There are 3 fundamental things that you need to get right if you want to attract the best and brightest people to work with you in the long term. I want to share that with you, and to let you into a secret…… it doesn’t cost a fortune and you don’t need a consultant to do it for you.     

1. Be open and honest, right from the start

Prospective employees will make judgements about you and your business before they even meet you so be open, honest and consistent in your communication if you want to build their trust in you. Treat all applicants like customers, that means straightforward advertising that really helps them understand what it feels like to work with you, maintaining great communication throughout the selection process and providing (or at least offering) feedback to all candidates, even those that are rejected on the basis of their CV. It’s a small investment in time that will pay dividends. By building a positive view of you as an employer you’ll find that even candidates that don’t make the grade are great advocates that can help you to attract talented people.

Make new employees feel welcome from day one. Make the first day really special so that they’ll want to talk to their contacts about (e.g. a small welcome gift and message, a team lunch and lots of personal contact and support), and then quickly clarify what you expect from them. When you discuss with them how they’re doing, find out whether you are matching their expectations too, or whether they’re starting to feel that you sold them something that doesn’t match the reality.

Encourage people to be honest with you. As they come to the end of their probation and throughout their employment, ask them about their long-term goals. Talk about their career aims beyond their time with your business, get a feel for what their aspirations are and how their time with you can help achieve them. There’s no point pretending that most talented people are going to be with you until they retire, even if you get everything about your retention strategy right. However if employees feel that you value and support their personal aims, rather than only what they can do for you, they’re more likely to take responsibility for their own development, which will have significant benefits for your business. 

2. Help people focus on what’s important

Make it really clear what your organisation’s aims are, whether that be your purpose or your current business strategy. Help them to understand the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve. That way they can begin to understand how they can contribute personally, now and in the long-term, to help you get there. And with a little coaching from you, they’ll be able to work out how they can really make a difference to your customers and your business.

If you want to help people keep on track, forget annual appraisals. Instead feedback constantly and openly, making a particular point of highlighting great results and identifying what it was specifically in each case that made the difference. Show an interest in what people are working on, encourage them to talk to you about it, but don’t step in and manage it for them. Instead enable them to achieve for themselves and to take responsibility (and the credit!) for the results. 

“Talented people are keen to stretch themselves”

3. Give people the freedom to do great work

If you read my last blog, you’ll know I don’t like unnecessary rules and the fact that I think freedom is a key to a successful organisation will be no surprise. Everyone wants more freedom, they just don’t always want more responsibility, especially if that responsibility has conditions attached. Both innovation and collaboration are key to a business that can flex and change to meet changing environmental and customer needs, but both involve taking risks and people have to know that it’s OK to get it wrong. 

Finally, remember that talented people are keen to stretch themselves. They’re often ambitious and future-focused. Don’t box them in with job descriptions, but give them a framework to work within and let them do their stuff. That framework could be comprised of your values and purpose, or your aims and ethical standards, but be really clear about what’s important to you. Job descriptions are great for giving applicants an understanding of what you think the role is about and the kind of person you need to fill it, but people will want to make the role their own once they’re in. Acknowledge that and let them develop their role to suit your business’s needs and their strengths.

So it’s simple. Be open and honest, help people understand and focus on what’s important ……….. and then let them get on with it.