Powerful and unique ways your small business can attract and retain great talent

The reasons why you want to attract the best talent to your business are obvious. The 'how' may be a bit more challenging – especially when you don’t have the ability to compete financially. However, one of the great things about small business is the ability to be creative and flexible. Without shareholders, infrastructure and entrenched processes to rigidly abide by, you can come up with fresh and effective options to both attract new talent and keep them delivering happily. Here’s how.

1. Commit to development

“In my first job out of uni, I worked as a deputy manager at a retail store and got paid a relatively low salary, but I had the chance to attend management training workshops, a public speaking course and work with my boss on creating team schedules and budgets. It was as valuable as my uni course had been when it came to practical experience,” says store manager, Alice Browett. She also used the training courses as leverage when it came to getting promoted at her next job.

When it comes to retention, development also creates many positives. As well as benefits for the individual team member, you get the bonus of having an up-skilled worker and can enjoy their increased learnings – even if they do eventually leave. Plus, courses, seminars and training sessions are usually tax deductible (these may still be subject to fringe benefits tax, so check the specifics with your accountant.)

Committing to training your team is an excellent incentive for attracting and retaining talent, and a powerful reward to offer. Moreover, if someone's motivated to grow and learn, it’s a fair bet they're an enthusiastic person and likely to be a great team member.

Tip: Don’t assume you know the areas that your team member wants to develop. Work with them to address the areas they most want to grow in and you’ll supercharge your efforts. 


2. Allow flexibility 

Recognising the many needs of an individual is a great beginning. Being honest about the fact you’re not a corporate is also key. You'll have expectations and needs, so perhaps you can’t be completely open to every arrangement. But being aware of where you can bend and flex is a great starting point to fostering flexibility within your team and using it as both a reward and a way to attract new talent.

“Increasingly, people go into small business these days because of the lifestyle desires that they have,” says Leanne Faulkner, director of Fortitude at Work. “It’s not always about growth and it’s not always about making a lot of money; it’s about flexibility and a lifestyle that you wouldn’t get otherwise… and that’s actually OK.”

Being aware of your team’s needs and making adjustments to flexibly accommodate them can deliver big results. In a recent report by Officeworks, researchers found that most people would like to work flexibly and those that do feel they are more productive, less stressed, have fewer distractions, and find it easier to focus. 40 per cent also stated they were happier. A happy, calm, productive employee is certainly less likely to start hunting for a new job role, and given the value people place on flexibility, utilising it to reiterate the respect you have for them is valuable.

Tip: Using flexibility as an additional reward can be interpreted in many ways. Earning late starts, bonus days off, or holiday time after delivering on sales targets, can be used as a beneficial and inspiring incentive.

Find out what makes your employees driven and happy and plan your business reward or recognition program accordingly

3. Think outside the box

Want to really compete with big business? Tap into what really makes your team members tick. The ability to do unusual hours, spend part of their week working on a pet project, or try their hand at a side-interest within the company are all things you might be able to facilitate. Indeed, one of the best aspects of being smaller is that you can potentially cater to individuals. “More and more organisations are using customised rewards strategies to create unique employee value propositions that align with values, brand, cultures and truly unique needs,” says Trevor Warden, Reward Strategy Practice Lead, Hay Group Pacific.

Tip: Don't be afraid to take it next-level. Approach the talent you want and ask them what their ideal role and rewards scheme looks like – then tweak your offering to incorporate it, while still meeting your business needs. The effort alone will make your proposition attractive. 

4. Explore what makes your team tick

As a small business, it’s unlikely you’ll have the scope to offer reward perks like free gym memberships, stock options or big bonuses. But you can come up with some truly creative options that can work just as well. You should also utilise the insights you have about your employees. A research report from RedBalloon showed that 44 per cent of people didn’t believe their manager knew what motivated them. Knowing what motivates one person versus another will allow you to customise your rewards and make them more impactful.

Don’t forget – cash isn’t always king. Money might seem like the ultimate motivator, but it often doesn't have lasting impact. A study by management consultants, McKinsey & Company, found that non-financial incentives were actually more powerful motivators than pay rises. It’s also been revealed that people become used to cash no matter what you give them, rendering it an expectation that blurs into their normal compensation.

Tip: People are five times more likely to stick around with a company that recognises their efforts, but only three out of four people are regularly given praise. Be sure you utilise the most simple reward of them all – a genuine thank you. Thanks and praise are free, and very powerful.


One final consideration: Make sure you hit the mark 

Don’t let your efforts backfire. One report showed that employees are five times more likely to leave if their business has a substandard reward and recognition scheme.

Rewards are also more effective when they're given out in clear recognition of an actual accomplishment and issued in a timely manner. If the reward rationale is ambiguous, then the impact can be negative or even misinterpreted as a ploy to deviously raise productivity. For example, one small ad agency put on in-office Friday drinks for their team, but served cheap and poorly chosen options, which led to people feeling devalued by management, rather than appreciated.

Tip: Understand what your team enjoys and responds to. If you can tap into what motivates them, you're more likely to have your rewards and recognition programs hit the mark to attract new talent and create a positive team that delivers great results.