How TA Leaders can Create Great Cultures within Corporate Recruiting Teams


A shorter version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog.

How TA Leaders can Create Great Cultures within Corporate Recruiting Teams

Great culture in corporate Talent Acquisition teams doesn’t just happen.  It takes leadership and focus and investment.  

With massive growth and constant change, culture has been hard(er) to scale.  As teams flex up and down, with hard-to-predict demands from the business, we - as TA leaders - need to put conscious effort into creating a strong team culture that can help anchor our team to thrive in any environment.

One of those teams that scaled quite a bit was Okta, a US-based cloud software company based in San Francisco.  Brett Coin, Okta’s SVP of TA at the time, grew the recruiting function about 6x - from 27 people to 175 people over 3.5 years.  My team got to partner with Brett, who invested in our Talent Advisor training, and we noticed something quite cool going on with his team.  People were happy.  They were productive.  They talked about being recognized for hard work and achievement - not just individual achievement, but team achievements.  They talked about not only helping to build Okta, which grew its employees from about 1,600 to 6,000, but also about building Okta’s TA function and culture.  Most of this during covid, when people were remote, and culture building was hard(er).  

There’s a lot of great content already on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog about culture building.  I wanted to share some of what Brett did specifically within TA to build a healthy culture that achieved a ton of great results.  

Culture needs to be in service to winning as a team while also helping individuals succeed

Brett was smart.  When demand for recruiters was peak, he was posting photos and results that spoke to top TA folks.  He was highlighting how his team was winning, and how individuals were winning.  All in a culture that was built by and for recruiters.  But unlike some hard core agency environments, where it’s recruiter vs recruiter on the leaderboard, he wanted to be sure to create something where individuals AND teams were winning, and the team wins were most important. 

Brett: “Some recruiters came out of agency roles and have that commission orientation. They came from a hero culture that recognized and rewarded the individual recruiter in a very competitive environment.  It can be hard to unwind that thinking.  That has looked like recruiters hoarding reqs and candidates - not sharing, not seeing a hire into the company as a team win.  I’ve realized in my years of TA leadership that the business doesn’t want a superstar recruiter who fills just one key req - they want a team of superstars who are filling all of the department’s reqs.  I’ve had pods of recruiters where 1 superstar recruiter hired 15, 1 hired 5, and the third recruiter hired 5, for a total of 25 reqs filled.  But the business needed 40 hires - despite a superstar excelling, we’d still be down 10 hires…we weren’t winning for the business.  We have to look beyond skills and capacity and tools, and ask ourselves as leaders, are we rewarding the right kind of behaviors when we elevate the superstar versus their peers, versus focusing on the team win for the whole department?”

Team Goals > Individual Goals

How did he shift his approach?  Brett found a key way to shift to a team focus was to shift req allocation and department-goal accountability to the TA managers, and reward the whole team for hitting a department goal versus just rewarding the superstar individuals. 

Brett: “My TA managers were accountable for team goals.  That’s what I measured them on, and what they measured their recruiter teams on.  So in this new model, a recruiter who hits their old target of - let’s say 10 hires - early in the quarter would move to a sourcing role to support their teammate who is only on track for 7 hires for the quarter.  What I wanted within these teams was a business department goal, where recruiters were saying things like, “I know we’re behind by 5 fills for the quarter - where and how can I help?”  I wanted our team to have a “win as a team” mindset, and move away from just rewarding the individual recruiter who was hitting their numbers and then maybe lacked an incentive to help the department and their team hit their overall goal.”

Brett: “It’s a false choice to suggest you have to choose between a culture that rewards individual OR team performance.  You can do both. We did.  It works.  Ultimately, we decided succeeding as individuals was important, and we needed to foster that for individual growth and development.  However, it was an input to a more important goal, which was winning as a team”

Transparency and decentralized, team level accountability

How did teams know if they were on target?  Transparency was key.  Each team had transparent score cards.  Everyone within a team knew how they were doing against department and team goals.  And each team knew how other teams were doing against their goals.  Brett wanted to create accountability and ownership at the team level, with a decentralized approach that allowed each team to determine the best way to allocate reqs, align resources, and support the business. 

Brett: “We ultimately shifted winning as teams to the Managers, giving them the flexibility to allocate reqs as they saw fit with the goal of meeting the quarterly headcount goals of the business.  We had some TA managers who worked with their recruiters to focus more on sourcing, since that was the biggest blocker to hitting their team goals.  Others needed to move to more of a batch sourcing and interviewing model.  While other teams started to weight the value of some hires more than others - like maybe a critical software architect role was resourced more and “worth more” than a regular software engineer, so a recruiter might get fewer harder reqs so that they have capacity to get the key hires the business needs…without a typical one-size-fits-all “15 reqs per recruiter” capacity model.  Bottom line: wIth clear team goals, and everyone aligned on those goals - and motivated to hit those goals - there was more flexibility on the team to show up however the team needed a recruiter to show up and help out.”

I like this approach.  As consultants, when clients ask my team and I about hiring goals, we try to steer them away from just setting capacity based goals (reqs/recruiter x number of recruiters = goals).  Instead, we need to ensure our published hiring goals align to the business goals.  When the business is getting the talent they need, we’re winning.  

Rewards and recognition were key to creating a winning culture

Brett didn’t just shift the culture single handedly.  He led many conversations with his teams as they were growing and getting hit with bigger and bigger hiring targets.  He wanted and needed this culture shift to be developed for and by his team.  Framing it up as a team win for TA AND the business/department was key.  And involving them in the recognition and rewards they’d get was even more important to making this stick.  What kind of recognition programs did his team come up with?  I’m glad you asked. 

Brett: “We did all kinds of things.  We created a rotating “recruiting cup” that would move from team to team based on achievement of team goals - we shipped it around the country so people could show it off on zooms.  We got the business to help fund a recruiting kickoff meeting - like a sales kickoff meeting - where we’d recognize individuals and teams.  We created annual peer to peer rewards - a “people’s choice” award, where a recruiter could recognize their teammates.  We had all kinds of awards - the “learn it all” award (versus “know it all”) for someone who developed their skills the most in an area; a “do the right thing” award; a “rookie of the year” award; a “collaboration” award.  We took some of these recognition ideas from the Talent Advisor training your team delivered to our team, John.  For example, after your training, we changed up our hiring manager surveys to focus more on evaluating the team and also holding the hiring manager accountable.  We wanted to reward the “hiring is a team sport” mentality.”

People love their swag, too.  Many times, even inexpensive things become loaded with meaning, and matter more than just cash.  

Brett: “We created a swag store, John!  Sweat pants, winter beanies, trucker hats, and more.  The idea was that, if I’m in a meeting, and I see a colleague demonstrating some of our core values, I can send an email to our group admin, and get them a hat with a personal note from a colleague.  People LOVED these hats.  Some folks felt like they were knighted with these hats.”

It takes great partnership with hiring managers to hire great quality talent, at scale, with a focus on diversity, in one of the most competitive markets in many recruiters’ careers.  I was curious if Brett’s team also recognized any hiring managers. 

Brett: “Yes!  We gave our TA managers the ability to get our hiring managers swag, too, for things like doing a great job closing a tough candidate offer, or consistently leveraging diverse interview panelists.  We even recognized some of our partners in HR and finance - when we got back to the office, I’d be walking down the hall, and see an HRBP wearing a TA team t-shirt.”

Is all recognition about awards and swag?  Nope. 

One of the things I noticed about Brett was he was always highlighting how his team was a great place to grow.  He wasn’t selling just an opportunity to make an impact as a recruiter at another cloud software company.  His pitch was more: Come here to grow, to develop, to get great training, to get mentoring, to elevate your craft and learn from a bunch of smart people who want to help you win in your job.  

Brett: “We invested a lot internally in growing people, and also hired your team, John, as outside experts to help us grow our skills and confidence, especially in the hiring manager facing parts of our jobs.  I know that investment mentality is what attracted a lot of people to our team, and allowed us to retain so many great recruiters.  I told my TA leadership team that if we do our job right, we should be able to say, “ I hope you stay with us, but if you decide to leave, I think you’ll find yourself more developed, and maybe even play a mentor role at your next company.” I wanted our team culture to be focused on team results, for sure, but also on rewards and development for individuals.”

What were the results?  Did Okta hit their aggressive hiring targets?

Brett shared that once his team was aligned and performing, they hit 8 out of 9 consecutive quarter hiring goals.  Granted, it took 3 quarters of investing and building to catch up to the company demand.  But they did it.  They went from hiring 200 people per quarter to over 800.  

Brett: “We started delivering on what the company needed, not just delivering against our capacity-based goals, and things just got better and better.  But we did more than just put butts in seats for the business.  We improved our candidate experience ratings (onsite interviews) from a negative NPS to a positive 37, with some groups hitting NPS ratings in the 60s.  We improved our offer accept rates significantly.  And my team’s employee engagement scores were top 5 in the company - we achieved an 84 rating, which earned me an invitation to speak to other VPs across our org about how to create a great culture and improve on factors like “am I recognized” and “do I feel like I’m growing and developing in my career.”“

What advice would you give to a leader who wants to shift their culture and create something special?

Brett: “Get your TA leadership team together first, and define how you want to be seen by the business, by your peers.  Define your cultural norms, with input from your individual recruiting team members, of course.  I sort of regret that we didn’t bake in “having fun” as a cultural norm early - we got there, but it wasn’t explicit, as it was a grind in the beginning to catch up with business demand.”

Brett: “And then don’t be afraid to ask the business to help fund some of your results focused rewards.  At Okta, 20 recruiters earned a 3-day sales club style trip for getting 200 roles filed.  At my last company, Intuit, we had an engineering leader who needed 80 more hires outside of plan, in 6 months.  I worked with him to identify a special team reward in advance, and when we hit the goal, we got the reward plus some personal recognition by him for people in both my org (TA) and in his engineering org.  ”

I think this last point is so important.  When I led all of tech recruiting at Amazon years ago, I’d regularly bring the leaders into my staff meetings to talk about the context for our hiring targets, and to recognize my team’s hard work.  They’d help me - as a TA leader - give meaning to the work of recruiters.  In turn, I’d show up to their staff meetings to recognize interviewers and hiring managers for generating referrals, volunteering to help with interviews, delivering top rated on-campus presentations, and closing tough-to-close candidates.  Remember: Hiring is a team sport.  

One of the free and easy things we can do as TA leaders, as we’re creating a great culture within TA, is to also create a culture of recruiting across our company.  Another easy way to do that is for recruiters to recognize individual hiring managers with LinkedIn recommendations.  (Check out more ideas here in our hiring manager maturity model and culture of recruiting best practices doc.)

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I enjoyed and appreciated Brett chatting with me about how he raised the game for his teams, creating a culture and org that hit its company hiring goals while feeling great about it.  Burnout can be very real for us in recruiting.  We can work hard, and feel like there’s not a lot of payoff or appreciation, especially if we’re running lean and unable to do all the sourcing, screening, closing, and talent advising we want to be doing.  

I encourage you to follow Brett, and check out some of his LinkedIn posts for more details.  


John Vlastelica is a former corporate recruiting leader turned consultant. He and his team at Recruiting Toolbox are hired by world-class companies to train hiring managers and recruiters and help raise the bar on who they hire and how they hire. If you’re seeking more best practices, check out the free resources for recruiters at, on recruiting from underrepresented groups at, and for recruiting leaders at


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