Chief People and Equity Officer of the Mom Project Rocki Howard’s playbook for employee retention includes novel tips for a private equity industry in the throes of a war for talent. Want to lure and keep top earners? Skip the workplace snacks and focus on flexibility. In an interview yesterday, Howard covered many ways firms can differentiate themselves while addressing employee needs and wants.

“The biggest change that’s happened is the shift toward recognizing that the things we’ve thought of before as best practices or cutting edge or nice-to-haves are no longer nice-to-haves,” Howard explains at Mergers & Acquisitions’ Human Capital in Private Equity SPEAKS event yesterday morning. “People spent the pandemic really sitting back and reevaluating what’s important to them.”

Among top priorities? Flexible work schedules. Even corporate professionals in client-facing roles can optimize productivity by allocating a segment of the day to in-person or office hour work, perhaps even splitting roles between two employees seeking part-time work. Employers need to ask themselves how much facetime is actually required as opposed to conforming to past standards.

Top talent also gravitates towards businesses that invest development. At the Mom Project, for instance, workers get a learning stipend that can be applied toward courses outside of “core” work function areas, with no condition placed on grades earned. That kind of open-ended support for employee development shows commitment to the person, not just the bottom line.

“We have a problem trying to be human and kind at scale,” Howard notes. “I think it comes down to being human and kind.”

Productivity should continue to be front and center for managers, but Howard contends that many workplace structures reward intangible performance out of reach for some. A sales role that involves travel to places not welcoming of LGBTQ+ employees stacks the deck when promotion opportunities are based on successful trips. Workers with family obligations can’t always spend off-duty hours at happy hours to schmooze with the boss.

Identifying KPIs that actually measure output rather than cultural affinity are another way of keeping talent onboard, as the workforce sees the most productive employees getting ahead, regardless of soft factors so instrumental to current advancement practices.

Brandon Zero