How to Maintain Talent in a Challenging Economy

08/01/23 | 6 MIN READ

As investors become more conservative, it is essential to employ a lean and mean team with a sound human resources strategy. This article highlights how your company can improve culture, cross training, retention, and succession planning in order to operate at maximum efficiency. 

Creating a Company Culture

Building a positive company culture is one of the most important factors in maintaining talent. In order to do this, there are four main things to keep in mind:

  1. Establish clear values
  2. Foster collaboration and communication
  3. Create an inclusive work environment
  4. Communicate clear goals and rewards

Although it is listed as #4 on this list, communication plays an important role in executing all 4 points of strategy. Your values and expectations should be constantly discussed with employees so that they feel a part of the company’s long term goals. Sharing your expectations and goals with employees also solidifies your commitment to those goals, as it is now shared by the whole company, not just the executives. Employees should feel involved and personally responsible for the goals, morals, values, and rewards of the company. Being open and honest with employees is vital to creating a positive feeling in the workplace.

Creating a Company Culture

Aside from communication, creating an inclusive work environment is also essential for a business’s health. A positive and safe work environment is one where all employees feel valued. All employees should have equal opportunity for advancement as well as equal access to perks and rewards. A way to foster this is having a transparent policy for promotions and other progressions. This also gives staff a clear way to measure their performance.

A positive culture creates pride in ownership. A proud employee is more likely to invest in their future, in their team members, and in the organization as a whole. 


Culture by Design

In order to build a workplace culture you are proud of, there needs to be a thought process and design element before implementation. There are 3 key steps to designing an intentional company culture:

  1. Identify your values
  2. Involve your employees
  3. Live and utilize values to guide decisions and actions

The first step is to identify your values as an organization. One of the biggest mistakes owners and managers make is not taking the time to figure out and define their company values. It is important to know what matters to you because it helps you give you and your team a clear direction and an understanding of what the work they do stands for. 

While it is important to decide your personal values as a manager or owner, it is just as important to get honest input from your employees on their views of the company’s values as well. After receiving the responses, you can evaluate where and how to implement the values the company (and its employees) prioritize. 

Oftentimes, different departments within the same company could have different core values. This is completely normal and expected. While it might be a challenge, weaving in the different departments’ core values into the overall company’s message will allow each department to genuinely buy into the message.

Once everyone is aligned you can start to use those values to guide business decisions and actions. This new tool can help you in daily decision making, such as who to hire, who to fire, and deciding partners you want to work with. It will also help you maintain the culture you work so hard to build, as it is a people centric and stable tool for your company. 

🔬Learn more: Why Mission Statements and Company Values are Essential for any Startup


Foundation for Human Capital Best Practices

Human capital is the economic value of a worker's skills and experience. One of the simplest ways to maintain healthy human capital at your workplace is to implement the following best practices:

  1. Attract quality people
  2. Retain good employees
  3. Maintain your workforce by taking care of employees
  4. Develop your employees by investing in their success
  5. Reward successes

The first step, attracting quality people, is the most difficult to achieve before you have a preexisting company culture. One way to screen for candidates that fit your company's values is to ask them questions in the interview process that could reveal their values and priorities. Their answers can help you determine whether or not they would be a good fit.

🔬Read more about: Hiring Best Practices in the Life Sciences

Maintaining your workforce by taking care of employees is more than just creating an inclusive culture. Some employees will prioritize culture, but they also care about advancement opportunities, benefits, compensation, and many more issues. Evaluating the strength of your company's benefits and other perks might help you spot holes where you can improve.

Investing in your employee's success is another great way to maintain great human capital. There are many ways to do this, but the most common is creating additional opportunities for employee training. You can also invest in your employee's lives by offering benefits such as childcare or stipends for personal wellness spending.

An important thing to remember is that all five of these steps should be seen as a cycle. For example if you reward successes for existing employees that will in turn attract outside talent.


Cross Training and Development

Cross training at a startup with limited full time employees is a challenge, but not impossible. Before physical cross training can start, the company needs to decide what its goals are. Is it receiving an SBIR grant? Is it generating revenue? Is it going from Series A to Series B? Deciding on a company goal (or goals) lets employees have a real target for their work.

Cross Training and Development

Each employee needs to understand what their individual part is in completing these goals. Continue to talk about them, as well as talk with employees about how they see their individual and company progress toward these goals. This is also a time to ask employees about what they believe they could contribute to the goal beyond their traditional job description. 



Retaining employees is often harder at startups than at more traditional workplaces. The median job tenure for startup employees is just 2 years according to Carta. Some of the top reasons for lack of retention are:

1. Culture by default, not design

As mentioned previously in this article, intentionally shaping the culture of your company is paramount to the reception and success of your company culture. You should not let culture happen to you, but instead happen because of you and your company’s values. 

2. Poor understanding of job expectations

While this might seem like an obvious problem, many times employees truly do not know the full extent of their job expectations. Again, being clear and commutative with employees is the best way to solve this problem. Having an open dialogue and encouraging questions will allow you to avoid a lack of understanding from employees on what exactly they should be doing at work.

3. Lack of long term investment in people

When there is no long term investment in employees, it creates gaps between their original roles and what role the growing company needs them to take on in the future. Investing in your people allows you to align their skills and maintain your most essential employees as you grow. 

4. Lack of standardization and processes

While it might take time upfront, establishing clear routines and standardization for employees saves you time in the long run. It makes it clear what you expect in certain situations and it makes it easier for employees to execute common tasks. 

5. Hiring employees for the wrong role

One of the easiest ways to fix this problem is to utilize behavioral interview questions that communicate the personality and behavior of candidates. You can then use their answers to ensure that person is right for the job you need them to do. 

6. Outdated performance management practices

As times change, so should leadership within startups and traditional companies alike. Leaders need to set the tone at the top for their employees, so that employees see their values in action. Performance management including reviews, check ins, etc should be a way of life, not just a quarterly necessity. 


Succession Planning

While succession planning might sound like a family run business shifting to the second generation, in reality there are many different ways that a company can succeed. A few examples might be: selling to a co-owner, training and handing the reins to an existing employee, selling your business to an outside party, or selling your shares back to the company. While it might sound like something to worry about in the late stages of your company’s life cycle, succession planning should be part of decision making from the very start.The relationship between talent and risk at different stages in a company’s life cycle.

Check out the chart above to see the relationship between talent and risk at different stages in a company’s life cycle. Essentially succession planning helps you evaluate the question: What’s the goal?


Key Takeaways

Maintaining talent requires more than just paying your employees well. It involves intentionally creating a culture that employees want to be a part of. Creating this culture is hard work, but starts with simple tasks such as creating a company values list, and constantly communicating with your employees.


Other Helpful Articles

This information comes from a talk with Monica Alfisi, Certified Business Performance Advisor at Insperity and MJ Davis, Performance Specialist at Insperity, in partnership with University Lab Partners.

📽️Click here to watch the full webinar.

Monica is a business professional and strategist with over 20 years of experience and expertise in small business management, business-to-business marketing and outside sales.

MJ has extensive leadership experience in Sales & Marketing/Advertising, Education, Publishing and Field Leadership.

Be sure to subscribe to the ULP Youtube Channel to never miss another webinar, and connect with us on LinkedIn to stay in the loop!


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