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Attracting Top Talent: A CEO’s Guide for Fast-Growing SMBs and Start-Ups

Navigating Talent Acquisition Challenges in Rapid Growth Environments

Are you obsessed with recruitment? You might not have thought that in leadership positions, this would become a necessary part of the skillset or corporate repertoire. Think again!

Our winning clients are obsessed with talent. Hiring it, coaching and developing the best teams they can afford.

It’s not about having the best talent, it’s about having the best team.” – Bill Walsh

Legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh also said, “The Score Takes Care of Itself,” encapsulating his belief that success naturally follows when you focus on fostering a robust team culture and a collective commitment to excellence. Walsh’s philosophy emphasised that while individual talent is crucial, its true potential is unlocked through effective teamwork. Team members support and amplify each other’s abilities in this environment, which leads to winning outcomes.

Let’s start with the crucial first part of this puzzle – finding talented individuals.

When actively seeking out A players, it’s important to remember that these people aren’t usually looking for work. They’re already in a role. Therefore, you just need them to notice the company, then the vacancy and for it to be enticing enough that they join your recruitment process.

David Packard’s wisdom echoes loudly in today’s dynamic job market: “No company can grow revenues consistently faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company.” You’re looking for the top 10% of available talent for a given job and location on a given salary. Kick things off by exploring current trends in the job market that directly impact SMBs and give yourself an attractive and competitive edge by adopting as many that align with your company and its culture. I had a great discussion with Jessica Kreigel about intentional culture transformation, which will give further insights and actions if you’ve not already listened.

Job market developments such as remote/hybrid working, employee well-being and seeking skill diversity over degrees are all here to stay. Now is the time to make yourself aware of what your competition is searching for and what your ideal candidates would be looking for.

2. Building an Attractive Company Culture: The heartbeat of talent attraction

For A-players, this sits high on their priority list after career development. It’s not just about a surface-level offering; it’s about weaving shared values into the fabric of daily work life. Leaders must walk the talk, ensuring every decision mirrors the company’s ethos. Company culture is a direct reflection of the personality of senior leaders. If your company culture is a load of bollox, it’s likely that so are your senior leaders, and you need to work fast to fix this.

A stellar culture goes beyond diversity checkboxes; it’s about creating an inclusive space where diverse talents thrive. Encourage an atmosphere where creativity and innovation aren’t just welcomed but are integral to daily operations. Open dialogue and varied perspectives are the building blocks of a lively and dynamic workplace.

Robust company culture is a launchpad for personal and collective advancement. Provide a career growth roadmap, mentorship programs, ongoing learning initiatives, and chances for skill enhancement. Showcasing this dynamic culture becomes a strategic move. Prospective candidates should get a taste of the unique day-to-day experiences that make your workplace buzz with energy. From your careers site to social media, let your employees share stories about how the company culture has positively shaped their professional journeys.

3. Offering Competitive Compensation and Benefits: Striking the right balance

I often find that when companies are scaling, they end up settling for – or hanging on to – B and C players to save money – this is madness! Did Alex Fergusson win the FA cup, look at Wayne Rooney and go “no, I want someone cheaper and sh*tter”? No, of course he didn’t! High performing teams need high performing players.

It’s a good idea to explore creative compensation strategies beyond salary. Every SMB has a delicate dance of budget limitations and contradicting needs for attractive packages. What non-monetary benefits are you offering? Perhaps you offer free Friday drinks, coffee subscriptions, generous holiday allowances, or the odd client lunch. And, of course, there are the aforementioned flexible working hours or remote work opportunities.

Shout about what you offer that sets you apart from competitors and the norm. A pension scheme isn’t a benefit; it’s a legal requirement, so avoid putting that in your job descriptions.

4. Strengthening Your Employer Brand: From stories to digital platforms

Your company’s unique story and successes deserve to be shared. Allow individuals to connect with who you are and why you’ve made it thus far. There is an art to effective brand promotion through social media and digital platforms while highlighting the power of engaging current employees as brand ambassadors.

The first thing anyone will do when they see a job ad on LinkedIn is Google the company. So your job must be to make sure there are pictures of people doing a job they love, an updated Glassdoor profile, and photos of the organisation having fun (yes, you’re allowed to have fun).

When thinking about your employer brand, what is your purpose? What is your mission? What is the founder’s story? Did you start in a garage? Have you grown rapidly? What impact do you have on your customer’s lives or the lives of your customers? What makes you proud to come to work every day? Make sure that it is easy to find. And compelling.

5. Innovative Recruitment Strategies: Beyond the conventional channels

If your recruitment strategy is putting a thoughtless ad on Indeed, then think again: you are asking for a needle in a haystack to present itself to you.

Are you expecting to hire an A player? Then give the recruitment strategy your A game. Consider partnerships, events and leveraging social media to find people who jump out at you as the ideal candidate.

One of our clients added their company values and mission to their job ads and saw a 10x increase in quality CVs. Simple but effective.

6. Fostering Growth and Development Opportunities: A magnet for top performers

A players want continuous growth and development opportunities. If you haven’t got a learning budget as a company perk, I recommend you reconsider this. Growth and development can also extend to team challenges, charity days and a culture of continually developing both mentally and physically.

7. Streamlining the Hiring Process: Efficiency with a human touch

When working with clients, I find it takes them roughly 50 days to fill a role.  That’s a long time. Whether you’re hiring one person a month or ten people a week, this process should take as little time as possible to avoid adding constraints to the business. The less time this takes, the more time the company can spend on its sales and marketing engine.

Scale-ups often require significant HR support as they build their culture and look to create a strong team, but they lack the HR resources of more established businesses. The attitude and experience of candidates can significantly impact an employer’s brand, so getting the HR process right at the beginning can deliver huge benefits in terms of attracting, optimising, and retaining talent at this crucial stage. Hiring top talent is the single most important difference a start-up looking to scale can make.

However, many start-ups struggle with successful recruitment at scale. Most cannot afford an HR function, and it typically gets done (badly!) by whoever has the time, potentially even the founder. A better alternative is to leverage technology such as AI to help source and screen candidates, analyse resumes and job applications, conduct pre-employment assessments, and even predict candidate success and cultural fit. My current top time-maximising hack is to upload the job spec and the candidate’s CV and LinkedIn profile along with the company values to ChatGPT and ask it for insights on the candidate’s fit: strengths, weaknesses, and key questions for interview to dive deeper. Once you have a pool of ideal candidates, you can dedicate some of your A-players to review all AI output, making the process much faster and better for your team and candidates.

Secondly, many consultancies offer outsourced HR services, which might seem expensive but can end up cost-effective when you save money on bad hires or staff attrition.

In essence, A players are after five things in this order. They are after career development. They want to work in a business with a great culture. They want to be able to put their creativity and calling to work to do work that puts them in flow. They want some elements of convenience to them. And they want compensation.

By taking onboard all the ways in which you can attract A players, you will end up with a whole team of them.

Smaller businesses who might need to hire once a month can put their whole weight behind the process. What happens when you need to hire ten people a week? Well, that’s where you need a process of scale.

Eli Goldratt’s book The Goal is a great read, which I highly recommend. The book sheds light on how you can position yourself against his theory of constraint and allow the only constraint in your business to come down to market and market demand.

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