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26 Leaders On Attracting & Retaining Stellar Staff

A tag cloud from the #StellarStaff interview transcripts.

Ever wonder what it takes to attract and retain really great staff who can move your organization forward? The video below asks 26 really smart people working across sectors to tackle that very question.

Last October, I was speaking with one of Fractured Atlas's incredible Board members, Amy Wrzesniewski. Amy is an expert in Management and Organizational Behavior, and is a professor at the Yale School of Management. Anytime I need to bounce HR questions off of someone, Amy is at the top of my list.

While we were meeting, three things dawned on me:

(1) Amy Wrzesniewski is a genius. Also, exceedingly kind and generous.

(2) The issues around attracting and retaining really great people are universal. They transcend sector. They're not a cultural sector challenge, or a technology sector challenge. They're not unique to for-profits or not-for-profits, the military or government. Every organization deals with similar issues.

(3) Attracting and retaining great people is the key to solving the seemingly intractable problems facing so many companies today.

Following our conversation, I thought, wouldn't it be fun to gather some really smart people from across sectors to discuss this topic? (Yes, that is what I consider fun.) I began mentally listing all of the people I wanted to ask and quickly realized that the scheduling hurdles would be Herculean. Then I remembered that I co-host a little-watched internet television show --  #SKYNOVA: Featuring Culture Warriors In Their Native Habitat -- and we own all of the video equipment needed to create a virtual conversation.


The #StellarStaff interviews started with five fascinating people and quickly snowballed to 26. Twenty-six 15-minute video interviews later, I had 400 minutes of footage in the proverbial can. Interviews that included senior-level executives from Fortune 500 companies, the pharmaceutical industry, technology start-ups, higher education, the military, politics, leaders in the cultural sector, the financial sector, and the owner of my go-to coffee shop: Gypsy Donut & Espresso Bar.

I had the great fortune of interviewing people like the Co-Founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea, the Chief Investment Officer of Xerox, a former 6-term U.S. Representative, a retired Brigadier General who lead West Point's leadership academy and taught competitive skydiving, and a Vice President of Pfizer. I asked them questions like these and these:

  • As a leader, how do you think about attracting and retaining great staff?

  • What specific things do you do as a company to encourage a culture that supports attracting and retaining great staff?

  • Besides a paycheck, what do your staff want and value in a workplace?

  • How do you find great people? How do you know you're hiring the right person to help you achieve results?

  • In a crisis, what can leaders do to make sure that they are able to attract and retain great staff who can help them weather the storm and create a stronger organization on the other side?

  • When a staff member seems to not be working out, how do you know when you should double down and try to pull them out a tailspin versus cut your losses and let them go?

  • How is the value proposition different for people who work in politics / military / the for-profit world versus the not-for-profit world?

Long story short, I wrestled the 400 minutes of footage into a 45-minute presentation and delivered it on June 15 at the annual Dance/USA conference in Philadelphia. What follows is a version formatted for online. Over the next month, I will be editing each of the individual interviews if you want to hear more from any of the 26 interviewees. You'll be able to find them along with my digital bibliography at #StellarStaff.

Disclaimer: Let me take a quick second to state for the record that I have a background in orchestral trombone, not as a filmmaker. I know next to nothing about documentary filmmaking -- enough to be dangerous and largely learned from Google -- and very quickly found myself deep in the danger zone on this project. At Fractured  Atlas, thousands of our members are talented filmmakers. As I was creating this video, I thought, yep, pretty sure I'm reinventing wheels all over the place and would be embarrassed if any of our members ever found out. Shhh, don't tell anyone.