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Show and Tell: How do you attract and retain top talent?

As part of the New Zealand Innovation Council’s new video series, Innovation Heroes - Show and Tell, which will focus on eight specific elements required to achieve successful business growth, some of Aotearoa’s best-known innovators share their stories of innovation and inspiration. This time we hear from Dale Clareburt from Weirdly, Toni Moyes from 8i and Steve Henry from AUT/Kode Biotech.

It’s been said an organisation is only as good as the people in it. But it’s also a bit of a Catch-22: how do you attract the very best talent to have the very best organisation? And how do you keep them involved in your organisation?

AUT professor and Kode Biotech CEO Stephen Henry says finding the right talent is one of the most important things for any business. “The best way to find the right talent is know who that person is, preferably by interacting with them for a long time before employing them. If you are unable to do this then I like a very informal interview process where prospective employees also meet my team (without the CEO present), and only if the team feels the person is a fit with our culture if we hire them. Trust in the ‘feeling’ you get within the first few minutes.”

Weirdly’s Dale Clareburt has a similar approach. “As a startup, we’re often looking for people with a really specific combo of skills and attributes to complement our team. Our hiring decisions also have to be made really quickly so we’re pretty much always ‘on’ when it comes to sourcing talent.

But attracting talent isn’t enough – you also have to keep and retain that talent. Toni Moyes, COO of technology company 8i, says it’s always a challenge. “A big challenge that your team faces when you’re in a fast-growing startup is keeping the culture vibrant and evolving. We went from a handful of people in a room to a 75-person, multi-national organisation really fast. And it actually takes a lot of effort to keep that culture cohesive and healthy as you go through that journey.” Knowing and living your purpose must play a key role in this.

Clareburt adds: “We put a huge emphasis on hiring the right people in the first place – hence the emphasis on making sure someone’s a good fit with our values and purpose, as well as having the right skills. We’ve found those people are more inclined to stick around longer. The tricky bit, is that in an early stage startup, the talent you need today isn’t necessarily the same talent you need tomorrow. We’re big fans of the idea that people will grow in and out of the roles you have available, it may mean they move on to other opportunities but if we’ve nurtured those relationships well and the purpose-fit was good to begin with, they’ll often find ways to come back."

Henry also is in agreement. “If you recruit an individual compatible with your organisation’s culture then retaining them is not so difficult, as they will want to be part of the organisation. As a company we appreciate that community and life outside of work are important, and if we think about each other’s needs with care, honesty, and respect, then together we will advance each other’s interests.

Henry highlights the importance of skills. “We think of skills as specific to the role – stuff like being experienced with machine learning systems or specific coding languages,” he says. “That’s obviously important, but for us it’s not as crucial as a good fit with our values and purpose and having the characteristics you need to complement our teams.”

Weirdly’s Clareburt says it all comes down to people complementing each other. “We are a blend of scientists and business people, each with different skill sets and paradigms on perceived value,” she explains. “Specific skill sets aside the type of person I look for is someone who will fit with our culture, and is passionate about we can do and achieve. I don’t pre-select on the basis of academic qualifications and prefer people with life experiences and a positive attitude. I am more than happy to develop specific skills if the underlying talent is present. There is a lot of unrealised talent out there, particularly in women who have curtailed their careers to become mothers.

“We look for people who are not afraid to fail, yet always strive for success and personal development. Integrity, honesty, and respect are the foundation of everything we do.”

Although these three innovators come from very different backgrounds and have very different businesses, they share many of the same traits. To watch the video, download your FREE booklet and get our Innovation Heroes’ ‘Top Tips’ go to innovationcouncil.org.nz.