How to Build and Retain a Highly Skilled Workforce

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Written by Stefano Maifreni, founder of Eggcelerate

If you're a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) then hiring the right people can make a huge difference to the success of your company. However, you'll probably be competing for talent against more prominent brands based in ‘cool’ places, with more kudos and higher salaries, which can feel intimidating. 

That said, it's possible to punch above your weight and add exceptional people to your team.

·      Understand your audience: many people think joining a small company could mean a dead-end job in the business backwaters, you need to recognise and overcome fears like these.

·      Position your brand: your target audience will want to know about your vision, mission and values. They'll look on your website and maybe LinkedIn too. It is an excellent opportunity for you to tell your story clearly and creatively. Avoid bland, corporate-wannabe jargon. Sound different. Project energy and direction.

·      Play to your strengths: position yourself as the plucky outsider, the free-thinker and the agile risk-taker. You may want to talk about your open culture and how people are listened to — and have access to your CEO.

·      Draft the job description carefully: put the person at the centre of your story. Explain that an incoming employee can make an impact. Appeal to ambitious people by talking about how you'll be looking to develop their talents and use their ideas to shape the future of your company.

·      Do the recruiting yourself: SMEs are rarely looking for off-the-shelf employees. Someone with a mix of skills may have added attractions. Respond to candidates quickly and professionally. Even large enterprises can slip up here, appearing rude and distant. Be warm and personal.

·      Select team players: Don’t just look for experience – consider potential. Within SMEs, people need to be all-rounders, adaptable and good under pressure. Even if someone is a genius, poor people skills can kill teamwork, destroy morale and sink a company. Hire people who are gifted, positive and likeable.

·      Avoid a 'panic buy': plan ahead for recruitment, don't leave it until you're desperate to hire someone ... anyone! That's like going shopping when you're starving and buying junk food.

But this is not enough! Once you've hired someone, plan their induction. Ensure they feel welcome from day one. Make sure their PC, laptop, mobile, email address and everything else is there waiting for them. Help them to feel part of the team. Ensure your company lives up to your vision.

Focus on clear objective setting and and regular performance evaluation, so long as it's done properly.

For example, when I have talked about this issue with my clients, meeting objectives accounts for 55% of someone's final evaluation. But the remaining 45% is allocated on how they went about it. So, for instance, a ruthless achiever who doesn’t care about their colleagues does poorly within the company.

Goals sometimes relate to personal performance and completing specific business activities, but they can also extend more widely and adapt over time. For example:

·      Staff members 'own' objectives and can serve as a reference point for a period of time

·      Many objectives feed into agendas and meetings, so they are being discussed constantly

·      Objectives may be split into two, dropped, or new ones added and/or priorities changed

Trusting employees is also an essential part of this process. In my experience, this approach delivers results. It's not without pain: Some employees might leave because the way they attempt to achieve objectives clashes with the culture of the company.

But the model fosters a culture where each staff member is considered a mature professional, who owns their role and can use their initiative. They stay anchored in the vision/mission/values of the company while their objectives may adapt according to fast-changing business needs.