5 Tips to Attract and Retain the Right People

July 6, 2016 - 9 minutes read

Do you struggle with building a great team, attracting the right talent and then empowering them to do their best work?

From personal experience, I can emphatically confirm that one of the toughest challenges in building a highly successful business is identifying, hiring, and retaining great people who take responsibility, can work autonomously, play well with the rest of the team, and are committed to and focussed on achieving the mission of the company.

Why is it so hard to find the right people? And why do we often feel like we’re baby-sitting children when we’d love everybody in our organisation to be taking initiative, pre-empting and addressing issues before they arise, delivering great quality work, and enabling you to focus on the areas of your business that really should be the centre of your attention?

Here are 5 tips that may help you – by no means an exhaustive manual, but some great pointers to help improve your success rate:

  1. Clarity of expectations – often we struggle before we’ve even hired to know exactly what it is we expect a new team member to do. We expect them to replicate what we’ve personally been doing, but we’ve never documented or been able to articulate what that is. We have an unspoken set of priorities and forget that a new hire can’t automatically just know these things.
    The first step is to document clearly what the role is and isn’t. Clear expectations does’t mean rigid micro-management. Clear expectations involves letting your new recruit know that you’re giving them extensive flexibility, if that’s the way you work. It includes articulating what decisions they have authority to make, which ‘norms’ are absolute rules and which are entirely optional. And it includes describing how you appreciate and measure success – the outcomes/deliverables you expect from them. What is the culture of your organisation? Do you reward or punish failures? What work/life balance do you strike? Do you encourage and nurture individuality, or lean towards consistent patterns of work for all team members?
  2. Appreciate diversity – the wonderful but oft-overlooked reality is that we’re not all the same! We have different personalities, motivations, attention spans, life circumstances, passions and interests. There are some people that we definitely don’t want on our team. Avoid hiring them at the outset!
    Meanwhile, there are others who are brilliant, capable, and bring something unique to the team – yet we fail to appreciate their individuality and find ourselves trying to wedge them into our own modus operandi. A great leader understands and appreciates that every team member is an individual, and seeks to create an environment which helps them to perform at their best. In some companies, conformity may be required – but in more and more businesses nowadays, creative thinking and innovation are highly prized, and they rarely occur when we box our team in.
    Does it really matter if everyone starts work at the same time? Does everybody need to sit at a desk 8 hours per day? Do you allow your team to work remotely at times (or permanently)?
    Think through the priorities in your business and decide what’s important to you. Then outline those expectations to your team. It’s better to be clear about what is or isn’t ok from the outset (and update the guidelines if you need to) than to leave these things unspoken, or worse yet default to ‘traditional’ office protocols without evaluating the best dynamics for your business.
  3. Money is a very poor motivator – there are very few people for whom money is their primary motivation. Increasingly, employees are joining companies because they want to be a part of the vision of that organisation. People don’t normally join Tesla, Apple, Google, or a bright new startup because they pay the biggest pay cheque (though a healthy remuneration package is certainly attractive) – they frequently forgo higher-paying opportunities in order to be a part of something ‘bigger’ – a vision to transform an industry, an opportunity to make a difference, the promise of a great work-life balance so they can balance their family needs with their profession. Even sales reps, who sometimes are more money-driven, usually need other motivators to get them excited when they jump out of bed every morning. Take some time to understand what motivates your new recruit.
  4. Don’t ‘settle’ – I know from personal experience that, as we become more and more desperate looking and waiting for the right candidate to come along, it becomes tempting to ‘settle’ for the ‘best of the bunch’. After receiving hundreds of applications and interviewing dozens, we start to say “S/he was the best of those applicants – I guess I should take them”. Our perspective becomes warped by the recent barrage of candidates, and we start sub-consciously inflating the merit of the applicant who floated to the top of the pile. Don’t do it! Stick to your guns! Better to not hire, and have to continue the whole sorry, painful process, than to hire the wrong person. Building the right team around you is perhaps the most important responsibility you have as the owner of a business – don’t allow your disillusionment to lower your standards. If you’re clear on what traits and characteristics you need, then stick to your guns. The costs of recruiting include not only advertising costs, but also time you invest in the process, subsequent time spent on inducation, training, lower productivity due to the learning curve as staff come onboard, and opportunity costs as you spend your precious time with the new team member instead of attending to other important responsibilities in your business. Given this, don’t blow all that money on hiring the wrong person! Wait, if that’s what you need to do, until you find the right one.
  5. Know when to fire – just as important as hiring the right person, can be firing the wrong person. Hopefully you’ve done a great job of recruiting the right person and you’ll never need to fire one of your own recruits. But the sad reality is that we can’t possibly know everything and, from time to time, we hire the wrong person and need to bite the bullet. The key is to have the clarity of expectations outlined in Point 1 above – having a free-thinker who works differently to other team members is not necessarily an issue. But having someone who refuses to respect the values and culture of your business, lacks integrity, or doesn’t deliver the results expected of them definitely is. Keeping the wrong person on can be costly and highly demoralising for other team members, leading to lower productivity across the whole business and potential loss of star performers. I don’t know of anyone who likes to fire, but strong leaders know when to deal with the unpleasant as well as the exciting dimensions of running a company.

If you’ve found any of these tips helpful, have a few others of your own to add, or would like to disagree with me, I welcome your comments below. I also love discussing these ideas with you on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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