A Personal Trainer once told me, ‘You can’t out exercise a bad diet’. He was right, despite my best attempts to prove otherwise at times. A similar truth is that you cannot out-perk, or out pay, a terrible working culture. I am the best qualified person in the world to know this. A bold statement for sure but let me explain. I’ve been a headhunter, or leading headhunting teams for nearly 30 years. As headhunters we reach out to hundreds of people each week, dozens of them we speak to, each week. We approach them with exciting job opportunities. They tell us why they are keen to hear more, or why they have no interest, being happy as pigs in muck where they are. Thousands of conversations personally over the years, and thousands more through my teams.

We know what good culture looks like, and we know what sucks. We know what candidates want, and what they don’t. We know why they move, and we know why they stay.

No one ever stayed in a job for the beanbags or free beer/coffee/juice (choose your perk).

I’ll not talk too much about pay, or bonus, that may be a blog for another day, but you also can’t pay your way out of a sh*t culture. Unless you really, really break the bank.

If you want a great book about the efficiency of money/perks as a motivator I’d recommend reading ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: Pink, Daniel H.: 9781594484803: Amazon.com: Books)

Do perks matter? Yes, they are a good component in attracting and retaining talent. So is a good salary, but they are table stakes. They get you a seat at the table, but no more, certainly not where retention is concerned. They may help you make a hire, but not necessarily keep them, and losing talent is an expensive business.

Keith Cunningham, in ‘The Road Less Stupid’ says ‘Culture is about accountability, measuring, a bias for urgency, calling it tight-saying what needs to be said- being kind and generous, acknowledging one another, and expressing appreciation’.

High performing cultures are something that I’m hugely passionate about and could go on for hours. Sometimes I’m forced to condense ideas into five minutes, as I was at EcoSummit a few years ago. I talked about what makes top talent stay at an organization. Culture, Purpose, Impact, Challenge, Autonomy and Reward (not just money and perks). You can watch more here https://youtu.be/Fr1wFZ6_hgs?si=VnKHnKlECAEuQ7Nw

If you want to hire and retain A-Players, don’t waste your money or time on beanbags, jelly beans, duvet days or any other ‘perks’, UNLESS you already compensate generously, onboard effectively, measure consistently and coach continuously, provide a sense of purpose, challenge, autonomy/flexibility and create a genuine high performing environment. Being open, clear and transparent in your vision, and your instructions and communications is fundamental too.

A-Player’s hate working with mediocre colleagues. You’ll find the ones you want to go stay, and the ones you want to stay go. Top-grading is a topic for another day.

Getting culture right isn’t always easy. Changing culture in a company can be hugely challenging and disruptive. There will be casualties. But the alternative is mediocrity, under performance, a sh*t culture, and a world of pain.

Better the pain of growth, than the pain of regret.

It may sound obvious, but the performance of a high-performing teams is a magnitude greater than an average team. Great culture and great teams are a virtuous circle, great cultures attract and retain great people, great people create and perpetuate great cultures. (of course, the same, in the negative, is true of sh*t cultures).

I’m driven by the idea that placing great people into great cleantech businesses is the way I (and my team) can change the world for the better. Some companies I see could be great, they’re so close, but their leadership don’t know how to create or maintain a great culture, and they fail, or fall into mediocrity, and that is sad for the founders, investors and employees. But if they could have helped made the world a better place, then it’s tragic for us all.

If you want to discuss productive cultures, hiring and retaining A-Players, talent growth strategies, or any other hiring for critical hires issues, I’m happy to grab a coffee and talk.