Attracting Top Creative Talent Through Culture

Companies need talented, creative people to compete. And more than ever, companies need the right culture, mission, and meaningful work to attract and retain that talent.

On Tuesday June 21, local business leaders met at the North Carolina Museum of History for a panel titled, “The Great Talent Search: Creating a Culture to Attract the Creative Class.” The event was presented by the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Wake County Economic Development and EDGE4. It featured local companies that value people as their most important investment and reflect that in their cultures.

The Triangle is among the most vibrant areas of the country. The area consistently ranks among the best places to live and work and has also been one of the fastest-growing regions in the last decade. In fact, the Triangle Business Journal reported on a new study that ranked Raleigh as the no. 4 city in the country for young adults to start their careers.

So how can we ensure our area continues to be a magnet for smart talent? How can local companies attract the talent they need? And how can they use their cultures to attract creative people and inspire growth? These are the questions the panel set out to answer.

The panel was moderated by our own David Burney, CEO and partner of New Kind. He talked about the role that culture and creativity play in attracting talent and driving innovation. Yet today’s mobile, meaning-driven workforce and our ability to openly share information create an environment we didn’t have a generation ago.

“Today’s creatives, and that’s all of us—if you’re human, you’re creative—we have options. The smart, talented creatives can go somewhere else if they’re not happy,” he said. “You need the creatives to innovate.”

Burney introduced the panelists: Zach Clayton, founder and CEO ofThree Ships Media, Heather Hesketh, CEO of hesketh.com, and David Morken, co-founder and CEO of Bandwidth.com. “Their cultures have proven that they understand the difference in how one recruits, hires, retains, and trains creative talent,” Burney said.

Bandwidth.com has achieved recognition both for rapid growth and as a great place to work. While for many people these concepts may seem at odds, they aren’t for Morken. He talked about their focus on health, family, and play in addition to focusing on growing their business. In fact, Bandwidth.com made play a key part of their culture. Exercising during the day, going on ski trips—being competitive against each other at play while they competed as a company. “It isn’t just about work,” he said. “It’s about life.”

Culture also plays a key role in the growth of Three Ships Media. Clayton talked about the discussions they’ve had as an organization concerning their values and how each person on the team shapes their culture.

His goal was to “create the type of environment that extreme talent is looking for.” Those people who have a lot of drive, are achievement-oriented, and are approaching their jobs as entrepreneurs. Three Ships Media’s culture is driven by Clayton’s understanding that “A-players want to be with other A-players.”

Another important element of the culture at Three Ships Media is failing fast and failing often. Which is also one of the core principles of the open source model. For Clayton, growing as a startup has meant “doing one bad thing less each day.” As a result, embracing failure and self-learning became an important part of their culture.

Openness, transparency, and collaboration—which are also key open source principles—have played an important role in the culture of hesketh.com. Hesketh shared the story of redesigning their decade-old 360 review process, which was created by management and solely measured their expectations. She decided to open up the conversation. As a team they reviewed the entire process and every question.

“It was wonderful to get input from the office managers, consultants, programmers. Everyone agreed on a shared language and what they expected of each other and the leaders,” she said. “It was amazing to see a cultural turnaround. I have leadership throughout my team now.”

She agreed that creativity is not limited to creative functions and everyone can lead and contribute. “Creativity is any time the human brain is engaged in solving a problem,” she said. “Acknowledging that is what has allowed us to create more value.”

Clayton adds: “The reason I started Three Ships was because I was convinced that the nature of the way people communicate is changing. That two-way, interactive, real-time communication that’s occurring on social networks and in a more open web, it’s actually going to change the way every single organization functions. The old hierarchical command and control structure just won’t make sense in a world where everyone has access to information and in a company where you’re trying to hire the best people and are going to be creative and free-thinking and articulate.”

Which begged the question from Burney—how does focusing on empowerment and doing meaningful work translate into being more competitive? How do we get over the fear we’ve been taught to operate as a machine? After all, companies that are focusing on being the most efficient and productive don’t have values like play and fun.

“The people I hire, what they do for a living is fun to them.” Hesketh said. “A term I hate is life-work balance because it assumes when you’re at work you’re not living.”

“How can you keep great people if you don’t do this?” Clayton responded. “Ultimately you cannot have a healthy organization. You cannot focus on real innovation. You can’t get great people—and you can’t get great performance from people—if you treat them like a machine.”

We hear common themes:

Creating an open, transparent environment.
Empowering people across the organization.
Inspiring creativity from every role.
Giving work meaning.

And I would agree they are critical to not only growing organizations around great talent, but also in establishing an area that can attract the best talent to work and live.


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