Written by: Emily Wagner

I ask every executive hiring manager I work with, “What keeps you here?” or “Why haven’t you answered the retained search professionals knocking on your door?” It helps both to paint a picture for the candidate profile we are seeking and for the benefit of the prospective talent. It’s important for prospects to get a feel for the culture that has been built and understand what drives and motivates the executive ranks they are considering joining. Through the years spent collecting and analyzing these hiring manager responses, I have come to the conclusion that creating cultures to attract employees is one thing and creating cultures that keeps employees, another. But embedding a culture that creates staying power within the leadership ranks, is playing ball in another league.

Everyone has a boss. Even if you are the highest ranking individual in an organization, you answer to someone, somewhere. Whether it be another even higher ranking executive, a board, investors, or yourself and your own long-term goals in a start-up environment. Even those at the top are affected by the environment, whether created at their own hands, or a combination of others.  Being entrenched as an executive in a work environment that results in turning down external offers, sets the highest example possible to all rankings of the organization. It sets a tone of what’s within the company, because competitors and recruiters will always come knocking on the doors of top execs with higher salaries, more impressive titles, and bigger roles.

To determine why execs stay in some environments and not others, FIRST it is important to understand the difference between “culture” and “climate”. As detailed here in ERE Medica, a workplace culture is a view of how things are done, the foundation for behavior and communication. While the climate encompasses what it feels like to actually work there every day, the tangibles, the perks and programs that ignite behavior but do not necessarily create long-term change. Leaders create, and are a part of the culture, but are entrenched day-to-day in the details of the climate.

SECOND step is to identify the type of culture you have, or want to build, and recruit accordingly. Just because someone is fully technically qualified to hold a seat at the head table and all those invested in the hiring process like their personality, does not always mean cultural values will align. If you can classify your company’s cultural goals, you can identify executives whose inherent DNA already matches your organization vs. trying to fit a square peg in a round hole with a lot of growing pains and leadership turnover down the road. It may be a Directorial environment, more Shared-Learning focused, Customer-First or a true Open-Door culture... whatever your culture may be, have it clearly identified and supported. Studies show that 50% of employees have left a good job due to bad leadership, so an alignment of vision and cultural happiness must start at the top and whatever your culture is, make sure your executives bleed it from the top down.

Now cultivate the community. Ensure in the executive ranks, for both them and the company as a whole, that their genuine interactions seeps into every corner of the organization. A sense of comradery and community existing so that execs aren’t segregated to just leading the packs, but are equal participants in the social aspect of office life. As shown in more detail here, friendships built in the office are critical and provide a sense of community, at all levels, and will build respect, trust and further deepen the cultural objectives.

Finally, continually enrich engagement with resiliency and purpose. The more the organization can resonate and grow alongside the executive, with the personal and professional purpose they aim to achieve, the higher the resilience and ability to bounce back easily when things veer off track momentarily.

Employees stay with organizations until they find a reason to leave, even the CEO. But in an environment that is a natural cultural fit and challenges and nourishes their behavior and well-being, the reasons to leave will be few and far between and they will inspire both current employees and prospective alike.