It’s a common assumption that due to the size of their operations, small businesses offer little to nothing when it comes to career development. As a result, for talented employees who are looking for their next challenge, the choice between small business over big business can often see small businesses come in at second place.
In actual fact, however, small businesses present a unique opportunity for the very best talent to contribute, grow and succeed in ways far beyond the parameters of a job description, and this is often something that big businesses are not able to cater for. Where a large corporate is a great place to develop functional experts, small businesses can be the perfect breeding ground for well-rounded business leaders.
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The key to retaining talent in a small business environment lies in a couple of things. Firstly, as a small business owner, it’s important to acknowledge the potential in your team. Who are the individuals that have the stretch and capability in them to take on future roles within your business as it grows and expands? Once you’ve clearly identified your superstars, it’s then a case of putting in place some simple strategies to keep them on board and help bring out the best they have to offer.
A good place to start is to understand what motivates each individual. Every employee will have their own definition of what makes a successful and fulfilling career. It’s not just about moving up the ladder to greater seniority. In fact, a lateral move can be just as challenging and motivating as a vertical one, so never overlook your existing team for roles at the same level in a different area within your business.
Most likely, the factors that will motivate your employees will be more to do with the development opportunities available and the new experiences they can gain. Talk about expectations from the start and find creative ways to meet theirs; allow them to ‘indulge’ in tasks that they’re passionate about to unlock their potential as the business grows.
As obvious as it may seem, if you have long-term plans for someone, tell them! It’s often not until it’s too late i.e. when your talented employee hands in their resignation, that they’re made aware of all the big plans you had in store for them. Share your strategy and how they fit into the future success of your business so they feel part of something bigger than their day-to-day role. For a high-potential employee, knowing that they have an exciting future ahead with your business will make them more likely to want to stick around to see it come to fruition.
A great retention method is to give your talent ownership and get them involved in the decision-making process as much as possible (even if not part of their day-to-day role). For example, have your key talent involved in the recruitment of new team members or gain their input on planning budgets and strategies. This will help broaden their skill set and provide the development/stretch they may be looking for.
Finally, don’t underestimate the gesture of appreciation. High performing individuals are generally self-motivated and the challenge of a role is often rewarding enough. However, like anyone, if they’re not acknowledged appropriately for their contributions and made to feel unappreciated, then there’s a good chance that they’ll start to mentally ‘check-out’ from your business and go look elsewhere for the things you’re not providing. Equally as important is to be aware that money talks, so do your research and be sure that you’re offering competitive salaries and incentives.
Big businesses may have the size and structure to support the traditional view of ‘career development’ but small businesses, contrary to common belief, can help create diverse and genuinely fulfilling careers for their people too, and ultimately retain their well-rounded superstars for the future success of their business.
Janelle McKenzie and Abiramie Sathiamoorthy are the founders of HR firm E&I People Solutions.