Recruiting efforts aren’t enough to build a great team

It’s not enough to build a great team—you also have to keep it.
It’s not enough to build a great team—you also have to keep it.
Image: RREUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Most organizations would put recruiting at the top of their priority lists. But it is interesting to me how few of them seem focused on retaining the team they recruit. Emphasizing recruiting without also investing in retention seems to me a bit like pouring water (or vodka) into a glass with a giant hole in the bottom.

I have spent more than a decade of my career at two companies with great retention track records, Google and Facebook. Through these experiences, I’ve learned the talent war is very real. You can count on every one of your employees fielding phone calls from hundreds of recruiters who are trying to lure them to greener pastures. You can’t prevent their phones from ringing—but you can help make it more likely that those employees have no interest in what recruiters are selling. Here are some things you can do to make your company a “poach-free” zone.

Vision and Mission

Ensure everyone understands the company’s primary goal, or North Star. Having a “true north,” and a mission that resonates, will help bring people to your company for the right reasons, not for the bells and whistles (which, if you are a startup, you can’t afford yet anyway).


Employees want to know what is going on, why it is going on, and what the plans are going forward. Communicate these things to them.


Communication alone isn’t enough. You need to make sure that what you are communicating is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Your team doesn’t only need to hear about the good news, but also about the challenges as well, if for no other reason that to feel as though they can be a part of a solution. Being open and honest builds trust in your leadership, which makes your employees feel safe and secure in giving you the vital direct feedback you need.

Growth and development

Whether at a company of 10 people or 10,000 people, productive employees want to be learning and growing in their roles and their careers. You can accomplish this a number of ways:

  • Have clear goals and a structured performance program. This gives people the feedback they need to know how they are doing—and what they can do better. It also allows them to clearly see where they are going, which as long as they are psyched about the journey together, helps keep them at your company.
  • Stretch people beyond their current roles. Give people an opportunity to help with tasks outside their current scopes, and ensure they have the support they need.
  • Create internal mobility. Employees will eventually feel like they have hit a wall in their current roles for a variety of reasons, some through no fault of yours. Allowing them to take on totally new roles internally means they will be less likely to search for such roles externally and that you get to keep all that institutional knowledge they have gained. Employees who take on new roles basically “re-up” for another long stint and start their tenure all over again. At Facebook, internal movement accounted for almost 30% of annual hiring activity on the teams with which I worked. Internal mobility was a main reason we had low turnover. People wanted new challenges, but didn’t want to leave the company to find it (because we also did all of the above). Different departments really embraced being an exporter or an importer of talent for the rest of the company. Everyone won.


People don’t only work for companies, they also work for the people at those companies. And so one of the best recruiting tools you have is your current employees.

Never settle during the recruiting process. Only hire people with whom you are incredibly excited to work. Make sure people would want to work for and with them. When candidates see employees loving what they do, they want in.

It is never too early to focus on any or all of the above. Recruiting will help you grow, but retention is what helps you hit your goals faster—and smarter.

Glenn Handler is general partner and co-founder at Oceans.