MT Expert: People - snaring the best

Up against bigger fish in the fight for talent, you have to play to your strengths...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When you are running a small business and trying to attract and keep top talent, you realise you are fishing in the same talent pool as much bigger firms. It's easy to think that you don't stand a chance; the big boys can offer so much more in terms of benefits, experience and opportunities. So we have to think creatively about what it is we can offer that is actually more attractive bait to the particular type of people we seek to recruit.

My first tip is to make sure you know what that type is. Are they energetic enthusiasts or perhaps people with more experience? It's important to know as people have very different expectations according to the life stage they are at.

Recent research of third year students at top universities seeking their first career employer showed that the things they value most are (in ranked order): training and development, flexible working options, corporate social responsibility and international opportunities; pay and benefits came fifth in the list, proving that top graduates are more interested in their personal development and well-being than what you would expect from someone in their 30s with a young family and increased financial responsibilities.

Second tip is to consider the emotional elements of your offer. Research we carried out at Stanton Marris a few years back into new talent management approaches revealed that highly talented people make career and employment moves based more on emotional factors and yet they rationalise their decisions differently.

Successful people at the top of the career ladder value things such as increased autonomy in their roles and (surprisingly often overlooked by employers) continued personal development opportunities. They want to give something back by bringing on and developing future talent, for example, more than going for promotion or the top job.

So, when you are clear what you want, it's easier to set out your stall and ‘employer proposition' based on what's important to them. In a small, fast-moving company it's much easier to offer flexible working arrangements, for example. It comes with the territory that you can offer early responsibility and opportunity. Demonstrating that you take CSR seriously - showing you have a clear mission to support a local charity or you encourage staff to put something back, creates that stronger sense of community in the workplace that many people now seek.

A big fish does have the added attraction of being a known brand and the ‘halo' effect of saying that you work for a leading company should not be underestimated. So think of the things that help compensate if you work for a small business. The added bonus of awards that indicate you are a good place to work, blogs from current talented employees on your website, and a really well-designed and user-friendly site are examples of what you can do to make sure you are able to lure the best catch into your net.

Virginia Merritt is managing partner at Stanton Marris.

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