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Think Only Big Business Can Attract and Retain the Best Talent? Here Are 6 Ways Small Business Can Compete

By Diane Amato

Published October 1, 2021 • 6 Min Read

People are a company’s greatest asset. They are your competitive advantage, your heart and soul and driver of your culture. Yet in today’s labour market, finding the best people to help you develop your vision and grow your company can seem like an uphill battle – large companies are offering salary hikes and signing bonuses, backed by prestigious brand names and the promise of stability.

But small businesses have a great deal to offer employees whose relationship with work has transformed dramatically since 2020. By getting creative, leaning into your value and promoting some game-changing differentiators, your small business can become a place where the best people want to be.

Here are six ways smaller firms can compete for talent.

1) Promote the flexibility and agility of your company

Joanne Acri, Partner and Executive Recruiter with Junction Collective, has been busier than ever over the last several months, helping employers find quality talent in a tricky and evolving environment. “Some companies are throwing $15,000 on top of salaries to attract talent,” she says. But it’s not easy for small businesses to do that. “What they can do, however, is offer work options that cater to the needs of the individual employee,” she says, explaining that most candidates she speaks with today prioritize a flexible work environment over anything else – even salary.

“Small businesses can be a bit more flexible and tailor remote work requests more specifically to an individual candidate’s needs than big companies that have a set return-to-the-office policy for everyone.”

Steve Cadigan, talent strategist and company culture expert expressed a similar perspective in his recent interview with Tony Chapman on an episode of Chatter That Matters. “Work-life balance is a huge factor for employees today, so the ability to work on their own terms is benefit number one,” he says. “People cherish the freedom, independence and autonomy they have enjoyed over the last while – and don’t want to give that up.”

Flexibility and agility can also manifest in your company’s ability to get things done quickly. Being nimble enough to make a decision and implement it almost immediately is highly appealing to employees, particularly those coming from corporate cultures where red tape can slow things down.

2) Highlight the opportunity to make an impact

One of the main benefits going for you as an employer is your size – the distance between employees and C-level executives and decision makes is smaller than in large firms, affording more visibility for even lower level staff. And because employees in small companies tend to wear several hats and get a more complete view of the company, they tend to have the opportunity to make a greater impact than they might elsewhere.

This matters to people – particularly if you’re a purpose-driven company founded on passion and a mission to create positive change in the world. Focusing on the goals and aspirations of your company, and promising the chance to influence outcomes, solve a problem that matters and make a difference can attract like-minded and ambitious people looking for meaningful work.

3) Offer creative perks

How robust is your company’s benefits package? If you don’t have the funds or resources to offer the most comprehensive health, dental or vision plan available, it’s important to offer perks that are relevant to employees and can make a difference to their financial, mental and physical well-being. This is particularly relevant to workers today who place a great deal of value on programs that address mental health and wellness like Wello .

Simple workplace programs that encourage and reward healthy behaviour and employee recognition can boost morale, minimize burnout and make employees feel valued and cared for. Further, paid time off for volunteering can also promote your company values while enabling employees to give back in purposeful ways.

Finally, your vacation policy is one of the first things prospective employees will be looking at.

4) Demonstrate how you invest in people

Training, development, education are important differentiators that companies can leverage these days. Learning has become a life-long endeavour and more than anything, people want to ensure they’re employable. Investing in their professional development is a benefit that will carry throughout their careers

“We’re going to be learning for our entire lives because the shelf life of hard skills is shorter than it’s ever been,” says Cadigan. “Peer-to-peer, small group, large group learning – it’s all important. If you promise you’ll make people better for tomorrow, you’re going to attract better people.”

Ann Buckingham, Executive HR Relationship Manager with ADP Canada, echoes the sentiment, adding that development programs are valuable carrots for candidates with a long-range vision of their careers.

“Employees value companies that will invest in them and their professional development,” says Buckingham. “Establishing a program that promotes and focuses on increasing the hard and soft skill sets of employees is a fantastic way to attract candidates thinking about long-term career development.”

5) Build an alumni strategy

It’s no secret that people change jobs more than their parents ever did. Instead of fighting that reality, use it to your advantage and recognize that as people leave your company, they can become positive and vocal advocates for your firm.

“Because people are not staying in organizations as long as they used to, that means you have more alumni – you have more former employees than you ever had,” says Cadigan. You need to build an alumni strategy because caring about someone for the lifetime of their career is far more meaningful than just when they work for you.”

So rather than getting angry at employees for leaving (which is the experience of employees the world over), nurture your alumni to promote word-of-mouth recruitment.

6) Use social media to share your story

Social media is a powerful tool in many ways and a great channel through which you can tell your company’s story, helping to showcase your employees, their accomplishments, charitable initiatives, and even your policies around mental wellness and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (factors that are very important to the new generation of workers).

“Social media is a great avenue for sharing job opportunities,” says Buckingham. “But beyond job postings, social media offers a glimpse into company culture, allowing an online community to understand how a team operates and what their business priorities are.”

She suggests leveraging social media to share announcements, team wins, events, blogs or articles relevant to your industry. “An engaged social audience not only develops and broadens conversations around business and industry, but can lead to stronger applicants when posting job opportunities.”

While small businesses may not have the stature or reputation of larger companies, they can offer meaningful advantages that really matter to current job-seekers. Your ability to offer flexibility, individualized perks and schedules and the opportunity to make a difference can give your business the edge in a tough labour market.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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