework to recruiting: “Do you have a vision behind your recruiting experience and what you want it to feel like, both from a candidate perspective, manager perspective, and even a recruiter perspective?…For example, one of our company values is to be open…for us, that turns into authenticity in our recruiting function. It’s important to us that what we sell is what we actually experience on a day to day basis. We don’t want to miss-sell somebody on what the role is going to be or on what it feels like to work in that team.”

Heather shared that it can work well to offer job trials, where a candidate can come on contract for a short period of time and be able to “virtually sit with the engineering team and learn about what their process looks like, what the team culture looks like, and then be able to make an actual decision after a real life experience with the team.”

Finally, both speakers recommended implementing boomerang or “bounce-back” talent acquisition programs. The idea is to get managers and executives to keep in touch with top-performing employees that have left your company in order to keep the doors open for their return if and when they may choose to do so.

3. When it comes to compensation, the more transparency, the better.

In the last two years, 75% of tech employees that took part in the “Great Resignation” cited compensation as relevant to their decision to leave their current roles. Compensation was the third most cited reason behind job satisfaction and professional development.² At the same time, 94% of the tech HR leaders we surveyed reported they had increased compensation for employees in order to stay competitive in the current environment.¹

Heather acknowledged that “there’s a lot of money in the market right now, which means a ton of open jobs.” She said she’s “starting to see some interesting compensation trends, even from a geo-pay perspective, that make it difficult to compete if you’re not able to flex.”

Heather recommended being very transparent with employees about your compensation and incentive methodology: “What we found at both Gem and a previous company I was working at is that actually laying out a ‘compensation 101’ for the company on how we build bands, who we benchmark against, and actually arming our managers with the ability to say ‘here’s your position in band’ — has been a really powerful practice that I think builds a lot of trust within the organization.”

Cassie echoed the importance of enabling managers to effectively communicate about compensation to their employees, and to provide clarity on how exactly employees can reach their compensation goals: “Talented managers know how to communicate well with [employees] to say, ‘Here’s where you’re at, here’s your opportunity, here’s what you can be working on’. And then you partner with [your employee] to help them achieve their compensation goals.”

4. Employees expect real results from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts.

At the beginning of our conversation, Cassie made the observation that “as a society, we’re evolving. And so I think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…we are in that triangle, and we are traveling upwards. And it really is a social thing, it applies to everyone in the workforce…I think everyone is more aware and cares about equity in the workplace.”

When asked about recent trends in recruiting, Heather shared that candidates are putting “quite a bit of emphasis in understanding what our DE&I programs are… not only what we are doing as a company, but what does representation actually look like? I think there is a higher bar and more questions for employers [regarding DE&I]…not just saying that you care about diversity, but that there’s actual action and representation happening at all levels of the organization.”

The myriad benefits of fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment in an organization have been demonstrated across countless sources, and good progress has been made in aggregate over the past few decades. However, collectively, we still have a long way to go. For example, research has showed a strong gender wage gap persisting in 2021: For the same job at the same company, males were offered a higher salary than females 59% of the time, with 2.5% more salary offered on average — with a larger gender pay gap across more technical roles.⁵

As Cassie so eloquently put it, as society travels higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid, tangible results in DE&I initiatives will only become more important to the workforce.

Both speakers recommended running regular equity reviews — ideally by a third-party consultant — to ensure people are being compensated fairly (across salary, equity, and benefits) at all levels of your organization.

In addition, we recommend taking measures to remove bias at all steps of your recruiting process. Some tactics include implementing blind resume review to ensure equal and objective evaluation, using inclusive language in job descriptions, and collecting feedback via candidate experience surveys.

5. Communication is key

Throughout the conversation, communication repeatedly surfaced as a key requirement to enable all the strategies and tactics we discussed. In other words, the perfect professional development program or recruiting process is only as effective as how it is communicated to, and understood by, employees and candidates. Christine Edmonds summarized the theme well: “During transient periods like this, there is so much iteration, and a huge part of [success] is just the communication and communal problem solving that goes along with it.”

On the topic of communication, we discussed the example of clearly communicating your company’s mission. Our research shows employers underestimate the importance of company mission to employee retention¹, and other research shows mission-driven companies have 40% higher employee retention compared to non-mission-driven competitors, among other positive business outcomes⁶.

Cassie remarked that proper communication of a company’s mission is critical, and can even help employees set their own expectations for things like work schedule and location. For example, on the topic of four-day work-weeks, Cassie shares “we’re here to set people free to do great work, and if we’re not here to support [our customers] one day a week, we’re not accomplishing our mission. If we get better at telling our mission story inside our organizations, people will find their own flexibility in the right ways.”

Heather shares Brené Brown’s quote, “clarity is kindness,” and reiterated that “the pandemic has certainly pushed us as people leaders to make sure that clarity is there, even if it’s just saying we don’t know the answer quite yet.”

Check out our full Future of Work series introduction for additional information on these trends and how companies are adapting. And stay tuned for future chapters addressing topics such as employee engagement, performance management, and the future of employer benefits.

Footnotes & Disclosures

[1] ICONIQ Growth proprietary survey of HR and People leaders at tech companies. [2] ICONIQ Growth proprietary survey of employees at tech companies. [3] BambooHR: Best Principles for Performance Management. [4] Gallup Workplace: Re-Engineering Performance Management. [5] Hired: 2021 Impact Report: Wage Inequality in the Workplace. [6] Deloitte Insights: Purpose is Everything.