How Goldman Sachs rocketed up the list of companies Most Admired for HR

The return-to-office debate has been waged in C-suite offices and board rooms across industries in the last year as organizations define the post-pandemic future of work. It was a discussion that happened early at global financial services firm Goldman Sachs, which first called workers back to the office in the summer of 2021, a move that generated headlines at the time but which has since generated better collaboration and innovation from talent, says Jacqueline Arthur, global head of human capital management.

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The transition back to the office happened alongside several other shifts in the people strategy over the past three years, says Arthur, who joined Goldman Sachs in 2007 and took the helm of HR in January 2023. From new employee surveying approaches to benefits expansion—with a focus on mental health—and a greater emphasis on internal mobility and manager effectiveness, Arthur says, Goldman Sachs’ people strategy is continuing to evolve with the world of work.

Those transformations helped catapult Goldman Sachs into the 10th spot on the 2023 list of the companies Most Admired for HR, jumping 129 places from its 2022 ranking. Arthur recently shared with HRE what is driving Goldman Sachs’ HR success.

HRE: How has employee listening evolved in the last two years?

Jacqueline Arthur, Goldman Sachs
Jacqueline Arthur, Goldman Sachs

Arthur: Our priority is to invest in our people at every stage of their career—from implementing effective talent development strategies to ensuring that all of our people have the resources they need to grow and thrive, both in and outside the workplace.

To support our approach and as part of our longstanding commitment to listening to and learning from our people, we launched our biannual people survey in 2021 with the goal of hearing from our people more frequently. The short survey asks our people to share their views on topics ranging from how we collaborate together to learning and development opportunities as well as wellness offerings and supportive resources.

We use the results to identify and prioritize solutions to enhance our people’s experience at the firm. Results have been telling. From a human capital perspective, we’ve taken a closer look at our growing suite of benefits and wellness offerings, including enhancements to our vacation and leave policies, for example.

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Another important callout from the survey is how important the manager-team member relationship is to our people—and as such, we’ve continued to invest in our Three Conversations at GS framework. Three Conversations at GS ensures that all of our people have dedicated check-ins with their managers at the beginning of the year, halfway through the year and end of year.

These conversations supplement day-to-day touchpoints to create an open dialogue on progress toward goals and professional development and also empower our managers to serve as more effective career coaches to their team members. Investing in our performance management framework will continue into 2024 and beyond.

As we look forward, our Pulse Survey will continue to be an incredibly helpful conduit to hear from our people on actions we can take to support our workforce’s evolving needs.

HRE: What are some of the primary changes Goldman Sachs’ recruiting strategy has gone through in the last two years?

Arthur: Off the back of the talent super-cycle in 2021 and 2022, we recognized the importance of creating agility in our organization to handle scaled and cyclical hiring. We’ve invested in new digital tooling and experiences, including a re-imagined candidate application site to improve the candidate journey. We are streamlining our recruiting tech stack and finding ways to optimize our products and processes to help our recruiters identify and hire top talent more efficiently.

We are also focused on an internal mobility strategy to support our own people’s career paths. Lastly, we continue to leverage data insights to drive informed, strategic decisions in an effort to achieve our ongoing goal of attracting and retaining the best talent in the market.

Ultimately, when we look for candidates to join the firm, our priority is to identify exceptional individuals who will want to make a positive impact for the clients they serve, whether internally or externally, as a member of our highly motivated and engaged teams around the world.

HRE: What is your perspective on how the organization’s RTO policy has impacted recruiting? And retention?

Arthur: Our apprenticeship culture is a differentiating factor of working at Goldman Sachs. What is great about being back in the office is that our people are connecting with each other, receiving coaching and developing lasting relationships. We deeply value in-person collaboration at Goldman Sachs, and I think our people recognize the value of being together and experiencing our culture first-hand.

Over the years, we’ve learned that 99% of respondents to our annual summer intern survey believe relationships are best formed in person, but in 2023, we wanted to put a finer point on this data as we’ve moved past the pandemic: What types of interactions are most beneficial to have in person?

We feel our culture of apprenticeship can answer to the 87% of respondents who shared that in-person work is very important to receive coaching and training from those around them, as well as to form spontaneous connections.

We continue to see outsized interest in joining Goldman Sachs and received over 1 million applications for open roles last year.

HRE: To what degree have benefits factored into Goldman Sachs’ recruiting and retention strategies?

Arthur: Goldman Sachs is committed to providing our people with a comprehensive suite of best-in-class benefits and wellness offerings. We’ve further invested in our offerings over the last several years, including by leaning into our “Pathways to Parenthood” benefits—such as fertility benefits and our expectant parent program—and expanding our leave options to provide additional support to our people and their families.

I am also passionate about growing our suite of resilience and mental health initiatives, and we have hit the ground running in 2024, including by providing every full-time employee and their dependents with a premium subscription to Calm, a leading app for sleep, meditation and relaxation resources and best practices. In addition, we have been developing a global cohort of Mental Health First Aiders: colleagues who receive training and help connect our people to mental health and resilience resources in times of need and provide on-floor support throughout the year.

We’ve trained 600 individuals so far, with a goal of reaching 1,000 Mental Health First Aiders at Goldman Sachs by the end of the year. We also see how important it is to provide support year-round, and access to confidential counseling for employees and their dependents is available globally through our longstanding Employee Assistance and Critical Health Solutions programs.

HRE: As we settle into 2024, what is the biggest recruiting and/or retention challenge the HR function is focused on tackling?

Arthur: We see a huge opportunity in promoting and supporting internal mobility for our people. Mobility is embedded in our culture at Goldman Sachs, and it provides a great avenue for our people to establish new skills and build upon their prior experiences. We know our people have growth mindsets, and we want them to know that they can have long-lasting, dynamic careers at the firm.

Further, we are focused on continuing to foster an environment where managers and team members engage in regular conversations about career aspirations, including how those aspirations could be supported via internal mobility.

Hear from other leading CHROs about the evolution of their people strategy at HRE‘s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].