“My biggest pain point in my business today would be talent...we have a people problem”

These were the words uttered by Kendall Ananyi, founder of wifi.com.ng on the “Building the Future” podcast hosted by Dotun Olowoporoku. Kendall went on to talk about how some staff were not committed to the firm’s cause of solving the internet access problem in Africa but worried more about applying to other jobs where they can earn more.

Failure to attract and retain top talent is a huge problem for CEOs and hiring managers today, even more so than economic growth and competitive intensity, as revealed in the 2016 Conference Board’s Survey on global CEOs. Management guru, Jim Collins, re-echoed this sentiment by saying that the single biggest constraint on the success of his organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.

You would assume that companies know how to find the right talent, but that’s almost never the case. McKinsey revealed that 82% of companies don’t believe they recruit talented people, and for those who do, only 7% think they can keep it. More alarming is the fact that only 23% of managers and senior executives active on talent-related topics believe their current acquisition and retention strategies will work. With startups, the numbers are even more grim.

This then begs the question, how do startups and small businesses acquire and retain talent?

Zero in on the company’s mission

Not all businesses can compete with the likes of GE, Nestle, ExxonMobil, either financially or through brand recognition. So, in order to persuade top talent to choose your company, you have to hone in on your mission. Create a value proposition around your brand that makes prospective employees excited to work with the organization.

Motivation plays a massive role in being a top choice for these individuals. They are driven by high-rise and high-reward opportunities. Facebook understands the importance of grounding employees in the company’s mission, hence why when they look to hire, they search for or pick people who are excited to connect the world. Being able to communicate with clarity what the mission is, and ensure that prospective, new and old employees share the conviction that what the company is doing matters, is very important in reducing attrition rates (i.e. the rate at which people resign).

Provide career advancement opportunities

In Nigeria today, there are 20.9 million unemployed people, majority of which are youths. With the average age of university graduates between 22-25 years, there are now more millennial job-seekers. Millennials value career development opportunities.

With that in mind, employers should invest in learning opportunities, as high-performance staff see such as an integral component of their career progression. Employees want to work, but they also want to learn, and good leadership would find ways to engage new experiences for top talent. Be it, getting a professional certification like PMP or even learning relevant work-based skills like conflict management for HR-inclined staff, employers who intend acquiring and keeping these talents would ensure to do so. Paystack understands this, and that’s why they are able to utilize it to appeal to the best talent out there. On Paystack's Career page, it is clearly written: “We invest in our people so that they can achieve their short, medium and long-term professional goals”. Your small business may not have the money to pay tuition fees like Amazon or sponsor MBAs, but investing in the professional development of your staff can entice more talent to be drawn towards your organization.

Improve your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

EVP covers what the employees will get for the skills, ideas, man-hours and capabilities they bring. The general truth is that if your EVP is stronger than your competitor’s, you will attract and retain the best talent.

Many Nigerian companies' employee policy centre around providing market-competitive salaries but they still record high employee turnover rates. Staff want a reason to stay, and as observed, salary is not the only factor in mind when changing jobs. Jumia provides a comprehensive health plan, a learning platform for career advancement called Jumia Academy, and a competitive salary package, all in a bid to get the best.

If you do not want to burn through limited cash, stock-based compensation, especially for tech startups, can be a good alternative. This provides employees with the opportunity to share in the company’s success and serve as a powerful retention tool (particularly if the plan is set up in a way that stock options can be lost if the individual leaves the company before a set time, or does not meet performance targets). This creates incentives for employees and managers to drive growth and increase value.

Enhance employer branding

Your brand is your business. Employees associate certain emotions to companies through their brands. According to Glassdoor, 69% are likely to apply to a job if the employer actively manages its brand. Job-seekers look out for salaries, benefits, company information, what makes it an attractive place to work, and its mission, vision and values. An Allegis Group Services Study shows that 84% would consider leaving their current jobs if offered another role with a company that had an excellent corporate reputation.

Tesla and SpaceX are two firms by Elon Musk, that have a reputation of solving some of the world’s biggest problems. This culture of building the future has remained a very powerful incentive for the brightest talents to want to join these companies. A culture encouraging innovation leads to success, but needs to be communicated clearly reflecting the work environment. Rock-star candidates are far more likely to join an organization with an excellent image, and so, it is vastly important to spend time and money in creating a brand that everyone attributes to success and innovation.

These 4 steps should be the bedrock of every startup and small business's hiring strategy if they intend acquiring and retaining the best talent. Prospective hires want a reason (other than competitive salary) to join your company and current employees want one as well, to stay. It would be only wise to provide such.

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