The Small Business Guide to Attract and Retain Great Employees

Small businesses face a common challenge.

According to the 2018 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit report 70% of small businesses struggle to find and retain skilled talent.

At 70 percent, this issue is nearly a pandemic among small businesses.

In fact, according to the Summit (the largest gathering of U.S. small business owners), recruiting was the top barrier preventing small businesses from growing more quickly.

There are a number of reasons why recruiting is a challenge for small businesses.

The first is the rising skill gap facing employers.

Employees don’t arrive equipped with all of the skills small business owners would like them to have.

Recruitment and workforce management firm, The Execu Search Group, examines this skill gap in their 2018 Hiring Outlook report:

In recent years, the skills shortage has plagued employers across industries. As it becomes increasingly difficult to find the talent they need, these gaps in the workforce can impact a company’s ability to grow.

This skills shortage takes many forms. On one hand, it could be a generational shift where baby boomers are retiring and taking their skills out of the workforce. In another case, it could be the significant creation of new jobs; jobs that demand an entirely new set of skills.

The hiring landscape is changing, and these changes are putting increasing pressure on smaller companies.

As we’ve previously pointed out, millennials have overtaken baby boomers as America’s largest generation. And, they’re replacing boomers in the workforce in record numbers.

In fact, we identified building a millennial-friendly work culture as one of the top small business trends.

Rapid technological growth impacts big and small businesses, forcing employers and employees to race to keep up.

And, in a world of unique, niche businesses that require specialized skills or knowledge, plug-and-play employees aren’t a reality.

Small businesses are also struggling to capture coveted top-talent employees because the hiring and onboarding field has grown more competitive.

If that weren’t enough, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in about 17 years. The Execu Search Group observes:

While this certainly points to a positive trend, it does create new challenges for employers. In this market, where professionals know they can be more selective when making career decisions, talent engagement at all stages of the employment life cycle—from hiring and onboarding to succession planning—will become even more critical for success in 2018.

Job-seekers have the ability to be choosier with a wider range of career options to pick from.

And, small businesses just don’t have endless resources to draw from – making it hard to compete with the benefits packages their larger competitors can offer.

Unfortunately, these factors – skill gaps and a nationwide competitive hiring environment – aren’t limited to one industry. They span all sectors.

Without the right employees, it’s hard for small businesses to grow and thrive.

This is an especially challenging problem if you’re just starting a business.

So, what’s a small business or startup to do?

The good news is that there are many ways to attract and retain high-level talent. You may just have to play outside of the traditional benefits sandbox.

Let’s take a look at five proven ways your small business can recruit and retain top talent.

1. Offer flexible work schedules

Today’s employees value flexibility.

People live unique and varied lives. And – this may come as a surprise to some – employees are people. (More about this later.)

Flex hours, flex days, and remote work provide employees with the ability to balance their work lives and their personal lives.

Whether your employees struggle to juggle daycare schedules, band practice, or trips to the gym, everyone benefits from some flexibility in life.

Case in point – I hate driving in traffic.

Crowdspring’s team is distributed all over the world. I see the team from time to time but happily work from home.

These flexible benefits are incredibly attractive to employees. And, one of the greatest selling points for small business owners is that they often don’t cost a thing.

In fact, in some cases, allowing employees to work remotely actually saves businesses money.

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Ctrip’s Remote Experiment

Chinese travel website Ctrip conducted an experiment where they allowed half of their workforce to work remotely for 9 months.

When the experiment ended, Ctrip found that their employees were 13% more productive working from home than the office and that the business had saved roughly $1900 per remote employee.

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom helped to orchestrate the study. He had this to say about the results:

The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away. Ctrip was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit it would take when employees left the discipline of the office environment. Instead, we found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.

The positivity associated with flextime and remote work is not limited to Ctrip.

In a previous article, we shared that 51% of employees were willing to change jobs to a new position in exchange for flextime and that 37% of workers would do the same if they could work remotely.

Those employees could be yours.

Your action plan

Offer your employees flexible time or work location options that will allow them to do their best work.

Offer flex time. Flextime can be executed in a number of ways. It can mean having defined windows for arrival and departure (for instance, employees must arrive between 9 am – 10:15 and leave between 5 pm and 6:15). Or, it can mean that employees can work whatever hours they choose as long as they meet a minimum number of hours or complete a minimum number of tasks. Which option would work best for your employees?

Budget for flex days. Flex days can also be interpreted in a number of ways. Some companies offer days off that are accrued by working extra hours during the days that are worked during the week. Or, flex days can be used to indicate days that can be worked from home instead of the office. Choose the version that makes the most sense for your team.

Allow your employees to work remotely. Working remotely simply means working from a location that is not your office. Provide employees with portable laptops instead of PCs so they can take their work on the go. And create an infrastructure that will support remote communication by using instant messaging services like Slack and video conferencing services like Zoom or Google Hangouts.

2. Provide opportunities for advancement

The promise of career advancement is a compelling enticement for new hires and current employees.

Higher status, new challenges, and an increase in pay are appealing, particularly for the top-level talent small businesses are seeking.

If you want to attract – and hold onto – skilled employees, you have to give them opportunities to grow with your business.

The facts support this.  A 2016 Gallup poll found that 87% of millennials feel that career growth opportunities are important in a job.

Newsflash – millennials are your future employees!

However, small businesses often have short corporate ladders and limited funding for higher salaries.

But, don’t be discouraged. While you may not be able to offer a corner office and a three-figure salary, that’s okay. Small businesses have other traits in their favor.

The key among these is flexibility.

Working for a small business often means that employees can forge their own path to advancement. For highly motivated self-starters, this may be even more attractive than the promise of a specified path to upward mobility.

Here at crowdspring, many of our employees are hired in one role but grow into other roles that they are passionate about. As a result, our careers evolve organically in ways that we find personally fulfilling.

Your action plan

Speak openly and speak often… about the opportunities for advancement at your company. Make sure your job candidates know what the path to advancement looks like at your business.

Keep the conversation going. Continue to touch base with employees once they’re hired. Discuss employees’ strengths and values. And touch base about how they feel about where their career is now… and where they’d like it to go.

Walk the talk. Don’t just talk about advancement – support your employees when the time comes for them to evolve into a new role. Be open to their feedback and give them the autonomy to create their own path if it supports your business.

3. Create a positive corporate culture

The average American spends most of their day at work.

If your business has a toxic work culture – retention will suffer, and you’ll have trouble getting quality talent in the door.

But, if you build it (a positive work culture), they will come.

Okay, so maybe your office isn’t the Field of Dreams.

But, positive work culture has a tremendous impact on your employees.

Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron of the Harvard Business Review write in Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive:

…a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.

Corporate culture can be a mysterious, intangible thing. But it is immediately detectable.

I’ll never forget the day our new (temporary) costume studio supervisor arrived at my graduate program. Within the first few hours, she had fled the studio to speak with our eminently wise and sane production manager. She asked him, “What on earth is wrong down there?”

“What was wrong” was the terrible work culture fostered by the costume design faculty and staff. Long hours, manipulative tactics, and dismissal, harsh criticism, and mockery had created a poisonous soup of resentment, anger, frustration, and despair.

The culture was sick, and she knew it. She could feel it.

Your job applicants are walking into your business with fresh eyes. When they meet their prospective new co-workers, will they find an engaged, welcoming, enthusiastic culture? Or, will they flee their interview, asking, “What’s wrong in there?”

We talked about finding and hiring highly effective employees in the following video.

Your action plan

So how does one create a positive workplace culture?

Acknowledge and reward good work. The Gallup Business Journal  recently shared,

The best managers promote a recognition-rich environment, with praise coming from every direction and everyone aware of how others like to receive appreciation.

Praise should regularly come- at least once every seven days.

Good work can be rewarded with simple words of praise, public recognition in front of peers, monetary bonuses, awards, positive evaluations, and promotions. Just make sure to recognize your employees’ contributions… or they won’t be your employees for long.

Establish corporate values. Millennial consumers are known for their desire to align themselves with brands that share their values. Millennial employees want to feel that their work matters and speaks to values as well.

So, take the time to identify your business’s values. And consider finding ways to give back to your community that will engage your employees and support those values.

Foster social connections. Encourage your employees to think of and treat each other as teammates. In fact, research has shown that employees with a “best friend” at work tend to perform better than employees without a close social connection.

So, instead of creating an all-work-no-play environment, embrace appropriate opportunities to socialize. Hold regular social lunches, happy hours, or “Anything Goes” meetings where you can talk about anything – except work, that is.

And, if you’re the boss, take the time to make the social rounds every now and then in the office. Your employees will notice and appreciate that you care. It will also set the tone that socialization is not only okay but welcome.

To learn more, check out How to Build and Preserve a Positive Company Culture.

4. Treat your employees like people

We’ve all heard that business is business. “It’s not personal.”

But, work is personal. We work with people all day long.

When companies fail to remember that employees are people, those companies falter.

If you want to keep employees around, showing them care as human beings is a great way to do it.

I learned this lesson when I worked as a corporate trainer.

We were taught that our students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

So, in order to connect with and successfully train students, it was essential to treat those students with respect and care.

The same is true of employers and employees. Employees respect companies that respect them. And, employees want to invest in companies that invest in them. This reciprocity is actually a documented concept of social psychology.

So, remember that your employees are people and treat them with care. You’ll be amazed by the loyalty that this simple effort creates.

Your action plan

Show your employees the same respect and support you would show to a friend… or a customer.

Respect personal commitments and crises. If an employee experiences a death in the family or a medical emergency, provide them with the time, space, and support they need to get through it.

Don’t be the employer who says, “Yes, I know you’re having surgery. But, will you be in that day?”

If an employee needs to pick up their kids from daycare, don’t shame them for leaving early. Instead, talk about how to best structure their work so that they can still accomplish all of their goals. This leads us to…

Give your employees the autonomy to do their job in their most productive way. This may mean allowing for flexible hours (which we already know you’re going to start doing, right?), providing a converter to create a standing desk station, or simply refraining from micro-managing.

Honor the fact that employees are people, and all people are unique. Your most productive way of working may not be their most productive way of working. Give your employees the voice and the freedom to optimize their workday.

Support your employees’ well-being. Allow employees to hit the gym during work hours. Offer incentives for making healthy life choices like quitting smoking, exercising, or meditating. Or, even initiate your own company health program with access to a gym and personal trainers.

If you care about your people, your people will care for your business.

5. Crowdsourcing as a talent scaling solution

Sometimes, you can get bogged down when hiring for a specific position. At other times, you need only part-time help or someone who can easily scale their hours to match your needs.

In such cases, consider crowdsourcing as a talent scaling solution. As we wrote:

Hiring people is hard. There’s a lot that goes into the decision. From recognizing the need to justifying the costs, sifting through applicants and interviewing standouts, negotiating contracts and onboarding new hires — it’s a complex process with a lot of room for error.

The stakes are even higher for [small businesses and] startups. Every penny spent has got to delivery a return, and new hires take a whole lot of pennies. What’s more, those new hires, if they’re worth their salt, are probably going to turn around and ask you to spend even more pennies to make it possible for them to do their job. This is especially true when it comes to marketing and design.

But this is where crowdsourcing can help minimize risk and maximize return.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Crowdsourcing as a talent acquisition strategy? Since when?

Since… well, always. There are three distinct ways using crowdsourcing platforms for your creative needs can help you better manage how you scale your team.

1. Temporary talent stop gaps — Let’s face it. Sometimes a [small business or] startup simply does not have the budget to hire a designer full-time. Sometimes they don’t have the money to hire a traditional freelancer. In these cases, crowdsourcing platforms allow them to fill their design needs at a minimal cost while benefiting from the competition associated with crowd contributions.

2. Longer-term Freelance Relationships — One of the really cool things about creative crowdsourcing platforms is that they are a seriously deep talent pool where you’re exposed to tremendous professionals you might not otherwise have been able to reach with your recruitment efforts or in your own searches for assistance on the web. Once you’ve identified some of those professionals who you really admire, crowdsourcing platforms can allow for one-on-one work with the talent you trust in a secure fashion. No need for you negotiate payment methods or create your own contracts; the platform takes care of all the logistics for you.

3. Employment Auditions — Perhaps one of the most underutilized features of creative crowdsourcing platforms is the leveraging of the talent pool for direct hiring purposes. Not only do these projects let you see the design chops of the participants, but they showcase things like communication skills, receptiveness to criticism, work pace, and more. These are all points of evaluation that can be hard to figure out during a traditional hiring process. Why go through the hassle of posting a job ad and sorting through resumes when you’ve got so many intensely talented folks right in front of you, ready and eager to prove themselves?

Many of our clients leverage crowdspring in just this way. Over the past decade, crowdspring’s community of 210,000 creatives has helped some of the world’s best small businesses, entrepreneurs, agencies, Brands, and non-profits with logo design, website design, print design, product design, packaging design, and even naming businesses and products.

Most of our clients don’t need full-time design help, and it would be too expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating for them to hire a designer directly to work for them full time. In fact, it’s the reason so many marketing, SEO, and advertising agencies use crowdspring for design and naming.

By leveraging crowdspring instead of hiring employees directly, our clients significantly reduce their costs, get great designs and names, and execute their branding and marketing campaigns quickly and efficiently.

Attract and retain talent with your strengths

Small businesses have to play by their own set of rules in order to succeed.

And, it is possible for small businesses to compete for top talent with their bigger competitors … As long as they’re willing to put their employees’ needs first.

Smaller businesses have an innate intimacy and flexibility that works in their favor to create an appealing work environment. Use your small business strengths to attract and retain skilled employees.

  • Offer a flexible work environment and schedule.
  • Provide opportunities for advancement that align with your employees’ strengths and values.
  • Create a positive work culture that fosters a tight-knit team of passionate employees.
  • Respect and care for your employees as the humans that they are.
  • Crowdsource when it makes sense to do so instead of hiring directly.

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