Recruit and Keep Top Talent for Your Small Business

“We must trim the fat!” If you are like most people, you concentrate on the idea of getting rid of the superfluous, the unproductive, which is certainly a valid thing to do. However, if you take the metaphor literally, you realize that once the fat has been cut away and thrown away (or rendered down or whatever they do with the fat once it is trimmed), you are left with the lean. Presumably, from an employment point of view, these are the people you want to keep, those who bring value to your company and profit to you. These are the folks you want to retain, and if you could have, you would have staffed your company entirely with these go-getters. Now, as things get rough, you need them.

This is what its all about: attracting top talent and keeping that talent around. It all begins, however, with understanding what your business has to offer.

The Small Business Advantage

While large firms can use money and posh benefit packages to woo potential talent, small business owners—often strapped for cash and lacking the spectacular benefit packages and bonuses of an AIG or General Motors—have to rely on a different set of advantages, but these are every bit as real and tangible as anything the big companies can offer. Typically, small businesses:

  • Are less bureaucratic.

  • Offer closer relationships between owners, mid-management (if any) and employees.

  • Offer employees greater scope in their jobs.

  • Have owners who treat their work force like family.

  • Offer greater flexibility, job diversity and higher growth potential.

  • Can tailor the job to deal with employees’ individual needs.

For many great people, these advantages are easily as important—or more important—than anything they could get from a big corporation.

Recruiting Top Talent

Recruiting good people can be hard, especially for a new business, since you are basically trying to get someone with a good track record to leave their current situation and come work for you. True, during recessionary times with high unemployment, there are good people looking for work and that is something you can tap into. Either way, social networking can help you a great deal, just make sure you reward those who provide viable referrals. While the person referring the candidate may have done of the selling job for you, remember that you are still competing for those good people with many other firms. You have to convince them to come to you and to not go across the street to you competition.

The key here is to make a very compelling business case that answers the question of why this person should join your organization. Executives typically look for equity in exchange for the risk; middle managers usually want a company with longevity while lower-level workers are seeking growth opportunities. Regardless of the level the prospective employee will be on, they have to have a clear understanding of how they fit into the company and how their skills will be used to benefit the company.

Once You Have Them, How Do You Keep Them?

Employee Turnover is a serious problem since it can cost a great deal to employers in terms of time, money and productivity. There are, however, a number of things you can do to keep those costs in line. Some are geared toward the way you deal with your employees, some are directly aimed at the employees themselves.

  • Offer a competitive benefits package – Benefits should include healthcare and retirement, but they can also include flex-time, telecommuting and other things that employees may value.

  • Provide some small perks – Small perks could be pizza every Friday, or chair massages in the office—things that show you care about your workers as people.

  • Conduct “stay” interviews – Stay interviews are the opposite of exit interviews. Instead of asking why the employee is leaving, you are asking why they are staying, what they like or dislike, what improvements they would like to see. Your employee's annual review is a good time for this kind of conversation.

  • Promote from within whenever possible – Promoting from within goes back to motivation— people work harder when they know there is something tangible to shoot for.

  • Foster employee development – Groom your people for better things through training and education.

  • Create open communication between employees and management – Your employees need to feel free to approach you and your management team and speak freely about anything that touches upon the business. Also, you need to clearly communicate your expectations and the overall vision and mission of your company.

  • Get managers involved – You and your management staff should be coaching and supporting the efforts of your employees.

  • Offer financial and other rewards – Performance-based bonuses, awards and other forms of recognition are vital to maintaining proper motivation because they give the employees goals that have tangible benefits over and above their regular paycheck.

Did you notice the number of items on this list that have something to do with motivation? These are different ways of approaching that issue, but their message is clear and consistent: Employee motivation stems from management taking in an interest in their employees as people rather than as workers. Showing that you care through good benefits, perks and rewards, open communication, employee development, coaching and mentoring, stay interviews and any other way you can think up only strengthens the ties between your employees and your company. To do that, especially if your company is growing and you are getting into that 50 – 100 employee range, you may consider hiring a human resources professional who can handle these issues and develop programs to further enhance the company-employee relationship.