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Culture Trends and Best Practices to Help Organizations Improve Employee Retention

By Lyn Currie, Managing Director, Waterstone Executive Search

We’ve seen a lot of shifts in the business environment in the last few years. It’s not just the pandemic, hybrid work models, the great resignation, quiet quitting, or the marathon for talent—the last few years have required leaders focused on building a high performance culture to be incredibly agile and to re-think the way they engage their teams to drive growth and success, all while navigating changing culture in the workplace.

While there is no roadmap for navigating this new work environment, there are some best practices helping top performing organizations stay ahead of the game when it comes to talent acquisition and improving employee retention. And they all start with corporate culture.

Four trends that we’re seeing today that directly influence a company’s ability to retain top talent include: a people-first focus; a focus on culture and purpose; a continued focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion; and an investment in learning and development.

A people-first focus
Organizations with high-performance cultures have leaders who lead with empathy, who view their employees as individuals and work to customize their leadership style to meet the needs of those individuals, and who aren’t afraid to share personal stories and experiences that help build a transparent, psychologically safe work environment.

We are also seeing increased emphasis placed on employee mental health and well-being – from talking about mental wellness in the workplace and establishing working groups to support health and wellness among team members, to putting budget behind training and increasing benefits related to health and wellness.

A focus on culture and purpose
More than ever before, we’re seeing employees (and potential employees) who want to connect with the purpose of an organization. In fact, in our executive search business, it’s not unusual for candidates to ask about a client’s purpose, values and culture in the first interview – often before they ask about compensation. As a result, organizations are putting their culture front and center to help them attract top talent – but this move to focus on culture and purpose is also strengthening their position when it comes to retaining talent.

It is not uncommon to see culture and purpose highlighted as part of the employee value proposition, showcased and encouraged on the organization’s social media channels, celebrated at town halls and team meetings, built into the quarterly and/or annual review process, and more. But it goes beyond just engaging employees in culture and purpose – top organizations are also measuring employee engagement, listening to feedback, and ensuring that team members understand the impact they’re having related to both goals and purpose.

A continued focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion
While diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has long been a focus point for organizations with winning cultures, what we’re seeing in top organizations today is that their approach to DE&I has matured. In 2020, as the result of local, national and global events, organizations took the opportunity to pause, listen and learn.  In 2021, organizations were implementing the plans and actions that were established coming out of that period of listening and learning. Today, we’re seeing organizations continue to implement new initiatives and strengthen their commitments to DE&I, but they’ve also moved into measuring and assessing their efforts – and making changes to reflect the ongoing evolution of DE&I within their organizations.

Investment in learning and development
Learning and development is second only to purpose when it comes to culture-related questions that we’re hearing from candidates considering changing organizations. People want to know that their employer encourages growth and development, and to understand the supports available to them in growing their careers. From taking learning and development in-house and establishing comprehensive employer-led training programs, to working to define career development plans with their team members, organizations today are adopting a learning culture that is helping to grow and retain their top performers.

Leverage culture to support retention
Let’s chat about how these insights can help you find and retain top, purpose-driven talent who are aligned to your culture – today and tomorrow. Schedule a meeting with our team today.

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At DRiWaterstone Human Capital, we have the opportunity to help a diverse roster of clients fill roles that are integral to their ability to meet their strategic goals. We are also fortunate to work with some of the best candidates in the non-profit and social impact space.

And sometimes we’re lucky enough to work with an outstanding client who is also a candidate.

Meet Gregory Dyson, Chief Operating Officer at National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

DRiWaterstone had the pleasure of working with Gregory when he turned to the team for help recruiting a Director of Innovation while with his former employer. Later, we helped place Gregory on the Board at the AARP Foundation, which “provides resources so millions of older adults living with low income can secure good jobs, get the benefits and refunds they’ve earned, and stay connected to their communities.”

We recently sat down with Gregory to catch up and learn more about his experience working with the DRiWaterstone team.

DRiWaterstone Human Capital (DRiW): Describe your role on the AARP Foundation Board?

Gregory Dyson (GD): I serve on the Audit Committee. As a new member (I’ve been there two years), coming in on the Audit Committee gave me a lens into all the work of the foundation as well as the opportunity to draw on my own expertise as an operating executive. I’m also getting a complete look into what’s going on operationally at the Foundation, which has allowed me to contribute in a more thought-provoking way to our strategic discussions.

DRiW: What was your experience like working with the DRiWaterstone team as a candidate for this role?

GD: I had worked with DRiWaterstone before, so I knew their process and that they’re very thorough. They really want the candidate to shine. One of the things they do is, they ask you to respond in an essay or to questions and they’re very clear, they are not going to go in and edit, fix grammar errors or change anything for that matter. It’s your opportunity to shine before the selection committee. And it’s a really good balance for the selection committee. On the one hand, they have DRiWaterstone overview and discussion of the candidate, and on the other they have the candidate representing themselves.

When you talk to them, it’s a conversation. They want to learn about you, and I think that makes it easier. It’s not like, “I have this question and that question.” It’s just having a conversation. And the communication throughout the process was very good. I’ve worked with other firms in the past and the process isn’t as clear. DRiWaterstone is very clear in the process. The Candidate Stewardship person will walk you through the timing. The approach is very humanistic, and it’s well organized and personable.

DRiW: What surprised you most about your experience working with the DRiWaterstone team as a candidate?

GD: That it’s not cookie cutter. When they have the initial conversation with you, they’re not fishing. They’ve done some pre-work on you before they even pick up the phone to call.

DRiW: You’ve also had the opportunity to hire DRiWaterstone as a partner – what was the role you were looking to fill?

GD: I hired them to do a Director of Innovation search [while I was with my former employer]. They unearthed candidates we’d have never unearthed ourselves, and I don’t think if I’d gone to another firm that they would have found them either.

DRiW: How did DRiWaterstone help set your search up for success?

GD: They accept, understand, and respect the uniqueness of your search. They look at what your needs are and how they can help you meet your goals. Their approach gives you the confidence that this isn’t cookie cutter. They’re not pushing just anyone forward to you, it’s: “Let me look at my network and database and talk to my team and see who we can find out there.”

Yes, they have a database, but it’s not their only tool. Are they going to find people exclusively focusing on public search engines? Probably not. But it speaks to the openness of the process. I’ve never asked them, but I think they cull their networks, talk with stakeholders, and selectively post on various boards in the public domain. This very deliberate approach helps advance diversity  – age, gender, racial, experience. The way they go about conducting these searches, they’ll find the best because they’re laser focus on assembling a qualified pool of candidates..

DRiW: What advice do you have for other non-profit organizations looking to attract top talent in today’s job market?

GD:  Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. Followed by being open to new ideas and new approaches. I’ve worked with a number of search firms over the years. They’re all successful for a reason. They have their niche. But if you’re truly looking for a firm that’s going to embrace and understand your uniqueness and quirkiness and where you want to go in your career or advance the hiring within your organization, you want a firm like DRiWaterstone – one that’s going to look at you as an individual and not another candidate  in the process.

If you’re on the employer side, [especially] social impact organizations and non-profits who are trying to make a difference, you want someone who’s going to take the time to learn who you are and where you’re going. If [DRiWaterstone] presents you with four or five candidates, my view is not one of those will be a weak candidate or second choice for the job. They’ll all meet the values and could succeed in the job. They will assist you to select the one that is the best fit.

Is everything failsafe, absolutely not. But they’re willing to go out on the edge and stand there with the safety hooks and make sure people don’t fall off and the process doesn’t get derailed


At DRiWaterstonewe have a successful history of working with Boards of Governors at a wide variety of organizations – from supporting strategic planning work to helping organizations recruit top talent to fill Board seats and help them reach their impact, performance and reputation goals. To learn more email us – we’d love to talk!

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DRiWaterstone Human Capital (DRiWaterstone) is pleased to welcome Julio Suárez to its team as Managing Director for the social impact sector.

Suárez joins DRiWaterstone from AB InBev, where he most recently led the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, worked with brand teams to develop cause-marketing campaigns, and oversaw workplace giving and volunteer programs for the U.S. market. Prior to that, Suárez spent several years at Darden Restaurants where he held corporate responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion leadership roles.

“Julio brings a wealth of experience to the DRiWaterstone team and will be a key driver as we expand the services we offer to companies and foundations in the social impact space,” says Jennifer Dunlap, President and Chief Executive Officer at DRiWaterstone Human Capital. “While we’ve always worked with mission and purpose-driven organizations, Julio’s leadership and experience from the corporate sector and with foundations allows us to better support social impact organizations as they look to build high-performance teams that drive growth and impact.”

Suárez’s has an ambitious mandate that includes helping DRiWaterstone expand its services to foundations, social impact enterprises, and corporate citizenship teams that are looking to have a greater impact locally, nationally, and globally.

“I am excited to join the DRiWaterstone team, which for the past 20 years has helped mission and purpose-driven organizations to build high performance teams,” says Suárez. “My goal is to leverage my network, knowledge and 17 years of experience leading philanthropic, corporate citizenship programs, and DEI programs to help our clients find purpose-driven leaders to achieve their mission, impact and reputation goals.”

Organizations looking for more information about how DRiWaterstone can help them recruit and retain top talent that drives growth and performance are invited to contact info@driwaterstonehc.com or visit https://www.driwaterstonehc.com to book a call with Suárez and his team.  

About DRiWaterstone Human Capital
DRiWaterstone Human Capital is a D.C.-based firm leading the way in helping mission and purpose-driven organizations across North America reach optimal performance through executive search and culture transformation services. Named one of the best executive search firms in the U.S. by Forbes Magazine for six consecutive years, DRiWaterstone offers executive search services focused on helping clients achieve sustainable organizational and cultural growth by finding leaders who align to the organization’s purpose, and who can help take the organization and its culture to the next level.   

DRiWaterstone Human Capital’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion dates to its founding, and has been recognized in the latest Hunt Scanlon HR/Diversity Power 65 Rankings.

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At DRiWaterstone Human Capital, we are privileged to work with exceptional clients who are looking to fill leadership roles integral to their organization’s ability to meet their missions.

The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) is one such client.

Founded in 1913, AAI is “an association of professionally trained scientists from all over the world dedicated to advancing the knowledge of immunology and its related disciplines, fostering the interchange of ideas and information among investigators, and addressing the potential integration of immunologic principles into clinical practice.”

We recently sat down with Dr. Gary Koretzky, MD, PhD, to learn more about his experience working with the DRiWaterstone team on AAI’s search for a CEO in 2022. Dr. Koretzky is immediate past president of AAI and Vice Provost for Academic Integration at Cornell University, Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Director, Cornell Centre for Immunology.

DRiWaterstone Human Capital (DRiW): Why did you choose to work with a retained executive search firm to fill this role?

Dr. Koretzky (GK): I was the President of AAI from July 2021-22 and, during that time, we needed to find a new CEO. The challenge was that the CEO at the time had been the CEO for 27 years.  As an organization we had very little experience with these types of transitions.  It was critically important to have a knowledgeable search firm to guide us.

My role was to lead the Council and the organization through the process and ensure that there was consistency in leadership during the transition. I empanelled a search committee and together we constructed an RFP to attract different search firms. We received proposals from a number of qualified firms and interviewed three, including DRiWaterstone.

We chose DRiWaterstone because they seemed professional. We also particularly liked that, as part of our agreement, DriWaterstone agreed to spend a year coaching the new CEO.  This was something we thought would be important because we didn’t have that history of transitions.

DRiW: How did DRiWaterstone help set your search up for success?

GK: We worked together. DriWaterstone took the lead with input from AAI’s search committee when it came to crafting a job description for the next CEO.  We then left it to DRiWaterstone to advertise and find candidates. We found a few because of people we knew, but we didn’t manage that process – all that was done by them.

The things that were most important to us in this process were speed and quality, and we got both.

DRiW: How would you describe the quality of candidates that you met as part of your search?

GK: We were really happy with the candidates we saw – several would have been acceptable for the role, and we got the best of them.

DRiWaterstone gave us maybe a dozen or so CVs and did a pre-interview with our top six candidates. They provided insight and helped craft questions that we would ask of the individual candidates in addition to the standard questions that everyone got.

Our team narrowed it down to two candidates and DRiWaterstone arranged for each of them to come to the DC area to meet in person. The candidates also met key members of the staff and met by Zoom with the rest of the AAI Council.

DRiWaterstone then worked with the final candidate to negotiate the deal terms of the contract. It all went remarkably smoothly and we announced the appointment of our new CEO, Dr. Loretta Doan, in December 2022.

DRiW: What did you learn about your organization during this process?

GK: The organization has an elected Council that meets twice a year to come up with overarching goals and policies, approve new members, and approve the budget. In the past, we’d interface nearly exclusively with the CEO, who managed about 30 members of staff. The Council and the staff didn’t have a lot of interaction.

Though this process, the Council’s Executive Committee got to know the staff extremely well. We were going through the transition with them and we felt it was important that we understood their needs and what was important to them. It was really good – the Council gained an informed appreciation for how staff works and what they bring to the association.

We also got a better sense of how other societies function and how other councils intersect with CEOs. We learned new ways to collaborate with our CEO and we look forward to the evolution of the Council – CEO relationship.

DRiW: What advice do you have for other non-profit organizations looking to attract top talent in today’s job market?

GK: One of the things I learned, is knowing your organization better and how it works is really important. The things we learned we learned out of necessity, but boy would it have been great if we’d planned it. So, my advice is to try to learn if there are different effective ways of doing business. Of course, use the process to find a new very good CEO but also do some self-assessments to learn how the various sectors within your organization interact.

We’re very optimistic right now. I think we have a great new CEO. The staff seems thrilled and the Council is very happy. I think it’s an important moment for organizations like ours – the world is realizing how important immunologists are and I think we’re structured in a way so that we can have an even bigger impact.

At DRiWaterstonewe have the pleasure to work with some of the best clients and candidates in the non-profit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build your high performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk!

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By Jennifer Dunlap, President and CEO, DRiWaterstone Human Capital

As anyone who has ever taken on the responsibility of recruiting new talent for their organization knows, it’s not a simple task. From developing the role profile and vetting resumes, to interviewing candidates and negotiating offers, it’s a time intensive process that can be all-consuming.

According to LinkedIn, “76% percent of hiring managers admit attracting the right job candidates is their greatest challenge”. Add to that the potential cost of a bad hire (up to 30 per cent of the employee’s first-year earnings according to one estimate by the U.S. Department of Labor, not to mention lost time and productivity), and talent acquisition, especially for senior level and C-Suite roles, becomes not just a time-consuming endeavour but a risky one.

How can organizations take some of the risk out of senior-level recruitment? Engaging a retained executive search firm is one answer.

Why partner with a retained executive search firm

At DRiWaterstone Human Capital, we’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the past 20 years, successfully placing more than 1,000 candidates in senior and C-Suite roles across the non-profit and social impact space.  Here are five of the top reasons organizations choose retained search to support their talent acquisition efforts:

  1. We help you define (or refine) the role and the company’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) in a way that will connect with candidates and enhance your reputation in the market
    A company’s EVP is the “set of benefits you offer employees in return for the skills, experience and qualities they bring to the position. In simple terms, what’s in it for them?” (Indeed.com) And according to Gartner, “[o]rganizations that effectively deliver on their EVP can decrease annual employee turnover by just under 70% and increase new hire commitment by nearly 30%.” 

    Working with a retained search firm gives you access to the resources and expertise you need to put your organization’s best foot forward throughout the hiring process. Not only will a retained search firm take the time to understand the role, the dynamics of your organization and what makes your culture unique, they’ll work with your team to craft a message that highlights your purpose, your mission, and the unique value you offer to your team members.

    At DRiWaterstone, we work as an extension of your People and Culture team. That means that we treat your organization as our own – acting as brand ambassadors for your organization (not just an independent contractor) and treating your candidates with the upmost respect and transparency. Our Candidate Stewardship Model brings best practices from fundraising stewardship into executive search, giving one staff member the responsibility of addressing the needs of candidates as they go through the interview process – and making sure they have a positive experience with your organization and your brand, no matter the outcome.

    And when we hit a roadblock, we have the expertise and courage to provide frank guidance about what approach to take and what type of candidate will help drive your mission and your organization to the next level.
  2. We’ve got access to a huge network of candidates
    There are many reasons that organizations choose to work with a retained executive search firm, but number one is always our ability to find the best candidates. Whether your team doesn’t have the in-house capacity to take on another search, you don’t have the experience recruiting for senior level positions, or you’re looking for a purple unicorn to fill a challenging role, what executive search firms like DRiWaterstone bring to the table is a huge network of candidates.

    At DRiWaterstone, we’re focused on finding the best candidates for our clients – not just the best available candidates at the time your search hits the market. We have one of the largest networks of non-profit and social impact leaders among national executive search firms—and the largest single network of fundraising professionals. We know the professional associations that candidates belong to; we know the conferences they attend; and who is receptive to hearing about new and exciting opportunities. And with 70% of the global workforce made up of talent who isn’t actively looking for a new role (according to LinkedIn Top 100 Hiring Statistics 2022), those networks can make the difference between a successful hire, and a long, frustrating search.
  3. We invest resources into your search.
    We commit to devoting the necessary resources to identify, assess, and recruit the leaders you need – no matter how long that takes. We know time is of the essence, especially in today’s job market, but we take the time to find, interview and move forward candidates we feel will make an impact for your organization. By investing resources into your organization and your search, we can identify high-quality candidates who are both passionate about your mission and best suited to make ongoing contributions to your specific culture, plan, and day-to-day operations.

    Those resources are also focused on recruiting leaders to your organization. That means we when approach a candidate, it’s for your role and your role alone. We aren’t marketing candidates to whichever organization hires them first.
  4. We keep things moving
    Hiring for senior level roles can be a time-consuming process, and it’s easy for that process to stall because of competing projects or deadlines. Partnering with a retained executive search firm is an excellent way to keep your search on time, on budget, and on track.  We can help build candidates’ interest, keep their attention, and address their needs in a way that few organizations have the in-house resources to do.

    For example, at DRiWaterstone we can facilitate every element of interview preparation and evaluation. Our clients don’t have to juggle candidates’ schedules; they don’t have to prepare interview questions; and they don’t have to comb through a candidate’s record looking for key details. Our leaders are also available to join interviews or post-interview deliberations. And when a decision is made, we can be an honest broker in negotiating an employment agreement that will meet (and often exceed) the needs and expectations of both our clients and candidates.
  5. Our relationship doesn’t end with a signed offer letter
    The team at DRiWaterstone is committed to making sure things go well for both clients and candidates after a placement is complete. That means we’re in touch with candidates to help with the transition into their new role, and we’re in communication with our client to support them in onboarding their new team member.

    But building a high-performance team requires more than just making and onboarding the right hires. That’s why we offer leaders access to programs and tools that leverage the behaviours and attributes we know make the greatest impact on leadership, team, and organizational growth and performance.

Work with experts in recruiting and retaining talent

Working with an experienced executive recruitment team is a great way to keep your search on track and ensure you’re able to find and hire top talent who is aligned to your purpose and has the skills needed to help you meet your revenue and performance goals. DRiWaterstone Human Capital’s team has more than 20 years of experience working with mission and purpose-driven clients in the non-profit and social impact space. Book a call with one of our search experts today and let us help you win top candidates.

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