Attracting & retaining the best talent.


Published by NZ Business Magazine (July 2013):

Got no time? Here’s my top three tips:

1. Put your good idea first.
It might sound repetitive, but perhaps that’s the point. If your people don’t care why you’re there then you’re all wasting your time!

2. Build your brand from the inside out.
Your brand is not something you build to help you sell more stuff, or to make your marketing look better. It has been with you since the day you had the good idea from which it all began. It is what attracted your first staff members and it is what has kept the loyal ones with you until now. It will also attract your future stars.

3. Assemble and maintain your bench.
If you’re planning to grow, you know you’re going to need talent. You should also know that people (even the good ones) will leave you from time to time. So instead of waiting until you need new people, engage with the talent market before you need them.

This article is the final in a three-part series on “audience equity” published in NZBusiness Magazine between May-July 2013. Read the article online here.

In part one and two of this series we looked at the challenges of building ‘sales’ and ‘marketing’ functions. As the worlds of sales, marketing and media become increasingly complex, audiences on both sides of the equation have become hungry for clarity of communication and building ‘real’ connections with those they do business with. It’s counter-intuitive, but in the face of complexity, the basics matter more.
The proliferation of communication tools and channels means the playing field is leveling – increasingly, smaller brands now have the ability to engage directly and ‘earn’ their audience, rather than having to ‘buy’ it off the highest bidder.
And as choice increases and transparency begins to lift the lid on what really lies beneath virtually every organisation, we’re all moving towards seeking experiences that ‘feel right’ above all else.
PART 3: RECRUITING
So what does this emerging ‘connection economy’ mean for the talent market?
The people with the best ideas often find themselves drowning in more work than they can handle. For these businesses, the biggest challenge they face is not ‘sales’ or ‘marketing’ – it’s getting it all done and keeping everyone happy along the way! Many would say it’s a
good problem to have.
And so, attracting and retaining the best people – those who create and deliver value on a daily basis – is without doubt one of the biggest challenges facing an ambitious owner-operator.
Naturally, a brand’s first hires often come from those close to the person who had the good idea. Someone they know typically knows somebody who might be able to do something that the business owner needs. And so connections are made and jobs created.
At these organic stages, people growth is often just that – organic. Authentic connections are forged, based on a shared commitment or belief in the reason why everyone is there in the first place. Within a small and nimble team, things get done – everyone has each other’s backs and tightly knit cultures form, built on shared values and a shared purpose.
As the company grows and the roles and responsibilities that need performing within the business become more complex, there are likely roles to fill that stretch beyond the capabilities of the business owner’s immediate network, or their ‘friends of friends’.
Many growth companies hence reach a stage where there is a need to empower others to perform the task of sourcing, screening, matching and placing talent on their behalf.
There’s also the challenge of looking after the talent they already have – often their single biggest asset. Suddenly role descriptions, performance reviews, professional development and dispute resolution become a whole new focus.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of the disengaged employee, the personal grievance or the employee who just doesn’t fit – the cost of getting it wrong. ‘People problems’ are often noted as the biggest frustration business owners face as they try to grow and develop their good idea into something substantial.
Like Sales and Marketing, very few small businesses can afford to have somebody on the payroll responsible for human resources (HR). Whilst the big companies have HR teams, owner-operators typically have to deal with hiring, firing – and everything in between – by themselves.
Many business owners look at recruitment agencies or HR consultants like they look at their doctor, dentist, accountant or lawyer. They’re the people you talk to only when you absolutely need to, or when things go wrong.
Others find the concept of paying someone else a hefty fee to do something they could really do themselves a pill too hard to swallow. And how can somebody who has never worked within the organisation possibly understand the intangibles it takes to be part of the culture?
The reality remains however, that attracting and retaining A-grade talent, who consistently perform beyond expectations, is one of the most important things to get right if you’re to build and sustain a business as an asset.
Here’re my top tips for attracting and retaining the best talent:
1. Put your good idea first.
It might sound repetitive, but perhaps that’s the point. If your people don’t care why you’re there then you’re all wasting your time!
Just as consumers are increasingly building loyalty with brands they feel an authentic connection with, employees too are increasingly seeking meaningful roles, over and above simply wanting the weekly pay cheque.
Seek to employ talented people who, above all else, are connected with the essence of your brand – then assess their technical skills and discuss remuneration – not the other way round. And remember, if you don’t remind people why they’re there, they’ll forget.
2. Build your brand from the inside out.
Your brand is not something you build to help you sell more stuff, or to make your marketing look better. It has been with you since the day you had the good idea from which it all began. It is what attracted your first staff members and it is what has kept the loyal ones with you until now. It will also attract your future stars.
Whether you’ve ever really understood it, stayed connected with it, or built a team of people that will stand up and fight for it, or not, your brand essence is some of your most powerful ammo.
Building a team that passionately believes in the purpose of the brand will also do more for your sales and marketing than any other form of sales or marketing. Why? Because people talk and we’re all connected – now more than ever.
3. Assemble and maintain your bench.
If you’re planning to grow, you know you’re going to need talent. You should also know that people (even the good ones) will leave you from time to time.
So instead of waiting until you need new people, engage with the talent market before you need them. Talk to people, share your good ideas and see who’s out there. Create connections, start relationships and build your bench.
Just as brands can now connect directly with customers, the same applies to talent. If you need talent, get out there and hunt it, just like you hunt down sales.
Let’s sum up
Over the past three issues, we’ve explored the traditional functions of Sales, Marketing and Recruitment within an ambitious owner-operated business.
In analysing each, we’ve stressed the fact that every brand began when somebody had a ‘good idea’. Behind the values and personality of its founder and the culture that formed around the brand in its infancy, is perhaps the most potent of all sources of goodwill – the brand essence.
Remember that the concepts of Sales, Marketing and HR Management (and Media) are all born out of the need to structure and support capitalist organisations, designed to create value first and foremost from profits.
In a world of increasing transparency, equality and hunger to make a difference, authenticity reality does rule and the trend towards purpose over profit is a profound one.
Start with ‘why’ and go from there. You may be surprised by how engaging your brand can be. Look at brand engagement as a single core business function, rather than a series of silos and short-term Sales, Marketing or Recruitment pushes.
The connection that each of your key audiences has with your brand essence is the fuel that enables you to create your product and build your business. As you grow, this ‘audience equity’ becomes an essential ingredient to support the future growth and success of your asset.
So understand it, nurture it and be ambitious. And most importantly, be yourself!