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How To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent with Marissa Letendre & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

Independent Consultant Human Resource Hiring Strategies

There is a war for talent and to win it, you have to stay one step ahead and promote a progressive culture that promotes transparency, growth, recognition, positive leadership, and effective and authentic communication.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Marissa Letendre.

Marissa Letendre is a senior leader in HR with over 12 years of experience. The majority of her career has been spent in consulting, helping startups, small, and mid-sized companies recruit, engage, and retain talent and create a workplace that works for everyone.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working in a call center and noticed a number of issues — the biggest being retention. They would onboard groups of 10 and only 1 would stay, if they were lucky. People weren’t performing well and the onboarding definitely contributed to that. I asked my manager if I could work to fix it. He was concerned about my lack of experience in HR (none), but I had management experience, a mentor, and a huge commitment to figuring it out. He let me — and as I like to say, I fell into HR and fell in love with it. That was over 12 years ago and I haven’t looked back (and yes, the problems were successfully fixed J).

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?

It’s hard to pick one without exposing confidential information, but overall, I’d have to say it’s interesting that when I go into a company for the first time, people are terrified of HR. When I leave, they see HR completely differently. I would love to see this be the way HR works all-around — balancing the intersection of business and people. Employees are so used to HR “advocating for leaders” and leaving them behind — and it has some validity to it. The world is changing and HR has to change with it — and I’ve committed to being a part of that change.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

1. It’s really important to understand the requirements of the position and what you’re truly looking for. It’s easy to say we know what we want, but can we afford what we want — or are we putting unrealistic expectations out there that will only increase time to hire and waste your time and the candidate’s time.

2. Be proactive. Don’t just start preparing when you need to hire someone — start preparing before. Leverage data — look at your turnover trends and anticipate what you may need so you can be prepared. Have a workforce plan in place.

3. Build a talent network and promote it. When prospective candidates go to your website and don’t see a job that is a fit, they’re going to leave — possibly never to return. Create a talent network where they can submit their information so when a position that they may be a fit for comes up, you can reach out (and it’ll be candidates that are already likely interested in working for your company).

4. Make the hiring process human. Have genuine conversations with candidates and make it an open dialogue as interviewing is a two-way street. When candidates feel comfortable, they’re more likely to open up and this will also help you better gauge their behavior, if they’re a culture fit, and if they’re a great fit for the role.

5. Leverage assessments such as the Predictive Index or other similar tools. This helps you better predict behaviors and alignment. Create job profiles by having your top performers in a role (or a similar role) take the assessment and allow that to help guide you in the process. It shouldn’t make your decision for you, but it should be a guide in the process and it will provide you with great tools to help you evaluate candidates.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

The first would be to hold networking events for your company. Make sure your brand has a presence online. Create a hashtag. Coordinate and promote networking events for your company and have some internal advocates for your team show up and meet with prospects. Get to know them and what they’re looking for. Even if it’s not something you need now, it may be in the future — and don’t forget to ask who they know that may be a fit for what you’re looking for! This not only helps you attract and engage talent, but helps increase awareness of your brand.

The second way would be to get on LinkedIn and start sourcing for passive candidates. Make sure you really know what you’re looking for so you can target your search and reach out to the right candidates. Work to build a relationship in your message — target it towards their background and why you think they’d be a good fit (short and sweet). Ask for a call.

Finally, leverage your existing talent to identify new talent. Create a referral program for your employees. This can bring some of your best talent. Your employees likely know people that would be a great fit, but create an incentive and make sure they’re aware of it!

What are the 3 most effective strategies you use to retain employees?

The first would definitely be communicating. Many employees don’t trust their leaders and that’s because they don’t have a positive relationship — which is hurting the business and the employees. It’s often said that employees don’t leave companies, they leave their leaders. Sit down and have open, honest, and yes, sometimes uncomfortable conversations. Understand their challenges and take them seriously. Be empathetic — empathy is becoming a non-negotiable leadership trait. If the concerns are valid (introspection is critical), take action. They want to make an impact and if their voice isn’t heard, they’ll go somewhere where it is.

The second would be creating an awesome experience from the beginning (and that starts with the job posting). Attract amazing candidates, give them a great candidate experience, and have a solid onboarding process that will set them up to be successful at your company. The impression of your company starts at the beginning — and you only get one first impression. Make it count!

The third way would be investing in and trusting your employees. This doesn’t have to be expensive, but create training programs to encourage their growth (and help them grow at your company). Be flexible with work hours and location. Create a recognition program to reward them for great performance — and make it fun. Gamification can be used in recognition to make your employees want to go above and beyond.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? If so, please share an example of what this might look like.

Absolutely. The world is changing and business is as well. Change is happening at a rapid pace and in order to stay one step ahead, HR has to change. Historically, employees have distrusted HR. With 5 generations in the workforce (for the first time ever) and with younger generations demanding better, it is critical to ensure companies and leaders (including HR) are operating with empathy, driving initiatives that recognize and reward employees, and advocate for employees. When your employees are happy, they will generally do more for the business — which will also benefit shareholders and customers. There is a war for talent and to win it, you have to stay one step ahead and promote a progressive culture that promotes transparency, growth, recognition, positive leadership, and effective and authentic communication.

What are some creative ways to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

I may sound like a broken record but talk to them. Conduct stay interviews and identify what’s keeping them there and what they’d change if they could. You’ll often find that many of the responses are similar and the fix isn’t costly. Sometimes it’s management — and that can be fixed through coaching, development, or managing them out. Sometimes it’s the workload and you have to take a hard look at what you’re expecting of people and if it’s healthy. Sometimes it’s process improvements that would help the company save/make money. Regardless, by fixing the valid complaints, you will see a positive return on your investment. Happy employees who feel their voice is heard is critical to retention and boosts performance. There are plenty of surveys out there about what employees want, but nothing is better than hearing what employees want directly from the people that actually work for you. This will enable you to make investments in the right areas.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Creating a movement to build more empathetic and authentic cultures on a large scale would impact a great amount of people and it’s something I’m incredibly passionate about.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?

My father, Paul Letendre, has always instilled his three rules in me. There are always days where something goes wrong — it’s part of life, but it doesn’t have to make your whole day bad. He’s taught me to respond, not react and be passionate about what you do.

1. Get better at doing what we do every day — Constant and consistent improvements lead to constant and consistent improvements. When we do this, at least we feel better about doing what we do.

2. Do the right thing — When we do the right thing we can feel pretty good about what we are doing.

3. Enjoy doing what we do — We spend way too much time in our careers not to enjoy them. Sure there will be bad moments, but why have bad days? If it’s not fun, we aren’t doing it right.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

Definitely Elon Musk. He has such a brilliant mind and as someone who is always staying one step ahead, I’d love to pick his brain!

Great choice! Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!

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