If identifying talent is a challenge, convincing it to walk through your door is a tall order indeed. But, argues Lyndsey Simpson, it is by no means beyond the reach of a small business owner
In January’s issue, I kicked off a series of articles entitled ‘The trouble with talent’, focusing first on the challenges relating to identifying and defining talent for your business. This month, we are working on the proviso that you now know exactly what type of individual you seek for your business and the types of things you want them to do to create maximum impact. So the challenge now is, as an SME or start-up, how do you get talent to come and join you if don’t have the brand, corporate budget and employee benefits that your competitors have?
1 Have a story
From the off, you need to become a story-teller. Why does your business exist? What’s the exciting journey you are embarking on? How are you going to change your customers’ lives or create a dent for the positive in the market you are operating in, whilst having fun en-route? Don’t write a dull corporate mission statement; make it real, bring it to life and you will find that talent will want to come along for the ride. In my business, The Curve Group, we have a quest and think of ourselves as players on a game board. We do everything to make sure every action we take drives us closer to achieving our quest and minimise the things that make us step off-track on our journey towards it.
2 Offer something different
If you don’t have the deep pockets of a corporate to pay great salaries or provide healthcare and amazing pensions, don’t lead on the financial elements of your employee proposition. Choose instead to play to your strengths in the areas that your bigger competitors cannot match, for example, less bureaucracy, freedom to make decisions, more breadth in the role, ability to use commercial judgement when setting pricing strategies or changing the delivery model. These are the gifts a smaller business can give to their employees that drive morale, engagement and performance. Anyone who has ever faced death by PowerPoint and the sixth sign-off committee to make a simple decision in a large corporate will give up financial elements of their package for the freedom to make a significant difference.
3 Start dating
In the same way that you would start a romantic relationship, courting your prospective partner, making them feel special, as and when you spot talent in the market – at a conference or networking event – you need to do exactly the same. Don’t simply give them your business card and say “get in touch if you fancy a chat about working with us”. They won’t. They’re talent, doing well where they are and not actively looking to change. You need to own the action, not pass it off, and actively court them. Take them for coffee every three months, find out their career aspirations, keep in touch and ask them how they’re getting on. You may not even have line of sight to a role for them yet, but if they’re talent, you need to court them and make them want to jump ship and join you when the moment is right for your business and you have the right opportunity for them.
4 Interview as if they’re a new customer
Now, you will know what you need to get out of your interview process, be that technical ability, cultural fit, understanding of their motivations, style of working or ambition. With that forming the core element of your interview process, it’s important to then wrap a sales process around it.
You start by putting your best people in front of your prospective employees first. Who are your most upbeat, positive advocates that can talk about your business passionately? If that’s you, then make sure you conduct the first interview and don’t delegate it down. Dedicate enough time to selling your story – how they can make a difference, why people enjoy working for you – even if you’re not sure that you want to employ them. Your mission is to get everyone you interview queuing up around the corner wanting to work with you so you can select the best.
5 Be flexible
As an SME or start-up, it is unlikely that you are going to have the plushest premises, in the heart of the city, right next to perfect transport links. Therefore to counter this, your weapon is flexibility. Use the savings you are making on rent and rates to ensure you have proper remote working capability as you grow and allow your employees to embrace flexible working and working from home. Don’t apologise for being out of town, sell the fact that your employees are always going in the opposite way to the masses cutting down on commuting time. Reap the benefits of free online conferencing and video calls at the expense of your competitors who are carrying the overhead costs of expensive offices and meeting rooms.
6 Be a speed demon
You’ve got them excited, you’ve decided they are the one for you and you want to make an offer. Show them just how different it is going to be working for an SME by moving at a pace your corporate competitors can’t match. Give them feedback on their interview the same day, don’t spend ten days drawing up an offer letter, send it out within 24 hours or even the same day if you can, and follow it up with a call. Make it personal. In the offer letter don’t just state the facts about salary, location, role; tell them how excited you are about them coming on board and what an impact they are going to have on the business.
By taking some or all of these tips on-board you will immediately stand above the parapet of your competitors who despite their best intentions, generally fail to do anything out of the ordinary to attract talent into their business. Make yourself a magnet to talent and just watch them queue up around the block.