Hiring in the Times of “The Great Resignation”

Around mid-last year we started to hear people talking about “The Great Resignation” — the record number of people leaving their jobs as the pandemic grinds on. It began like the emergence of the cicadas — a background buzz and slowly grew and grew in volume. In this reported mass exodus from work, we hear that many companies are scrambling to identify ways to attract and retain talent.

The common refrain from the capitalists’ perspective is one of the overly entitled workers. From the workers’ side, it is about exhaustion, toxic workplaces, exploitative wages and practices, and autonomy. But there is a deeper story, one of resistance and renegotiation. This desire for freedom and growing resistance to the exploitation of capitalism is not new because of the pandemic, but like many other aspects of life, the pandemic and the social uprising of the BLM movement in 2020 made visible new growth that has long and deep roots: a collective process of redefining our social contract on many levels, including what work is and how we do business.

During the emergence of this awareness — a shift that is ongoing — we found we wanted to bring more people, ideas, and perspectives into our business. But what would hiring look like during this time of mass movement? Would it be challenging to find the right people? Would the pool of talent be shallow or so disenchanted with being employed that we would not find people who wanted to engage with our offerings?

Image shows an illustration where a hand holds a puzzle piece over multiple small people standing below

As we embarked on our first real hiring journey, we sought to prioritize transparency, mutual matchmaking, and teamwork. Recognizing that we are not yet living in a post-capitalist reality, we knew we had to find a way to do business differently within a system that was not built for vulnerability, contribution, and care.

We also asked ourselves, what could hiring look like? In what ways could we begin to untangle how the hiring process is caught up in a capitalistic system of exploitation and hierarchy? How could the process itself not only signal the kinds of external shifts we are committed to — attracting those who are equally excited about social transformation — but also lay the foundation for the internal shifting toward new ways of working together, a team experience where we felt supported, nourished, and inspired by each other?

Image shows an illustration of an open notebook book with the title user guide on it. There is a pen placed on top of the book.

We did our homework. We took time to think together and sought coaching from both antiracist and non-hierarchical organizational culture perspectives. We read, discussed, explored, wrote, and rewrote. There is no manual for this; this is a creative process.

Drawing heavily from our experience with a non-hierarchical tool for unlocking the potential of teamwork (see below), we began with belonging and working to define the role this position plays on our team, not in hierarchical ways. We hoped this person would bring toward making our team more balanced, how the role would function within a holistic team approach, the specific ways that filling this role would strengthen our work overall.

Seeking to move toward an inclusive practice, we crafted position descriptions based not on specific academic qualifications or an exhaustive list of tasks but around the kinds of work they might be doing and the kinds of lived experiences and knowledge that we thought would support this work.

Understanding that not everyone is engaged in the work of social transformation, but knowing that it is core to who we are, we were intentional about bringing forward our antiracism commitment, our land acknowledgement, and understanding of the ongoing nature of this work of repair.

Hiring is not a function that should exist distinct from the rest of the organization. We recognized that transforming our team would not end with hiring. From the beginning of the process, even written into our postings, we invested time and energy into acknowledging that a team is not built overnight — we built-in 30, 60, and 90-day check-ins with the opportunity for mutual reflection and commitment.

Image shows the illustration of a unicorn on a blue background with a keyboard at the bottom.

As we put these postings out into the world, we were met with the stark reality that our new postings didn’t fit into status quo hiring systems. Looking at what we put out there, we wondered, would our search be too challenging, would people find it, or were we looking for mythical creatures who would never materialize? The rhetoric of The Great Resignation seemed to point that way. We believed that being clear about our requirements and culture would help us find people who match our goals and culture. We did not want to fill roles; we wanted to find synergy.

It turned out our approach worked. It was not difficult to find aligned and wonderfully experienced candidates. If anything, what we offered was something people were hungry for — a position with a strong purpose, living wages, and room to bring your whole self. We are happy to report the talent pool is deep and beautiful.

We approached the doubling of our team, going from 3 to 6 people in just a few months, with great intention to do right by our new team and build a workplace where we could be nourished, supported and do meaningful work together.

We found beautiful and brilliant people to join our team. Now past the 90-day mark with each other, we are still enjoying working together, exploring what it looks like to collectively create what we want from our work.

Head here to see the new faces and what they bring to Picture Impact.

Resources:

  • We work with Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters on untangling ourselves from capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy culture. Pausing once a quarter to do this reflective work is one of the hardest and most rewarding things we have done for our company.
  • NOBL recently wrote about using a “stay” interview to find out what keeps people coming back to work and listening for what is engaging, where support is needed and how they see themselves growing.
  • Want to know more about the model we use to unlock the team’s potential? Check out the Team Management Profile. We love it so much that we are in the process of becoming accredited to administer the tool. We’ll write more about this as our learning unfolds.

This article is written by:

Anna Martin, Evaluator, Social Worker, Facilitator, Complexity Coach, curious mischief-maker, and co-founder of Picture Impact.

Katrina Mitchell, Designer, Urban Planner, Strategist, Maker, relentless seeker of beauty, and co-founder of Picture Impact.

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Picture Impact

Picture Impact

We are strategists, designers and evaluators. We help people see what needs changing and envision a new future