Attracting and retaining talent

How to attract and retain millennials is a pressing concern facing all businesses, but the challenge it presents small businesses is even more acute. In this blog, TPC Leadership Associate Partner, Vicky Ferrier explores the issues relating to attracting and retaining talent.

The latest SMB Trends Report from Salesforce showed ‘hiring the right talent’ to be the no.1 factor constraining business activities in the US and the second largest constraint in the UK.

Large companies have the luxury of attracting talent through their prestige, clear promotional opportunities and potentially larger benefits packages. They also have the power to look the part for younger talent – with striking office spaces, 3rd wave coffee bars on site, and possibly even a slide connecting the first and second floors.

What do small companies have to offer emerging leaders in such a talent market? How can they keep up with managing millennials when the other side doesn’t only seem to have greener grass, but have also installed a playground on the lawn?

Make opportunities for leadership development

“Instead of aiming for unique accomplishments, the intense desire to succeed leads us to strive for guaranteed success.”Adam Grant, Originals

The advantage of small businesses is that they can create opportunity everywhere instead of funnelling new hires into a specialism. Recruiting talent can be a process of inviting potential candidates to make an impact on the whole of the company – and to grow in leadership as they do so. Even if the primary role of a position is sales, marketing or PR, the opportunity for creative input, communication and ideation can extend far beyond.

Leaders of small businesses should actively ask for input from everyone regardless of their position in the company. While large companies can often be tangled up by unwieldy processes and hierarchical management, small businesses have a natural agility to run with ideas from below. As Craig Pearce of MEF University says, “knowledge trumps position when it comes to leadership if we are going to make breakthroughs.”

Demonstrating that you value your emerging leaders as leaders – and not just task-completers – doesn’t just mean you’re more likely to retain talent. The respect and opportunity you give will almost certainly motivate your team to give significantly more of themselves to the company. Offering in-depth opportunities for leadership development, whether through training courses or coaching, will strengthen this desire to stick around even more.

Foster real friendships with your emerging leaders

“We have a critical mass of thought leaders who are thinking that we need to move away from the concept of leadership being just a hierarchical role to it being a social process.”  – Craig Pearce, MEF University

What small businesses might lack in their coffee game is made irrelevant by what they can offer on a relational level. In larger companies, it is easy to let the sliding doors between departments and levels of management become significant barriers. In smaller companies, there are far fewer obstacles to developing real relationships. There’s even the chance for the business to feel like a family, regardless of whether it is actually a family business or not.

The desire to belong affects anyone of any age, but for millenials it can be a deal-breaker in choosing who to work for. If your company creates space for real friendships to develop – whether in or outside of work hours, people will be able to sense the connection and will want to be a part of it. Practically, it can help to introduce interviewees to the rest of the team, so that they can begin to visualise themselves among them.

Radiate realistic optimism 

“Great leaders must honestly accept the gravity of challenging situations… doing so provides them with credibility to also share an optimistic, authentic vision that is both reassuring and realistic.” – Russell Reynold Associates, Leadership Through Uncertainty

Being small isn’t a default path to developing a sense of belonging in a team. Intentionality is still required if genuine friendships are to develop – the kind emerging leaders want to stick around to enjoy for years. And it requires more than being nice. It requires leaders to be open about their limitations, honest about the real state of affairs and to be encouraging even when a project fails. They must radiate realistic optimism. This is what inspires people to show their true selves and enables true camaraderie to form.

Look to those you already have

“A workforce of great people not only does great work, it attracts more great people.” 

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, How Google Works

Leadership development of the people already a part of your team will go a long way in attracting talent further down the road.

What people are looking for – more than any peripherals or benefits package – is a great team to be a part of. They know that in order to grow, they need more than a clear promotional path. They need to be around other people who are growing fast.

TPC Leadership has been growing leaders since 2000, working with clients across over 110 countries, from 14 country offices.

For more information, or to discuss your own development, please get in touch.