Attracting and retaining talent

We have been exploring the following key question:

How does an ambitious, growing SME attract and retain talent?

Why this question? Well, during our exploration of earlier themes, we asked those who have achieved their ambitions and grown their businesses “what would you do differently?” the overwhelming response was “find and employ better people sooner that I did”.

This is simple to say but hard to do and it’s taken a long time to summarise the themes of our conversations.

When do you know you need to recruit? How do you find those trusted people? How do you delegate to them? What do you do when you have delegated the work? And, when you have found a good ‘un, how do you keep hold of them?

Our exploration and conversations have helped to identify the following key learning points:

On attracting talent

  • It’s ok to be fallible and mortal
  • Understand your business and you understand your talent requirement
  • A great story attracts great talent
  • It is closer than you think
  • Take your time and focus on building trust

On retaining talent

  • Pay them just enough to remove it as a distraction
  • Invest your time to get people up to speed
  • Let go of the baton at the right time
  • Develop a purposeful mind-set from within
  • Set them free and praise the right behaviours
  • Share the successes with them
  • Work with them to improve the story

In terms of attracting talent the first point identifies the need for ambitious business owners to “let go”, easy to say, perhaps harder to do. Less than 1% of the population are business owners and your drive, passion, determination and work ethic have allowed you to create something from very little or essentially, nothing. You’ve had to do it by yourself, often with no help so letting go can be a real challenge.

However, to achieve your ambition it is vital that you find a way to do this. What got you here today, will not get you to where you want to get to tomorrow. You must recognise that there are people who can do some things better than you. And, even if you are awesome, you will not live for ever – so you had better start looking for people to take on your responsibilities and to help you to grow your business today. In doing so, make sure you take the time to understand your business, its needs, challenges and opportunities. This is the first step to identifying what talent you actually need. If you know what you are looking for, you stand a much better chance of finding it!

What brings great people towards you? A great story – a story told with real passion and purpose that engages and inspires the right talent. A start-up business can attract high potential, high flyers for a fraction of the fee because of the potential that it provides to them. You don’t have to be a start-up to have a great story, but you do need a great story to attract the right talent. People really are looking for more than just a great salary; they want to be part of something great, something that in terms of purpose, values and vision they can feel proud of being a part of.

Most people told stories of how they had known a key recruit before the appointment was made. For some, it was a supplier, a customer or a competitor. For others, it was someone who had given them great service in Debenhams. Occasionally, it was via an introduction from someone who understood the business and the business owner – at times this was a recruitment consultant. But the overwhelming insight is that those who are most accomplished at attracting talent are always on the look-out. They don’t wait for a position to become available before they start looking. They also understood that growing and nurturing talent from within can be the very best way to develop the future of the business.

The common theme within these stories is that the talent had already been attracted to the business and, at the same time, the business owner was able to develop a better sense of the person’s attitude, values, passion and beliefs – the key ingredients to selecting the right person. This ensured that there was mutual trust – vital for any relationship but especially so for the ambitious business owner. Taking time to build and explore this trust before making an appointment increases the chances of success. As an example, we know one ambitious business owner who takes final interview candidates down to the pub to mix with the team. It’s the team who have the final say in the matter!

So, if you are sat there reading this wondering how you attract talent to your business, please consider these questions first:

  • What talent will your business need in 10 years’ time?
  • What talent do you need in the business to free you up so that you can do what only you can do?
  • Who do you know already who might be the right fit?
  • How engaging and inspiring is your story to prospective talent?
  • What have you done to tell your story to enough people and to let them know that you are on the lookout for talent?
  • What have you done to build two-way trust with your potential new addition to the team?

Of course, once you have the right person in place doing a fantastic job, you must ensure they stay – and stay productive, motivated and, generally, happy! On the matter of retaining talent, much of what we discovered and discussed was, in line with Daniel Pink’s brilliant RSA video Drive (click here for video).

Pay needs to be good enough to remove money as a distraction, but it is far more important that your people are invested in and fully supported so that they can deliver. They need to be really clear about what’s expected of them, something you need to know to measure performance and they need to be able to understand real achievement and consequently feel pride and satisfaction.

But it is not just about goal setting, “letting go of the baton”, handing over to people and giving them autonomy and responsibility needs to be done when both they, and you, are ready. Just chucking them the baton and hoping they catch it and run with it doesn’t help. Without the investing your time to train and develop them you’re essentially covering it in butter first! Perhaps the hardest element of the handover is the relationships and specific knowledge required for the person to be successful. You will have spent years developing these, so you now need to invest some time in passing them on. For example, if you are bringing in a sales director, expect to work with them closely for the first 6 – 12 months to help set them up for success.

When your people are in place, secure in what they are doing and working to their targets and role specification that’s not only great but also something of a beginning. They need to help develop the right mind-set for the organisation, share in the success, be recognised for their efforts, be listened to for their ideas, be free to create, innovate and develop. They are now part of the story, so let them start to shape and evolve it, take pleasure in its creation and together celebrate your on-going achievements.

So, if you have your talent in place, consider:

  • To what extent are you paying them ‘just enough’?
  • What attention have you placed on motivating factors beyond finances?
  • How clear and understood are roles, targets and factors of success?
  • What are you doing, personally, to invest in their success?
  • What freedom do people have to experiment, learn, make acceptable mistakes and grow with the business?
  • How will you praise and reward the behaviours and results you want?
  • How are you sharing success throughout the business?
  • Where are you doing, collectively, to improve story?

If you would like to discuss more about this theme, other aspects of your business or simply find out more about what we do please visit our website or contact

About adampscampbell
Passionate about helping ambitious business owners to create sustainable success. For information on our work with our broader client base please feel free to look at the website To connect more with our work with ambitious business owners follow me @adampscampbell or connect at

One Response to Attracting and retaining talent

  1. Pingback: Finding and developing a business growth mind-set « Telos Partners

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