Recruitment and Retention Strategies for SMEs

How do you best recruit and then retain valuable employees? That is a vital question for all businesses as well as the private and public sector. One of the common themes of the current wave of strikes in the UK is not just rates of pay, but the impact on employees of inadequate recruitment, poor morale, burnout stress, and low retention of staff.

It seems obvious that rates of pay will do a lot to attract new candidates, especially given the pressures we all face in terms of higher energy bills and double-digit inflation, but while firms certainly must be competitive in terms of remuneration, the importance of associated benefits packages is also vital. Recent workforce surveys seem to suggest that important though salary levels are, cash isn’t the be all and end all for many good candidates. The cost-of-living crisis notwithstanding, remote working during the pandemic seems to have changed how people view compensation. Successful talent acquisition and retention now depends on several factors.

Businesses will need a more tailored, holistic, recruitment approach with consideration given to hiring for attitude as much as aptitude. Each team member’s growth, learning and development is an individual journey and one path may not fit all. Companies would be well served to fully understand the skills they need, listen to candidates, use technology when it helps, and nurture the good people they already have.  All this will make businesses attractive to the potential employees needed by the business for it to grow and develop.

Building Your Employer Brand

Branding is not just for your customer base but is also the way existing and prospective employees perceive you as an employer. Building your employer brand is crucial in telling prospective candidates what you have to offer them. Start thinking about what makes you different as an employer. What employee benefits do you offer? Do you host social events for employees? Do you offer career development opportunities and training? It is these kinds of things that attract candidates to your organisation, so make sure you mention them in job adverts. If you have a careers page on your website add a section on what it’s like to work with the firm, using quotes from existing staff or even a short video. Showcase your staff and culture on social media.

Reviewing the Recruitment Process

Even if you have an established employer brand, how does an SME decide between building their own internal recruitment department or using an external agency? There are pros and cons to each approach, but which route you choose depends upon which works best for your particular circumstances.

Managing Recruitment Internally

Managing recruitment and selection within your company does mean you have quality control over all the processes with a focus on your company, all of the time. After all, you will know your company better than any external party ever can. But unless you do the job yourself, establishing an internal team will cost money. If your processes are inefficient you may end up spending a lot of time – which costs even more money – but these costs can often be lower compared to agency fees. In addition, there will be no ongoing fees based on a percentage of salary.

An in-house team will also have full candidate access so you will see every candidate who applies, reducing the possibility of good candidates being dismissed too soon in the process. In-house recruiters are also employees, so they will understand the culture of your company, meaning they are more likely to hire individuals who will be a good fit with the existing team. They will have nothing to gain (financially or otherwise) by proposing specific candidates and are likelier to hire the best person for the job on merit.

Agency Recruitment

Agency recruiters are specialists whose expertise is greatly increased when you use an agency familiar with your industry or sector. Agencies come in many shapes and sizes, with a recent rise in new hybrid players offering ‘fixed fee recruitment’, ‘online recruitment’, and ‘outsourced recruitment’ options. Most will work for a set fee-per-hire, or for a retainer fee agreed at the start. Agencies can find you someone very quickly, so if the recruitment need is urgent, they can often get a suitable candidate from their existing network of contacts.

Agencies are usually better equipped to fill niche roles. Part of the agency process is to screen or ‘qualify’ potential candidates, which is very time consuming. This saves you time and effort, meaning you can focus on the ‘day job’ without the extra commitment of having to run a recruitment campaign.

The recruitment agency will of course be highly motivated to fill your role because success for them means financial gain, but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a quality placement.

One of the most important lessons however is that all contracts are negotiable. Do not feel that you must agree to an agency’s Ts & Cs. Their Ts & Cs tend to be extremely one sided (benefitting them), but Motion Paradox’s lawyers have a great deal of experience of renegotiating contracts, including with employment agencies. Feel free to contact us to see how we can help you.

Automated systems can also reduce the cost and time constraints of traditional recruitment, but there are risks in hiring ‘straight off the web page’ without an in-person interview.

Look at Skill Sets Instead of Job Titles

Whatever approach to recruitment is adopted, good advice is to hire the best talent you can, even if that does not necessarily fit a specific positional need. Recruiters describe a candidate with precisely the right range of qualifications that perfectly fits a job as a ‘purple squirrel’ (i.e. not that easy to find!). Over-specification of the requirements for your ‘perfect candidate’ can also be limiting and damaging. Excellent candidates may not be an exact fit, but are likely to be flexible, self-motivated, and determined. They will have an aptitude and desire to learn new things and are likely to be real team players. Assessing all these attributes is much easier face-to-face, which is time consuming, but looking a candidate in the eye is still the best way to assess how good a fit they will be. Thought will also have to be given to onboarding processes which make sure new hires are embedded effectively, so they can become productive more quickly.

Retaining Good Employees

Once you have found your ideal employee, how do you make them want to stick around? Obviously, for employees to make a long-term commitment to your firm, the employer will need to give them good reasons above and beyond simple remuneration. Showing your employees trust by giving them responsibilities that allow them to grow and gain new skills will help. Hiring from within wherever possible and giving generous promotions at appropriate times also builds morale and commitment.

Linking part of the wage to company performance through profit share or similar mechanisms will align your people’s interests with the company’s goals and provide an incentive to stay with the firm as it grows. Making the fixed cost of payroll inherently more variable also means you can make your company more resilient and agile. Any rewards you give your employees should speak to their emotional or domestic needs and should go beyond monetary compensation. Be generous with time off, because while you have every right to demand commitment and high-quality work, it is unreasonable to expect that continual level of performance 100 percent of the time.

The Exit Interview

If, despite all these steps, your staff retention rate is low and turnover high you can learn a lot from conducting thorough exit interviews. What attracted the employee to your organisation, and why are they leaving? Sometimes owner/founders of SMEs or managers don’t always see the workplace dynamics, especially if they’re in meetings or unavailable a lot of the time. Exit interviews can give an insight into the working culture and whether there is anything you can do to improve it. The exit interview will also give valuable information about external factors that may be pushing employees out the door, such as competitors offering better pay or better compensation overall. Perhaps not what you’d want to hear, but constructive criticism is one way to learn, grow, and retain staff.

Talk to the experts here at Motion Paradox about recruitment and retention. We’ve been where you are. We can give you advice based on our own experience of precisely the same issues you now face!