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Canada’s got talent: Top tips to help employers find and keep dream teams

MaRS HR expert Daneal Charney shares her insights on how to recruit and retain the right people.

Landing the right hires has always been a crucial part of running a successful business, but in the time since COVID was at its height, the challenges involved in attracting talent have evolved. While generous salaries and paid vacation days may once have been enough to turn heads, the number of employees working in hybrid arrangements in Canada has more than tripled in the past two years alone, jumping from 3.6 to 11.7 percent of the workforce. From flexible arrangements to retention incentives and other perks, the onus is on employers to be creative and nimble if they intend to scoop up sought-after candidates. While employment trends may shift, the market is always tight for those looking to secure top talent in key roles.

When it comes to overcoming recruitment obstacles, Daneal Charney is a pro. The MaRS executive in residence specializes in all aspects of hiring and retaining talented employees. Her strength in this area is rooted in having been there, done that — from an early age. At 18, as part of a co-op placement, Charney worked for her dad’s leadership development business, which inspired her to pursue a career in HR. From there, she moved into the corporate space, where she was responsible for designing and delivering leadership programs. That experience prompted Charney to become a certified coach — as she explains, it underscored the need to work with leaders-in-training in a more “personalized” way, because “there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

That approach became even more expansive when she “started working with these things called startups,” recalls Charney, who was helping founders figure out how to navigate the world of human resources at a time when that now-ubiquitous term for early-stage businesses was still novel. She became a generalist out of necessity, she adds, because her new clients needed guidance in so many areas. “Founders brought me in to create onboarding guides, learning and development programming and everything in between. It was fast-paced and exciting. I never looked back.”

Charney began working with startups in 2005; nearly two decades later, she has helped countless early-stage ventures attract and retain top talent. Here, she distills her insights into a handful of key People principles that businesses of any size would be wise to follow.

Putting the “resources” in HR

Whether due to personnel and funding constraints or a lack of awareness among unseasoned founders, Charney says many companies under-prioritize human resources during earlier stages of growth.

“Sometimes CEOs think they can run HR because they’re a people person,” says Charney. As she notes, while high EQ is a valuable quality in a leader, it’s no substitute for a trained professional with lived experience scaling up in a high-growth organization, who can quickly assess and distill any people-related risks and opportunities, highlighting, for instance, pitfalls that might lead to premature departures and/or the loss of institutional knowledge.

That background adds a layer of consistency in terms of compensation, diversity and compliance, hiring decisions, employee experience and development. “Inconsistent practices create friction points and dissatisfaction for employees,” says Charney, who notes that a seasoned HR pro can mitigate “management debt” — the expensive long-term consequences of rash decisions made by senior leadership. Someone in this role should be well equipped to support staff to perform at their best — and gracefully facilitate exits when the fit isn’t quite right. “I don’t care if you have 20 or 200 people,” she adds. “You should have a HR expert to lean on, even if it’s someone on an advisory board.”

A lack of formal HR training within senior leadership also often leaves companies with minimal or non-existent onboarding process, which can leave newbies floundering. A proper onboarding process should help quickly ramp up a recent hire’s productivity and reaffirm that they have made the right choice in joining the company. “A great first experience is the first step in retaining a person longterm,” Charney says.

Strong selling features

A skilled HR professional can also help highlight the positive qualities that set a company apart. In Charney’s experience, many companies fail to do enough to sell themselves during the hiring process.

“I’ve seen so many founders pitch their mission or corporate culture,” says Charney, who emphasizes that those sentiments are unlikely to add value for prospective employees. And while compensation and benefits are important, candidates want a sense that they will be able to grow in their roles while also working for a company that’s gaining traction and earning money.

“Just like investors give money, people give their time,” Charney says. “Employers need to convince candidates why they should work here and nowhere else.”

Pay attention to retention

As difficult as it can be to hire great staff, retaining them can be even more of a challenge.

“A common (and delusional) mistake founders make is thinking an employee is going to put in 40 hours and overtime and stay with them forever,” says Charney. “That won’t cut it.”

Recurring yearly milestones are a great strategy — whether they involve growth opportunities or retention bonuses. “The key is to be proactive, not reactive,” she says. “Understand what drives people. Personalize experience and rewards. Step up for the most valuable people in a company.”

Charney says the most efficient method of finding out what employees want is by simply asking them.

“I always suggest conducting an employee survey to find out why employees are working for you and what benefits they like most,” says Charney. “It really helps an organization understand things from their point of view.”

Assess the three S’s

For Charney, success in this realm really comes down to three key variables: say, stay and strive.

The first — “say” — involves how people are talking about a company — through referrals, reviews or just word of mouth. “If what’s being said is good, then that’s good news,” says Charney.

Second: are the most important or valuable employees sticking around?

And finally, are staff members striving to perform and maximize productivity? “If you can see people are all in,” Charney says, that bodes well for overall satisfaction.

MaRS Momentum program works with high-growth Canadian companies to accelerate their path to hitting $100 million in revenue. Is your business Canada’s next anchor company? Find out more and apply to join the program.

Photo: Courtesy of Daneal Charney

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MaRS is the world's largest urban innovation hub in Toronto that supports startups in the health, cleantech, fintech, and enterprise sectors. When MaRS opened in 2005 this concept of urban innovation was an untested theory. Today, it’s reshaping cities around the world. MaRS has been at the forefront of a wave of change that extends from Melbourne to Amsterdam and runs through San Francisco, London, Medellín, Los Angeles, Paris and New York. These global cities are now striving to create what we have in Toronto: a dense innovation district that co-locates universities, startups, corporates and investors. In this increasingly competitive landscape, scale matters more than ever – the best talent is attracted to the brightest innovation hotspots.

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