One day, Heidi Zak had to settle. She needed a bra for a holiday party and every wiry piece she tried on poked her like a voodoo doll. “It was nuts,” she recalls. So, in 2013, Heidi started ThirdLove with her husband Dave. The company pioneered the concept of half-cup sizes, which helps people achieve a better fit by going beyond the typical cup-size alphabet soup.
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Beyond the bra game, you know what else ThirdLove is winning at? Employee retention.
The company has a ridiculously high retention rate of 96 percent. That means that 96 percent of her 130+ employees have remained at the company over the past year. To put that in perspective, a typical business has an annual retention rate of 58 percent.
Their rate stayed sky-high even as the company grew 400 percent in a single year. Usually growth spurts lead to rocky turnover situations. Morale dips, projects change, and things get real. But Heidi was able to keep her team engaged and feeling good throughout the wild ride.
How can you replicate ThirdLove’s retention success for your own business? For Heidi, it’s about focusing on the foundational hiring and onboarding strategies. We talked to her to unwrap ThirdLove’s retention recipe—one that emphasizes collaborative recruiting, encourages work relationships, and gives her team the freedom they need to never settle.
Wait, does this story apply to me?
If you have a business with employees, most likely yes. High retention rates are directly connected to your company’s success. Considering that it costs 20 percent of an employee’s salary to replace them, it’s good business to keep employee turnover low.
Trick #1: Make recruiting every employee’s second job
What this means for you: Your team is the best band of recruiters you’ve got. Create opportunities that reward them for pulling in candidates from their network.
To Heidi, collaborative recruiting is a must if you want to hike up retention.
One of the things that make ThirdLove stand out is that people at the company are actually friends. A recent Gallup study found that one of the top indicators of workplace happiness is whether someone has a best friend at work. “We always focus on that here,” says Heidi.
That’s why Heidi prioritizes her employees’ input into the types of candidates they bring in. Your team knows your culture best, and can therefore make a more genuine connection with potential candidates, more so than any pixel-perfect job board can.
So ThirdLove enlisted its employees to source candidates through a program called “Hot Jobs.”
Every week, the team spotlights the most urgent hiring needs at the company. “It’s about finding those people we really needed like five days ago,” explains Heidi. So far, Hot Jobs has multiplied the number of quality candidates streaming in while tightening the timeline for filling roles.
Want to give it a shot? Here’s how to roll out a Hot Jobs-like program at your own company:
Give your team exclusive access to new roles—before you make them public.
Your employees probably have connections to stellar candidates. Make the most of that!
If you’re hiring a designer, for example, ask your current designers to scour their LinkedIn networks for prospects and have them reach out before you make the listing public on a job board. That enables you to conduct interviews for these referrals before you spend time and money on job postings.
Break down what you’re really looking for.
Don’t simply send out the job title you’re looking for; fold in the tiny details that you’ll dial in on during the interview. Let’s say you own a children’s clothing store. Instead of saying you need a cashier with two years of experience, add that you want someone to work on weekends, has a love of kids, and is interested in eventually becoming a buyer. Those details will help your team get a better handle on the role.
Focus on these three categories as you think about adding color to a role:
- The top skills needed: What would make this person successful?
- Description of the tasks/projects they’d work on: What does a normal day look like?
- Your vision for the role: How will the role evolve?
Throw a sourcing party.
A cold email from one of your employees is more compelling than a cold email from a recruiter. Order pizza, and ask your team to hang out and source candidates together. Send out a spreadsheet with the list of open roles you’re looking for, and instruct people to slip in LinkedIn profiles of candidates who may be a fit. Use this spreadsheet template to get your sourcing party started.
Include a list of keywords for each role so the team has an easier time sifting through LinkedIn. For instance, if you’re trying to hire a new attorney, include keywords around schools, areas of expertise, and synonyms for titles.
- Example: Attorney — Lawyer — Associate — Family Law — Columbia Law School
Offer a referral bonus (or even a small prize if you can’t afford a bonus).
ThirdLove doubles the referral bonus for Hot Jobs candidates to underscore how much they need the team’s help. Plus, it’s usually way cheaper to give a referral bonus instead of paying a hefty recruiting agency fee.
Even if you can’t afford a cash bonus, consider giving your team some kind of incentive: gift cards, free meals, massages or spa treatments are all good alternatives.
Trick #2: Ask this essential interview question
What this means for you: During candidate interviews, double-down on questions that reveal whether a person is positive and resilient. Then, lead with those questions.
In the early days, ThirdLove had a serious problem with micromanagement. If someone sent an email that had a typo, “they probably felt the heat from everyone,” says Heidi. These days, mistakes still happen, but what happens afterward is different. “It’s just a moment in time and people move on and learn from their mistakes. That’s the kind of environment you want to build.”
This outlook is particularly important for small businesses because of all the ups and downs. Positivity is a must while rolling with all the punches your business will throw at you and your employees. And that means you need to hire people who can bounce back easily. “Do they get out of bed and start every day like it’s fresh?” That’s what you want to know, says Heidi.
Her trick to honing in on those people? This series of interview questions:
- What’s something that didn’t go great for you? Tell me what happened.
- How did you react to it? What were you feeling?
- Then, what happened next?
This isn’t just one of those run-of-the-mill “tell me about a time that you failed questions,” says Heidi. “I hate that question.” To her, the answer isn’t in the act of failure, but in what the interviewee did to fix the problem.
“Okay, so that was the time you failed. What came after that? It’s important to find people who say, “Well after that happened, here’s what I did. It’s really about that next step.”
Trick #3: Help new hires find their work besties
What this means for you: Kickstart work friendships with a thoughtful onboarding program.
People like working with their friends. That’s why work relationships need to be meaningful, says Heidi. Colleagues who have meaningful friendships will end up helping each other succeed. “To give each other feedback on what’s working and what’s not, you have to become friends.”
Matching people up with their work friends early on is essential—employees who leave jobs generally do so within the first few months of starting a new gig. Providing a strong support system from the onset will help new hires deal with any potential issues that could lead to turnover.
Let the matchmaking begin with ThirdLove’s unique onboarding spin:
Give your new employee a built-in friend.
Assigning a buddy to a new hire can help them get used to things much quicker. Sorry, the person can’t be you—pick someone that isn’t the owner or manager. Then, have that person:
- Take your new hire out for coffee during the first few days.
- Tell them all the unwritten rules. (Like what do people really do for lunch every day?)
- Schedule weekly check-ins for the first few months to see how they’re doing.
An onboarding buddy should also provide honest feedback to your new hire when they encounter certain firsts. These can include things like,
- Making a mistake
- Dealing with a difficult personality
- Receiving feedback
- Starting a new project
- And other hoops your employee will jump through in the first few months
Tell the team to take your new employee out on the town during the first week—and dare them not to talk about work.
When someone new starts at ThirdLove, their team takes them out to lunch or happy hour, basically just to get them outside of the office. Sounds simple enough, but here’s the twist—the goal of these get-togethers is to talk about everything but work.
To do the same thing at your company, hand your team a budget and a calendar invite. If you’re not joining the activity, have one person be responsible for paying so it’s not awkward when the bill lands on the table. Then, tell the rest of the team that they should walk away with the following answers about their new teammate:
- Where are they from?
- What are they into?
- What do they do outside of work?
- What do we have in common?
“Building culture and making our team happy is the hardest thing I do as CEO,” says Heidi. ThirdLove’s focus on collaborative hiring, work friendships, and thoughtful interviews is proof that strong foundations pay off when it comes to employee retention. And by copying a few of their hacks, you’ll be able to help your new teammates get integrated much faster. “In the early days, we struggled with all of this. We made mistakes, and it was harsh, and we learned from them. Then, we tried something new.”
Editor’s note: This story is part of a new series that reveals exclusive advice from small businesses that are seriously crushing it. Each story dives into one issue these companies wrestled with, along with the unique hacks they used to overcome it. The goal? To help you make your business just as successful.
We’re always on the hunt for best practices that small businesses and entrepreneurs will find useful. Have a story to share? Hit us with your best pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org.