Inspiring Purpose: 5 Lessons We Learned From 3 Incredible Leaders

Inspiring Purpose: 5 Lessons We Learned From 3 Incredible Leaders

Katie Cox Branham, Jeff Perkins, and Donald Knight came together for a special live recording of The Great Retention podcast. Here's what we learned from their conversation about people-first leadership and winning culture.

Inspiring Purpose: 5 Lessons We Learned From 3 Incredible Leaders

Around a year ago, we recognized the need for a transformation. As the Great Resignation began to take hold of the HR community and the future of work became uncertain, it became our mission to highlight great leaders who were driving successful companies by putting their people first.

Our goal was the start a movement that would make waves in the world of human resource management. We let creativity guide us and eventually, The Great Retention podcast was born...

The Great Retention combines leadership lessons with the personal experiences of purpose-driven business leaders to create a community-driven masterclass on the leadership skills that set world-class organizations apart from the rest.

Over time, we’ve had the honor of bringing 21 guests on the show to highlight their unique leadership styles, including Sangram Vajre (Terminus) and Tricia Sciortino (Belay). Last week, we hit a very special milestone–our first in-person event right here in Atlanta.

Donald Knight, Katie Cox Branham, and Jeff Perkins are leaders who understand that the most important element of any business success is people's success. Their companies, Greenhouse Software, Salesloft, and (formerly) ParkMobile, respectively, attract an incredible talent pool because of their phenomenal cultures.

Click below to watch the full recorded panel!

banner that you can click to watch the full recorded event

For Donald, Katie, and Jeff, it’s not about ping-pong tables or Zoom happy hours. It’s about being the best leaders and always starting with “why.” They do this by basing company culture on incredible missions and clearly visible core values.

Bringing these three together for the Great Retention’s first event was a key moment for our team at Cooleaf. Our existence revolves around employee experience, engagement, and recognition. We see firsthand what it takes when leaders fully commit to investing in their people.

It’s not every day that we get to sit down with inspirational leaders who are making waves in our own backyard.

Here are 5 key lessons we learned from Katie, Jeff, and Donald about great leadership, personal growth, and shattering the status quo.

1. How to build a winning culture (even during economic uncertainty)

Start with why.

Success starts at the very beginning. In order to build a winning culture, effective leaders are authentic, values-driven, and straightforward from the gate. This means baking core values into every piece of company culture, from hiring to exit interviews. At ParkMobile, 6 core values drive every piece of the organizational structure.

"In the worst case, core values are super generic. If they're really true to the company though, they hold incredible power. At ParkMobile, we had six core values and we truly made them part of the hiring process, who gets a bonus, who gets promoted, or even sometimes fired. Because we really lived the core values they infused into the way we operated as an organization, thus creating the culture of the organization."

2. Donald Knight’s 4 stages of allyship (a.k.a our new guiding compass for fostering inclusion)

Inclusion rests on strong allyship.

At Greenhouse Software, Donald Knight puts inclusion at the forefront by following what he refers to as “the 4 stages of our most universal language: allyship.”

  1. Inviting

The invitation to the table comes first. Without first creating the space and then being vocal about who should fill it, allyship falls flat.

"There are 4 stages of allyship, and the first one is inviting. That's something all of us can do at our companies. When is the last time you invited someone you don't work with regularly?”

  1. Support

Extending an invitation means nothing if support doesn’t follow directly after. Making sure that you follow up and follow through is essential. This means providing resources, being responsive to feedback, and being present.

“The second thing you have to do is support. When is the last time you supported someone?”

  1. Engagement

Inviting someone to join is the first step and laying a foundation of support comes next, but maintaining engagement by checking in and being consistent has to follow.

“After you invite or support someone, you have to engage them continuously. When was the last time you engaged someone continuously?”

  1. Championship

This stage speaks for itself. At its core, allyship is about clear and dedicated advocacy in privileged settings. Are you speaking up for those who feel they can’t? Are you clearing pathways to success for people who need you to clear them?

“The last one is to be a champion. When I say champion someone, I mean you have to shepherd their success. You have a responsibility to champion others and help them succeed. And they don't just need to look like you. In fact, the most beautiful form of allyship is championing people who aren't like you or are perceived differently."

3. How to live out core values as a leader

Great leaders hold each other accountable.

This means being an advocate for employees and taking part in company-wide initiatives. In order for workplaces, especially ones that are virtual, to uphold core values, participation from leaders is essential.

At Salesloft, LofterGroups create space for team members to unite in an informal setting, hosted by a senior leader, to discuss any topic of interest, reinforcing core values on a regular basis.

“Our Lofter Groups are designed to be similar to a once-a-week bible study or youth group format. Each group has different topic and a different senior leader will host. It can be any topic from parenting to gardening to time management to negotiation skills. It gave a different population in our organization the chance to connect. We started internally and now some of our team members have their own informal groups.”

At ParkMobile, Jeff took a huge role in retention efforts, personally speaking with top performers if they left to pursue other opportunities. In the end, his involvement as CEO actually helped create several boomerang employees, or team members who came back to the company.

"For our top performers, I personally made a point to reach out and talk to them to try and understand what we could've done differently. There’s a huge difference when the CEO does that. It’s important at any level, but people don't expect it from the CEO...We actually had 4 people call me and rejoin us. Nothing gets us more excited than when amazing people find us again."
Katie Cox Branham, Donald Knight, and Jeff Perkins took the stage for The Great Retention's first-ever live event!

4. The best way to invest in the next generation of business leaders

Prioritize creating leaders by looking for opportunities to develop skills and pass on important lessons.

Be clear that you are building leaders and be intentional about your investment. At Salesloft, a large, distributed workforce is built on a foundation of leadership skills.

“We’ve really prioritized our leadership development program. Every new manager goes through the same program: 6 months where we talk about all of our leadership philosophies, radical candor, how to have a one-on-one, how to navigate dysfunction–how to lead the SalesLoft way.”

5. The most important lessons for leaders to understand as we head into 2023...

Allyship, Intentionality, and Exit Strategy.

Allyship is what future leaders will prioritize because the candidates of today are prioritizing inclusion. By using Donald’s 4 stages of allyship as a guiding compass, we’re able to better understand what true leadership looks like through allyship.

Intentionality in every part of an organization will shape every successful company in the future. At Salesloft, focusing on intentionality drives phenomenal execution. Connection and transparency are Katie’s keys to success here. “Transparency is incredibly important. Transparency around our numbers, our all-hands communications. We’re so intentional about the information we share with our employees.”

At ParkMobile, COVID-era resignations prompted Jeff to re-think the exit process. If you’re as intentional about exits as you are about recruitment, top performers may just find their way back to you.

“Think about what your strategy is for when people walk out the door. Be purposeful. Question if you can get them back in the next 6 or 12 months. This is one of the most incredible ways to boost confidence in your organization and maintain success overall.”
Guests left the event with customized Great Retention swag

This event was the culmination of a year’s worth of inspirational leaders who’ve joined The Great Retention to share what makes a good leader a better leader.

Whether you’re a CEO seasoned with decades of experience, a first-time manager stepping into a new role, or an entrepreneur taking on the business world solo, these guiding principles can define (or redefine) your approach to leadership at any stage.

A huge thank you to Jeff, Katie, and Donald for continuing to elevate the employee experience and always being open to sharing their learnings.

These amazing leaders remind us that leaders aren’t superheroes who just happen to know all the tricks–they’re ordinary people who take on the hard work of being dedicated to making a difference.

Katie, Donald, Jeff, and so many others are pioneering what it means to build a purpose-driven culture. We’re thrilled to continue building The Great Retention community alongside them.

The full recorded event is now available here.

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