HR & Management

How does your business retain talent?

13 min read

10 December 2015

There's a lot of emphasis put on attracting new talent to your business, but how do you retain that talent once you get it? We have spoken with UK startups and thought leaders in order to find out how to approach employee retention.

From the importance of talent for the growth of your business, to the ways you can create appealing working environments, we’ve gathered a variety of insights that you can perhaps adopt for your own enterprise.

Fist we have learnings from Neil Forrest, the MD of JM Glendinning Insurance Brokers North East – an independent insurance broker based in Newcastle that specialises in finding competitive insurance for SMEs.

How important is talent to the growth of your business?

Talent is absolutely central to the growth of our business. We’ve grown very rapidly in the first few years, so succession planning was something we needed to think about pretty much straight away.

In terms of hiring new staff, that has meant looking for people who can not only do the job now, but have the desire and ability to grow in to a more responsible role at some point. We also look for people who are good at sharing knowledge and best practice for the good of the team.

A lot of our work entails finding insurance for people who’ve struggled to find it elsewhere. Knowledge of which insurers will cover certain types of business is critical, and our team learn a lot from one another.

What do you do to attract new talent to the business?

We’re very clear on what local candidates are looking for and what they’ve been frustrated by in their previous jobs. So far we’ve built the business mostly from good people we’d worked with before who we knew wanted a new opportunity.

More recently we’ve had to broaden the search and give more thought to what we’re looking for from candidates. We now advertise roles externally and have even taken on our first apprentice and the quality has remained really high.

In terms of the recruitment process, we’re very conventional in that we interview candidates much like any business would. Within the interviews though, we’re very focused on how they organise their workload and how they communicate within a team, rather than just the technical aspects of what they’ve done before.

How do you measure the quality of your new hires?

We have an environment and working practices where the quality of their work is very self-evident. Because we’re very numbers-focused, we know very quickly whether or not we’ve got it right – we have detailed statistics on each team member’s level of enquiries, quotes and sales.

So far we’re nearly three years in with zero staff turnover and we’ve grown from a team of two to 13. As well as the hard statistics, we look at the way people help their colleagues out and share best practice and market knowledge. If they’re doing that, we know they’re a good fit for our company.

What do you do differently to retain talent?

I’ve worked in businesses before where staff retention has been a real problem. I now believe that if you can provide a role and work environment that’s better than they’ve experienced elsewhere, you’re 90 per cent of the way towards cracking staff retention.

You also need to give them empowerment and the tools to do their job. For example, we regularly fine-tune the way we use IT to make ourselves more efficient and effective. Compared to larger companies in our industry, we can roll out IT changes very quickly and easily, which has gone down very well with the team.

We also have a culture where people feel they’ll benefit from working well together, rather than competing with one another, and that they have opportunities to learn and develop.

On the softer side we also do things like a weekly quiz and we have beers in the office on a Friday afternoon, and regular social events. Small touches like that can go a long way in making it a more enjoyable place to work.

Read more on staff retention:

What advice do you have for startups looking to grow their business through developing a strong team?

If you’re looking for fast growth, you really do need to be thinking about succession planning and developing the individuals within the team, very early on. I also think it’s important to be clear about what you want from your team and not drop your standards just to get people in. That will only come back to haunt you later on. Then once people are in the door, look to gradually give them more responsibility and opportunity.

If you’ve recruited the right people in the first place, they will value the extra responsibility and it’ll free up more of your time to work on other things.

Continue reading on the next page from tips from London School of Business colleagues and the approach to DREAMS.

Image: Shutterstock

Next we have advice from London School of Business colleagues, leadership experts, and co-authors of Why Should Anyone Work Here?: What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organisation, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.

How important is talent to the growth of your business?

Even in a social media-laced, virtual world, it is still quite difficult to grow a business without people. Founder-owners often make the mistake of thinking they can do it all themselves.

Even those who recognise the need sometimes misunderstand the type of complementary skills that will really help their businesses to grow. So talent is vital – as it is everywhere – but getting the early mix right is very important. It is also important for the entrepreneur to make space for people to express their talents.

What do you do to attract new talent to the business?

What kind of organisations attract the best people? We have been asking that question in our recent research and have built a model of the ideal organisation. The organisation of our DREAMS:

  • Difference is celebrated – This is one where we can be ourselves 
  • Radical honesty – We are told the truth and know what’s going on
  • Extra value – We are developed 
  • Authenticity – We believe in what the company stands for
  • Meaning – The work is satisfying
  • Simple rules – We are not drowning in bureaucracy

Small businesses often have these virtues – more freedom, flexibility and a clear reason for being – and that’s often why people want to be there.

Read more on recruitment:

How do you measure the quality of your new hires?

It’s critical to remember that the most significant investment that any business makes is in hiring people. In small organisations, hiring the wrong people can damage your business quickly.

It’s also true to say that there is no one magic bullet – critical psychometric – that will tell you how good your new hires are. But here are some pragmatic suggestions that’ll help to ensure that you get more right than wrong.

Resist the temptation to hire in your own image – look for people who will leverage your strengths and cover your weaknesses – that’s how all great teams are made. Some of the world’s greatest organisations like McKinsey ad Goldman Sachs use serial interviewing to gain as much data as possible about new recruits. You may not be able to do this but do try to triangulate data on new hires.

Finally, it’s about much more than hiring those with the highest IQs, coming from the best institutions of higher education. It’s vital to consider social skills – the ability to get things done with and through other people.

What do you do differently to retain talent?

Retention becomes a problem if you are unable to grow the business in a way that keeps creating development opportunities for your most talented people. But the challenge is often to enable growth without losing the magic of a startup environment.

How many times have you heard people in growing businesses talk about the good old days? It is vital that growing businesses develop systems and structures – but they must do that without creating expensive and frustrating bureaucracy that turns talented people off.

With simple agreed rules we create the conditions for freedom; but with bureaucracies we begin to forget what the rules are for – or start playing political games to get around them.

What advice do you have for startups looking to grow their business through developing a strong team?

Team-building takes time and effort – it doesn’t just happen. But entrepreneurs are often rather individualistic and competitive.This will have helped them in early startup phase – but can become a liability if they wish to build a strong team. Either they must rein in some of their natural task oriented behaviour (they often like to get stuff done – and fast) or, more realistically, perhaps recognise they need someone alongside them who can build relationships and hold things together.

Even the most star-studded football teams will have players in the middle of the pitch whose major role is to make the team work – by winning the ball back and playing simple passes. This is the kind of understated but vital talent which the cleverest entrepreneurs understand and nurture.

Kevin Buller is the chief executive at Lucas Blake, which specialises in the recruitment of sales professionals within the IT and telecommunications sectors throughout the UK and Europe.

Image: Shutterstock