How to win the war for talent

Lyndsey Simpson, co-owner of the Curve Group, offers her top tips on how SMEs can attract and retain the very top talent

How to win the war for talent

Where does the time go? What started out as a six-part series on the trouble with talent has morphed into a much wider overview of all your people, talent and HR challenges. However, it’s now time for me to step aside to make way for some new ideas and perspectives that I’m sure will help deliver success to you and your businesses. 

As a swansong, I thought I’d leave you with a whistlestop guide to all of the things you should be doing in your businesses to attract, engage, nurture and retain talent. Hopefully it will give you the odd jolt of guilt, forcing you to do something you’ve been meaning to do for a while but which has been impeded by your attempts to grow a business. 

Bring the right people in

Taking the time to make the right hiring decisions can be one of the hardest things to do when you are under pressure from customers to deliver. It can be difficult but the people you bring in – particularly the first 100 or so employees – are absolutely critical to shaping your future success, as well as to retaining and developing your company culture and values. 

You also want people who are smart about how to manage projects with insufficient resources. No matter how well or how fast you recruit, you will never have enough employees or funds if you are growing quickly. But bright, adaptable problem-solvers will be able to manage the situation at hand, find a way through and help the company continue to grow. 

Attracting talent

People work for people. The more interesting those people, the better. Therefore, it’s crucial that you have a story about why your business exists. Soon enough, you will see that you don’t need to offer the best package or provide a healthcare scheme to keep up with your competitors, as you are giving your people something way more valuable: a purpose and the ability to make a difference to customers’ lives. 

As a smaller company, make sure you leverage your size and your flexibility so that you can demonstrate to talented individuals the breadth of role they can expect to have if they come and work for you. And above all else, be unique. The big corporates can’t compete with you on any of this so start dating the people you want to employ and tell them your story. Soon enough, they’ll be asking what they have to do to come and work for you. 

Engaging your people

Unless you crack engagement, your productivity will always be a minimum of 30% below where it could be. People have to be enabled to do a role – in other words, they need to have the skills, training and tools to be able to perform. But the magic happens when they are engaged with their role and your business. They will genuinely care about the outcomes of their work, going to the ends of the earth for you and, more importantly, your customers. Your business, your customers and your people will see the benefits when your employees are engaged and committed to their role and feel proud of the value they add.

There is no one way of engaging people – the key is to have processes in place as your business scales, to ask everyone how they are feeling about their role, the company and the future, then work out with each individual what you are going to do to gain their maximum engagement. While some employees may want to acquire new skills outside of their day job, others may be seeking a flexible working pattern that takes into account something they do outside of work. There may even be some people who just want some public recognition for the company, which could include winning awards. The list is endless but, unless you speak to every single employee and are prepared to act on what they say, you will only ever get employees who give you between 50% and 70% of their energy, brain power and passion.

Growing and retaining your top talent

Now this is where you get your tracksuit and trainers on, stop clock out and play sports coach. If you start thinking about your team as elite athletes and they start thinking about themselves in a sporting context too, a culture of constant development ensues. There is always room for improvement, for a better outcome, for 60 seconds to be shaved off of their best time. The key here is that you are their coach, not their manager. You are there to make them the best of the best and to push, support, test, assess, reassess and congratulate them, rather than set their objectives and tell them if they have passed or failed. Facilitate them to reach their own goals and encourage them to push themselves outside of the ordinary to produce truly great results for both themselves and you. 

Embrace change 

Change isn’t something to shy away from so be clear with anyone thinking of joining you that change is inevitable. By joining a company that is scaling up, their role, environment, processes and structure are all going to go through numerous reinventions over the coming months and years as the business evolves. However, you should assure your potential and current employees that this is nothing to fear. 

I may be disappearing from Elite Business for a while but I am very happy to stay in touch so please do drop me an email, connect on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.

Lyndsey Simpson
Lyndsey Simpson

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