Keep staff for life

Keep staff for life

No company, big or small, likes it when the people they’ve invested in quit. An unexpected exit can bring down morale, plus it takes considerable time and resources to train a replacement. For many companies, turnover is just a part of doing business, but what if you could keep your beloved staff for life? At YellowHouse Events, a Toronto-based event planning company, the goal isn’t just to keep staff for a few years, it’s also to hang on to them for decades. Over the last 14 years, only four employees have ever quit the company while its very first hire is still part of the team. CEO Grail Noble shares her secrets to creating a stable staff.

Set the culture

“The big reason I started my own company was I wanted to press ‘reset’ on corporate culture,” says Noble, who once planned events for television station YTV Canada. She now has 13 employees who help her put on galas, conferences, street teams and flash mobs for large Canadian and U.S. corporations. “I wanted to wake up every day excited to go to work.” From her first hire in 2007, she’s made a conscious effort to shape and maintain a workplace that’s supportive, positive and fun – as well as hard-driving. She and her team have chosen a dozen words that define company culture – such as smart, bold, hard-working and honest – and refer to them often.

Offer the right perks

At YellowHouse, staff get a litany of perks: a free weekly coffee date with colleagues, the freedom to flop out any time in a beanbag chair in the office’s “creative space,” travel reward points for trips and a “no-questions-asked” day off once a quarter. If Noble’s staff doesn’t like a new idea – and they’ll say so – she ditches it right away. However, the team has yet to find a problem with Sangria Wednesdays.

Let staff lead

YellowHouse takes a democratic approach to management. The team does a quick huddle every day to share ideas and issues, and management shares back. “Employees give a lot of input into many of the key decisions,” says Noble. When there’s a new request for proposal (RFP) the company is considering, everyone gets a chance to comment on the project and the client. If there are three concerns, YellowHouse shelves its proposal. Recently, staff told Noble they didn’t like negativity. Now, gossip and complaining about difficult clients are verboten.

Scrap the interview

“Interviewing is the worst way to hire people,” says Noble, who thinks it takes more than one conversation to really get to know a person. She’s had only one terrible employee and that staffer was brought on after a single interview. Now, prospective staffers go through an intensive recruitment process that includes doing a presentation for the entire company.

Put people first

Noble maintains that YellowHouse’s success is rooted in its investment in its people. Noble shrugs off the costs of her approach. That includes absorbing the expense of establishing a remote work situation for her first employee after she moved to Quebec City, but still serves as director of operations. Staff not only stick around, they come in on days off to help colleagues with events. “Good culture is not rocket science,” says Noble. “Hiring good people and treating them well generally will result in a good culture.”

— Diane Peters