11 July 2019

3 Objectives That Must Be Aligned To Retain Top Talent

Mentioning concepts of ‘retaining and attracting talent’ has become almost a religious practice for any sit-down interview with high-performance CEOs: it would be easy to assume that these topics are simply easier to understand, with the real strategies and systems behind the scenes just too out-of-touch for the average viewer.

Satya Nadella put his finger on what had gone wrong at Microsoft: the frustration of a workforce that was losing and was no longer considered cool © AP

Satya Nadella put his finger on what had gone wrong at Microsoft: the frustration of a workforce that was losing and was no longer considered cool © AP

But if any start-up founder assumes that this topic stops at the interview teleprompter – this can be a costly mistake.

Behind closed doors, even CEOs of the largest multinational organisations know that attracting and retaining talent is as much a sport as it is a hard science: large corporations may be world-class in team and project systems – but even the best theoretical principles are useless without being able to attract and retain the talent that fuels an organisation’s competitive edge.

Ask any start-up founder applying to attend our Conqa Group events, and they will tell you that attracting the right talent was the hardest first mountain to climb. But to the surprise of many of our attendees, even our most seasoned CEO members would nod in agreement: attracting the right talent may be what breathes life into a start-up beginning its upward climb – but failing to lead and retain this talent later as a large enterprise is a crime that would make any multinational CEO gulp at the water cooler.

For readers who might be leading their own small business or corporate division, here are three ‘signs’ that current objectives are aligned to attracting the best talent from their industry.



To the average onlooker, it may be tempting to see Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ initiative as more of a marketing stunt than a real commitment to promoting gender diversity.

And to many minority professionals who have experienced the glass ceiling first-hand, this de facto talking-point may appear a poor substitute for real action behind the scenes.

However, as studies have delved deeper into the make-up of human resources in multinational corporations, diversity is actually approached from a completely different angle: corporations deliberately build teams containing a mix of both genders and a variety of international backgrounds; this is done to boost creativity and maintain the organisation’s edge in the market – not just as a compliance exercise (Thomas and Ely, 2011).

Relationship between cultural diversity and the functioning of a workgroup. Source: Thomas and Ely (2011).

For start-up founders, this creates a useful performance indicator that can be monitored from day-one: treating diversity as a simple compliance box to check may seem an innocent starting point when first building your team with local employees; but this is a shaky foundation that ignores how diversity can be an asset for retaining high-calibre talent:

  • According to organisational studies on diversity and employee performance: larger corporations that ‘embed’ diversity into the make-up of their internal teams are 20-30% more likely to launch their product successfully to new international locations and to distinctly different customer profiles: an in-built capacity to coordinate and combine teams from diverse backgrounds not only enhances the creativity and innovations that prepare future divisions overseas – but also ‘trickles down’ to the marketing department, equipping the organisation to expand to a variety of cultures and consumer behaviours with first-hand experience (Hoefstede, 2010).



We may all chuckle quietly as Steve Ballmer re-iterates how much he ‘loves his customers’ at his latest fireside chat interview.

But although we may all recognise this as a box for any responsible CEO to check; mentions of how Microsoft ‘loves its employees’ might be more realistic than we think.

’Look after your team, and they will look after your clients for you’’
- Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group

Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner’s model of culture. Source: (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner: 2018)

Echoing Richard Branson’s famous saying, multinational organisations are distinguished by this fundamental ingredient in its HR practices: products are designed at precision for a global customer base – but its human resource departments are also designed to ensure that their most talented employees ‘buy-in’ to the company vision, and continue fuelling the organisation’s competitive advantage (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner: 2018).



Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of a multinational enterprise its research and knowledge capacity. Although many small businesses do attempt to simulate some of the methodologies for project planning and performance tracking that we see in large organisations, this often leaves out one crucial ingredient: the qualitative factor of top-down learning.

For many start-up founders, it is easy to imagine a large corporation as more of an impersonal machine than an organic community of human members. But this picture is incomplete: although the tasks and projects completed by large-corporation employees are heavily systematised in advance, not even the multinational CEO or project manager can afford to switch into ‘robot mode’ and leave organic leadership behind. Both as CEO and sports team manager, Mark Cuban knows this first-hand: every team requires setting an active example as a ‘top-down’ learner – and that can never be truly delegated.

Ultimately, today’s start-up climate is no longer a battle of services and physical products; but instead, a battle of ideas in our transition to the ‘knowledge economy’. As a business leader, this makes your ability to absorb and synergise data from multiple industries the factor that may either enable your organisation to expand; or the missing ingredient that leaves your company behind.


In this week’s article, we explored three indicators that we feel are the most reliable for assessing whether an organisation can reliably attract and retain high-calibre talent in its early stages – but also later as an emerging industry player.

Whatever the current stage of your company, you can apply the following changes starting today to ensure that your team and human resource policies are ‘talent friendly’:

  • Integrate diverse attributes favoured – not just gladly accepted – when forming your ‘model employee’ profile: by deliberately seeking out new hires from a diverse range of backgrounds, you will begin to unlock the same synergies that make big-corporation meetings so productive: with a diverse set of backgrounds comes a diverse range of perceptions and perspectives – this will fuel creativity, and this wider pool of opinions will make your project decisions more objective.

  • As an extension to the previous suggestion: consider not only how the perspectives from your culturally diverse team can indirectly boost creativity and objectivity – but also which direct insights you might be able to obtain when planning to launch your product into new territories and international markets.

  • Building on Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner’s model of culture (2018), why not even if at a very early stage of your business – consider the incentives that may encourage the highest calibre of employee to choose your team environment over your competitor across the road: at the beginning stages, personality and commitment may appear more significant than a strict resume profile; but carefully-planned on-boarding processes and rewards may mean capturing some of the best talent your industry has to offer later down the line.