Recruiting and retaining employees

How to find and retain the talent you need

Hiring the right people can drive your business forward – we discuss how entrepreneurs are adapting to a changing recruitment market.

Many firms find it hard to get the staff they need. For example, 58% of businesses in the services industry and 74% of manufacturing firms say they struggle to find people with the right skills1.

The skill sets a business requires change as it grows. For start-ups it’s often a case of ‘all hands on deck’ in the early days, but as a business gets bigger and more complex, experienced people with specialist expertise are usually needed to take it to the next level.

Business owners often find it hard to relinquish responsibility to others when they’ve been used to taking every important business decision. So recruiting people you trust and feel confident in delegating to is obviously important.

Speaking at a Barclays High Growth and Entrepreneurs event on recruiting for success, Simon Swan, founder of Hiring Hub, says: “At first you need people prepared to do a bit of everything and roll up their sleeves. But as you grow you need people who do one thing really well. It changes over time.”

Cultural fit

Finding people who fit the company culture is a challenge that many fast-growth businesses face. This becomes increasingly important when the business grows large enough that the founders don’t know everyone personally.

To get people on board who are genuinely in tune with your culture, it’s important to set the tone from the top and present a clear mission, purpose and objectives for the future of the business.

Finding talent

Most successful and growing businesses use a variety of ways to find the right people, such as recruitment agencies, advertising and social media. But many see personal referrals from existing employees as the most effective route, and encourage this through financial rewards for successful hires. If using an agency, remember they’re acting as the voice of your business, so they need to truly understand it.

Your reputation as an employer will spread fast, so it’s important to plan ahead. Gautam Sahgal, COO of employee benefits provider Perkbox, says: “You want people to know that you’re the best place for them to work. Maybe you don’t have a role for them today but maybe you will in three months. The worst time to go out recruiting is when you need someone. The best time is when you don’t need someone.”

For more senior hires, it’s often sensible to test out personal chemistry beyond a formal interview setting, for example through social events. Employment lawyer Emma Swan suggests trial projects or probationary periods to test out new employees: “If it’s not working, it’s in everyone’s interests to address the situation quickly.”

Motivation and reward

Expectations around the way people work are changing – particularly among millennials. Although a competitive salary is important, people are increasingly incentivised by less tangible benefits, such as being part of a ‘cool’ place to work or having interesting challenges to solve.

As people get older they’re more likely to be motivated by financial security, flexibility around family commitments and a strong sense of direction from the business. Ask employees what motivates them, through staff surveys and discussions, and work out what you can offer to make your business appeal to the best talent.

Offering just a small stake in the business to employees through a share scheme can be a powerful motivator, without significantly diluting equity. A flexible working environment – perhaps with the option to work from home or work irregular hours – can help you attract a broader talent pool.

“Flexibility is a key motivator for many people,” says Eleanor Martin of recruitment firm Rullion. “If you can be flexible, then shout about it.”

Some people might even want to bring their dog to work. Try what works and feels right for your business.

Quick tips to help achieve recruiting success

1. Recognise when it’s time to bring in people with specialist expertise and learn to delegate
2. Be transparent and communicate with employees about where the business is going and why you’re hiring
3. Set the tone from the top and be clear about roles and responsibilities to get the best possible cultural fit
4. Be creative with non-financial rewards and think about offering flexible working arrangements – money isn’t always everything