Hiring Cultural Creatives

Editor’s note: David Hassell is CEO and founder of 15Five, provider of an employee intelligence tool that shows managers what they’re missing.

To attract top talent, startups are in an arms race to offer the best perks. From free organic meals and unlimited vacation, to yoga classes, gym passes, free iPhones and signing bonuses, companies are constantly trying to come up with the killer combination of perks that will get top candidates to sign on the dotted line.

While perks are certainly appreciated (who doesn’t like free food or more vacation?), they aren’t what attracts the kind of talent most startups need to grow into successful, sustainable businesses. Instead, to nab the best employees, startups must create the type of workplaces that attract “cultural creatives.

Cultural creatives, many of whom are millennials, are employees who go beyond just producing to actually innovate new ideas. They are independent, seek achievement, thrive on ambiguity and risk taking, and look for new opportunities at every turn. Cultural creatives have a desire to do work that matters and matches their values, contribute to a shared vision, and express their personal beliefs at the office. Many business gurus, from Creative Class author Richard Florida to Bill Gates, have extolled the importance of this new group of passionate workers to propel the 21st century economy forward.

So if perks don’t work to attract cultural creatives, what will? The answer is to be the kind of company at which these valuable employees want to work. Of course, that’s a lot more difficult than putting kegs in the kitchen and offering donuts on Fridays, but it’s the only thing that will help you attract and keep stellar employees.

Finding (and keeping) the right talent and creating a culture to support them impacts the bottom line. According to Gallup, the combined effect of creating the right culture, selecting the right talent, and focusing on employees’ strengths can boost revenue-per-employe by 59 percent.

So to become a company that attracts visionary, innovative thinkers, you have to be an innovative, visionary company. But how do you do that concretely? There are several steps you can take to begin creating a unique, purposeful culture.

Open Dialogue

To cultivate a creative workplace, you have to be the kind of company where people talk openly and aren’t afraid to share ideas. The best way to encourage dialogue is to ask employees questions on a regular basis; get everyone talking openly about what’s working and what’s not.

There are feedback platforms where managers can ask employees specific questions each week, such as: “What was the biggest challenge you faced this week?” or “What is one great idea you have for the company?” Or you can simply ask them these questions by email if your team is small enough. When you give every employee a voice and encourage them to share ideas big and small, that’s a huge start toward becoming a culturally creative workplace.

Reframe Your HR Terms

This is a simple step any startup can take to become the type of place cultural creatives want to work. Traditional HR concepts such as “human resources” and “recruitment” and “performance tracking” treat people like “assets” to be “acquired.” These words and practices dehumanize existing and potential employees, making them feel (and perform) like cogs in a machine.

Instead of Human Resources, try developing a People and Culture department. Traditional HR views employees as “workers” who produce or “assets” to be counted on a balance sheet. This type of thinking makes cultural creatives shudder, because they don’t want to be machines churning out products and profit.

They seek personal fulfillment from work and want to be part of a cohesive, inspiring team that comes up with great ideas. Start using words and changing your HR practices to reflect the type of work environment you want to be – one that creates an open space for employees to succeed and evolve into their highest selves.

Create a Charter

It’s not enough to have a mission statement, those oft-useless words few employees even know exist. To become an exciting and visionary company where cultural creatives want to work, you have to go farther and create a charter. This charter must outline the exact practices you’ll put in place to support employees in their greatness, so they can grow in step with your company’s conscious values. To figure out what matters to employees, ask them.

Maybe employees will ask for a day off a month to contribute to a charity or cause; maybe they’ll ask to celebrate birthdays at work; or maybe they’ll ask for a better communication process at all-hands meetings. Find out what your employees want and then make those things official policies in your charter.

Startups have a unique chance to create a conscious culture that attracts the type of creative employees they need to grow. Instead of focusing on which perks will get top talent in the door, create a work culture that will get them to stick around.