Business owners, personnel managers and non-profit directors gathered to get the inside track on hiring and retaining employees from some of Saskatchewan’s best. Sagehill Community Futures hosted Humboldt’s first Employee Recruitment and Retention Conference at the Legion Hall on Tuesday, September 20. Speakers included human resource experts, government liaisons for immigration and employment, and local agencies Humboldt District Community Services and Humboldt Regional Newcomer Centre, each of whom have their own unique expertise and take on the local labour market. 

Among the highlights was a fireside chat with the CEO of Saskatoon based Coconut Software. The tech company has quickly become a giant in the realm of contact and appointment scheduling for banks and credit unions. Katherine Regnier, originally from Prud’homme, took a leap of faith in 2011, left her job and founded the venture capital backed software firm that’s seen remarkable development over the decade plus of its existence. Regnier is proud that Coconut Software has been listed as one of Canada’s Top Workplaces in categories such as inclusion, mental wellness and for women. 

The company grew from an idea, a $5000 loan, and a handshake deal with communications giant Telus, almost before the company had gelled.

“I worked full-time for probably five years while I tried to get it off the ground,” explained Regnier during the chat session. “I also quit my job while I was three months pregnant to take on this venture. The biggest thing my investors taught me was just to think bigger. Everything can be on the table if you think bigger.”

With a strong foothold in organizational ideas, Regnier began to hire and surround herself with people who had the skills in programming and design to realize them. She says Coconut started modestly and grew from five people, then twenty, to the hub that now employs over 100 people in Saskatoon, Toronto, and in remote locations. 

When it comes to attracting entry level hires, Regnier hangs her hat on the idea of culture, which is not what many people envision tech company perks to be - like ping pong tables and beer nights. Her idea on corporate culture evolved with the growth of her company. 

“When we were hiring and accelerating so fast, I realized I didn’t have a framework, and culture can provide a real framework. I can tell you to this day that it helps us hiring, and maybe more importantly, with firing.”

The simple statement that underlies the Coconut cultural vision is “people, passion and performance” - in that order for a reason, Regnier maintains. Out of that vision came a statement of values that the company espouses. Regnier and her colleagues fleshed out the acronym “CHEERS” to encapsulate the values of collaboration, honesty, empathy, elevate, respect, and share. The values help to guide not only the hiring process, in articulating what the company is about, but they also guide employees in the right way to approach their work and to approach others. 

“I think culture can be measurable, but I wouldn’t overthink it, but it’s something really easy to point to for today. Then in six months, you and your team can review it.”

During her meetings with new hires, Regnier asks ‘how did you hear about us?’ In the drilldown, she was surprised to hear which vehicles were giving them traction in the marketplace.

“I was shocked to hear it. In one group, they said Instagram. When you think about entry level employees who are younger, that’s where they are.”

Emerging platforms like Tik Tok are potential mining tools for new workers, confided Regnier, even though she laughed about her reluctance to have Coconut participate in the snapshot videos. 

When it came to employee retention, the participants opened up about their own observations and concerns. In a market where employees are placing more demands on employers, it isn’t all about the cash. Sometimes, time and quality of life measures become the leverage.

“We went to a four day work week, and our customers are banks and credit unions” said Regnier, “There have been a lot of studies on the four day work week, and to be honest, it’s going to be a competitive advantage for only so long. The Federal Government is talking about it; it’s done a lot more in Europe, but it’s only a matter of time before it gets here.”

Flexible work times that still enable workers to fulfill their duties and maintain their salaries are starting to become capital in the recruitment and retention space. 

No doubt, communication anchors Regnier’s approach to working with her staff. Taking the time to talk to staff about what’s important leads to positive results. 

“A lot of times, we’ll put three or four ideas out there that we’ve heard from them, and we have them vote on it,” she outlines. “It’s really simple, and you don’t have to overthink it. But then they’re part of a solution of what’s important to them, and I think that brings great ownership into the company.”

The audience responded to Regniers “from the ground up” examples, her conversational and inclusive approach, and certainly her sense of humour. The source of animated conversations for the remainder of the day, Katherine Regnier’s insights on culture and values were clearly at the  forefront of employers’ consideration when it comes to approaching today’s ongoing labour market challenges.