In late 2020, we were recruiting for an important role at Hennessey Digital: a senior-level SEO position responsible for creating and directing the SEO strategy for the organization.
We scoured the talent pool, interviewed several candidates, identified our top choice, and made an offer. The candidate gave us every indication they would accept, and we waited for them to respond.
We waited, we waited some more, and the candidate finally got back to us: they turned us down, saying they were going another direction with their job search.
Getting rejected felt like a kick in the gut, but it was something we needed to hear.
Every company thinks it’s the best place to work, has the best people, and offers the best benefits to employees. But as we’ve learned, you have to constantly keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the market and within your own organization to be able to find and keep the people who will move your organization forward.
Getting Honest With Ourselves
Losing out on this key potential hire for our SEO team was a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a lesson we needed to learn. As a growing organization, how can we attract and retain top talent to achieve our goals for growth and success?
We needed to look at how we were doing things around here and find ways to improve so we wouldn’t have another strong candidate turn us down again. Our founder and CEO Jason Hennessey turned to his executive coach, Cameron Herold, for guidance.
The initial feedback that Cameron gave was that “your talent magnet wasn’t strong enough.” But when Jason told Cameron that we offered only two weeks of paid time off to employees, Cameron was aghast.
“He actually closed his laptop and said he wouldn’t let his son work for us, our PTO policy was that bad,” Jason shares. “It was time to get honest with ourselves about how we were doing things.”
Soon after this conversation, we increased our PTO from two weeks to three weeks, and team members start to accrue PTO at a rate of four weeks annually on their one-year anniversary (or “Henniversary”, as we call it). This PTO benefit is on top of paid sick leave, which we also recently increased from three days to five days annually at the beginning of 2021.
We also added bereavement leave to our benefits offerings, which was another way of taking care of our team members that aligns with our culture at Hennessey Digital—more on that later in this post!
Don’t Wait to Make a Change
As soon as losing out on this key potential candidate happened, Jason and the Executive team knew they wanted to strengthen our Human Resources efforts. We recruited Greg Herrmann, our Senior Manager of Learning and Development (L&D), and Jill Wenk, our new Director of People Success, and we immediately saw the positive effects of their joining the team.
Right away, Jill and Greg added value with their respective skills and experience. Although it’s unusual for an organization our size to have a dedicated L&D person on staff, we knew that we wanted to emphasize training and career development for our team members. We have a strong culture of learning and innovation, and adding Greg to our People Success team was an investment in this strategy. Together, Jill and Greg reviewed each procedure and policy we had and introduced fun, creative, supportive solutions for our team members.
At Hennessey Digital, our focus is on taking care of the team, because they take care of the business.
In February 2021, several of our team members in Texas were affected by the snow and ice storms that left them without power and water for days. Our Executive and People Success teams acted fast, quickly adding a “Natural Disaster” paid time classification so these team members could be paid for this time without having to use PTO they had accrued.
With each of these initiatives, a need presented itself and we acted fast. We value our ability to take action quickly if the situation warrants it, and this is a critical component of the culture we’re continuing to build upon at Hennessey Digital.
The phrase “work culture” can mean different things to different people and organizations, and we know that to be successful, we must be a company that people want to join and stay at for a long time. We need the right people in the right roles, moving together in the right direction. But how do we make this happen?
“Culture” means several things to us as a company. It means the language we use with each other—including inside jokes and phrases that only a member of our team would understand—and how we treat each other. It also refers to our goals and strategies (how we do business), who we work with (and who we don’t), and what our values and expectations are.
Our founder and CEO Jason Hennessey frequently talks about how important work culture is. Years ago, he sent an unsolicited email to Zappos CEO Tony Hseih (rest in peace) and was invited to tour the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas. This experience made a strong impression on Jason, and he learned that culture is invaluable when you’re building a business.
In late 2020, we initiated a project to create our core company messaging. This process involved clarifying our vision with the executive team, gathering feedback and input from our functional department leaders, and collaborating to create and finalize our mission, vision, core values, and unique value proposition.
In creating our core messaging, it was critically important to us to make sure we didn’t translate one person or one department’s idea for what our organization “could” or “should” be. We needed to translate the strong culture that we already had into words, and we came away with messaging to support our business well into the future.
Measure Your Progress
In the fall of 2020, we conducted our first employee survey to determine our internal net promoter score or NPS. This was our first real effort to quantify how satisfied our employees were with us as a company, and we earned a score of 71.2. This is a respectable score, especially for a first effort as a world-class score for NPS is 80. But we knew there was room to improve as we worked to fulfil our vision to become the undisputed legal marketing leaders while building on our reputation to grow into new verticals and services as the best place to work in the industry.
After this initial net promoter score calculation, we made changes at Hennessey Digital. We upgraded technologies, made enhancements to our team member benefits, and hired key people who continue to improve our systems and processes so that we can deliver excellence to our clients. And in March 2021, we conducted our second internal employee survey and earned a net promoter score of 77.6: a great score, and also a great opportunity to improve even more!
At Hennessey Digital, we believe that measuring employee satisfaction is one way to empower our people and communicate that they are valued. Our CFO Michele Patrick says it best: “We want to empower our people to find what lights them up inside and allow them to do more of those things by continuing to incorporate autonomy, flexibility in their schedule, and opportunities to grow and reinvent themselves. There is always time for curiosity and expansion, and that power is truly in every one of us.”
When we hired our Senior Director of Marketing Cindy Kerber Spellman in March of 2021, she shared with us that she’d received multiple job offers on the same day: from us, and from two other organizations, one of which has a recognizable name and high company profile. Cindy accepted our offer, and she shared with us that our people and our culture are what sealed the deal for her—high praise and a clear sign that we’re doing something right!
We lost out on a key potential hire last year, and since then, we’ve learned things about ourselves that have helped us grow and get better in areas we needed to improve.
We’ve learned some important lessons along the way, and here are our top tips for enhancing your work culture and positioning your organization as an employer of choice:
Keep things fresh. Just as your business strategy and goals require periodic review and updating, so will your policies and procedures on how you take care of your employees. What’s considered “new” or “market-competitive” changes constantly, so you need to review the benefits and perks you offer regularly to keep your talent magnet strong.
If it matters, measure it. It’s not enough to simply say “we want to improve x, y, and z”: you have to be willing to put in the work to measure what’s important to your organization. Without meaningful metrics in place, it’s impossible to know if you’re improving from one measurement period to the next—and by how much.
The work never stops. When it comes to company culture, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Learning and innovation are cornerstones of how we do things at Hennessey Digital, so we know that there’s no “there” or destination we’re going to arrive at. We constantly work at improving our culture, what we deliver to clients, and our talent magnet to attract and keep the best people in the industry for our team.
Questions or comments for us on this post? Message [email protected] and share your thoughts!