Sanji Moore Of Praytell Shares Her Most Effective HR Strategies with Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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If we could figure out a structure where people could work the hours necessary to do their jobs instead of designated days and times, reshape the idea of work-life balance into life-work balance, or even provide resources past health benefits, we could seriously do a lot of good that would impact a lot of people.

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 Sanji Moore.

Sanji Moore is the Vice President of People & Operations at Praytell, a Brooklyn based creative communications agency. With more than 13 years of experience in public relations and marketing, Sanji has developed a specialized understanding of challenges facing this industry’s workforce. She has a passion to modernize HR, provide long and short term business impact, and curate meaningful workplace experiences. Sanji is SHRM-CP certified and spends her free time with her dog, Pepper.

Thank you so much for doing this! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While working on the account strategy side of communications, I also developed programs focused on building and growing employees. Projects like agency-wide learning programs, management trainings, and company culture events were my favorite part of the day. There was one specific meeting, however, that convinced me that it wasn’t just something that made me happy — it was my next career.

I had the opportunity to manage a rising star in my agency. In one of her performance reviews, I had the pleasure of promoting her and when I said the words, she was so happy she started to cry. When I saw how much it meant to her, how proud she was of herself, and how this was going to change her life in a significant way, I started to cry myself.

Walking out of that meeting, I realized that I’d never cried tears of joy after meeting a client’s sales objective or my team’s KPIs. This was a fulfillment I hadn’t experienced before, and I wanted more.

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

This isn’t a story exactly, but since starting this career, I find my friends and family often reach out to talk about their own workplace situations. They ask questions about what to do, how to handle conflicts and how to navigate the complicated world of benefits. People can be incredibly private about these things and until now, it was never part of our dialogue. It was a great reminder about how alike we are when it comes to our relationship with our jobs, employers, and colleagues. We all go through the same things and ask ourselves the same questions. It’s been a great experience to openly talk about these subjects with the people in my life and be a resource to them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

With massive growth, the makeup of our staff is changing. Fast. Retaining employees long term means addressing their changing lives and different needs. We’re currently auditing the employee lifecycle from job description to retirement, to be sure we’re making adjustments that address these shifts. We’re looking at wellness perks and benefits for our employees entering different stages of their lives. We’re developing diversity and inclusion initiatives that set up our company to create environments that are creative and welcoming.

Our point of view: it’s our responsibility to evolve our programs appropriately as our company grows and our headcount rises, while keeping ourselves rooted in our most important value — do the right thing. So while we develop these programs, the hope is it genuinely helps our staff first and foremost by making their lives healthier, happier, and more balanced.

Fantastic. 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?

Don’t just hire for the position. Job specifics can shift. The people on the team might change. The assignment might evolve. The office might relocate. The best candidate has to be committed to the organization, not just a job description. Ask the candidate their feelings about the company’s vision or to brainstorm some ideas that drive the company’s goals forward.

Look for resumes that tell a story. Instead of a laundry list of jobs and achievements, use resumes as a table of contents for their journey. This can open you up to a lot of nontraditional candidates. You might see candidates who have evolved their career over time and offer unexpected skills, or applicants who have had challenges getting to where they are now. Explore those people to really figure out what they’ve learned and can offer.

Consult people about needs. Consider who the person doing the job would be working with and talk to them about their ideal candidate. Go beyond proficiency and challenge them (and yourself) to think about competencies, soft skills, and perspectives that would deliver the best work in the position.

Don’t simply rely on interviews. Interviews are a great tool to help identify great candidates, but can often be subjective, inconsistent and riddled with unconscious bias. Practice exercises, job previews, and work samples can help fill in the gaps and provide a greater depth of information to consider.

Be realistic about the time you need to hire. HR departments and hiring teams can face a lot of pressure to fill roles quickly, but this can create a sticky situation down the road. Educate people about why it takes so long and think about filling the role with temp help, a contractor or internally before committing to a full time hire instead of rushing through the process.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

Be honest. It’s important to be upfront with potential candidates in employer branding and recruitment efforts. Share what you haven’t figured out yet, the company you want to be and how their talent can help build the path ahead. It’s not about being humble, it’s about being honest.

Find people who are doing cool stuff and tell them it’s cool. There might not be a job to fill at the moment, but if you see someone doing something impressive, tell them. Give them credit for doing something great, and don’t ask for anything in return. These are the people you’ll want to look at first when there is a position open.

Build relationships instead of conducting interviews. Interview people who have nothing to do with your company’s services. Look for engaging people who are curious and have skills you can’t teach. And be open to the skills they can teach you.

Makes a lot of sense. How about the 3 most effective strategies you have used to retain employees. What do those look like?

Recognize staff for accomplishments outside of work — Spotlighting good work on a project or a big win for a team is great, but most companies are missing the opportunity to do the same for achievements outside the office. Doing this shows that the company values their employee’s time after 5 pm. If a staff member runs a marathon, give them the opportunity to write a blog post for the company website about it. If they organize a charity event, give them five minutes in the next meeting to share their experience. Celebrating these non-work activities can help employees find inspiration and energy to bring to the office.

Grow with your employees — Keeping tenured employees just as committed when you’re a company of 130 people as when you were 30 people is a real challenge. As employees enter different stages in their lives, their expectations of their employer change. It’s important for companies to proactively evolve their benefits, culture, and environment as their workforce’s needs and interests change. For example, a company who once went all-in on nap rooms and foosball tables should reassess the value of these perks to their long-time employees who may now be more interested in dependent care, flexible work schedules, and extended leaves.

Don’t take a one size fits all approach — Sounds obvious, but a lot of HR practices rely on equality. The other part of the equation, however, is equity. While it’s important to offer everyone the same tools to manage things like career growth, work/life balance, and wellness, it’s even more important to understand that no two employees have the same needs. In order to attract and retain the best talent, companies need to be willing to allow employees to customize how they use those tools and build what they need for their own goals. Benefits such as unlimited time off, wellness stipends and flexible work locations are great examples of how companies can give employees the whole toolbox.

To provide employees with that whole toolbox — In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends?

Yes. Absolutely. No question about it. Every day, research is coming out giving us more and more insight into important aspects of our employees lives — what motivates them, what they want to accomplish and how they define that accomplishment, generational life challenges, work-life balance needs. It also keeps us informed of our own blind spots. When we see statistics about hiring trends or salary data, we have to thoughtfully look at that information in relation to our own practices and consider what side of the numbers we want to be and where we actually are. Only then can we make the necessary changes to move forward.

A while back there was a study revealing a trend that millennials value experiences over belongings. At the time, we offered a simple reimbursement of a wellness-related purchase. We all loved the simplicity and flexibility of it because it gave employees options and it was administratively easy to execute. After digging into these findings though, we landed with a new understanding — our employees could do more if they had more. With the right tools, wellness could be proactive, thoughtful and have long term positive effects instead of pulses of balance. With this in mind, we developed a refreshed program focused on travel rewards, education, and proactive wellness investments. The idea was to take wellness benefits out of our expense reports and reposition them as a way to make long-lasting life improvements.

Data is extremely important in HR. Without knowing and understanding what the latest trends are, and more importantly, how they affect your employees, where would you even start?

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

If I had to pick one creative way to increase the value employers can provide to employees without a huge monetary investment, I’d say this — create safe places to fail.

This isn’t a program you can research and execute. It doesn’t come with a slideshow or presentation. It’s a cultural shift, one that starts with trust. Employees who feel trusted to do their jobs, build toward the company’s mission and have the support of their leadership are more willing to try new things, take big swings and learn new skills. By creating safe places to fail, employers are essentially also creating safe places to try.

The only way to get there though is for employers to show every day that job security isn’t a sacrifice that needs to be made in favor of taking a chance.

Imagine the possibilities if employees felt more comfortable to take chances! You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’d love to see a universal and collective commitment to shift from “How do we make people happy at work?” to “How do we make people happy to work”.

If we could figure out a structure where people could work the hours necessary to do their jobs instead of designated days and times, reshape the idea of work-life balance into life-work balance, or even provide resources past health benefits, we could seriously do a lot of good that would impact a lot of people.

It might never happen and it might never be possible, but I hope by starting with a shift in perspective, we can create a system that emphasizes happiness more than achievements.

Perspective is so important. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Everyone running the race finishes at different times.” My dad told me that many years ago and it’s been a constant reminder that focusing on completing what I set out to do is the only thing that will help me get to my goal. When turn to look at the people around me and compare myself to them, I’m also turning away from what’s in front of me.

As someone who changed careers after working for 10 years, that was an important quote to keep in mind. I always think about it when I’m thinking about trying something new or challenging myself to do something different and it always brings me back to a place of focus and self-love.

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

Laszlo Bock. I’d be really interested in hearing how he was able to draw this very bold line between analytics and people operations. He had a huge hand in moving the HR industry from a consultative service to a business partner, but still tapped into a lot of the things that just make employees happy. It seems like an impossible balance that’s worth hearing about over a sandwich!

Thank you for sharing your valuable insights with us today!

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