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The five steps small business owners must implement to attract and retain the best talent in 2021

Author: Mike Jones

You don't need a dedicated HR team or corporate budget to attract, retain and motivate the best talent. Regardless of the industry you're in, small business owners can nurture happy high performing teams that run their businesses for them by implementing the following five steps.

In a small business (10ish-50ish employees), attracting and holding on to the right people is vital. When a big business loses someone, it's painful but quite manageable. When a small business loses someone (or has the wrong people), it has a significant knock-on effect on everyone, especially the owner.

Think of your business as a ship; the owner is the skipper, the staff is the crew. If the engineer decides to quit mid-trip, the skipper will get pulled away from driving the ship and into maintaining it. The ship is still moving and still functioning, but it's got no one directing it. This is the struggle small business owners face when they can't source and hold onto the right team.

Getting a business off the ground is tough. Getting hold of and holding on to the right team can also be challenging, but it doesn't have to be.

From running my own small business to working with and talking to hundreds if not thousands of other small business owners, I've identified five key components that can drastically improve staff employee attrition and retention.

1 - Strategy

'A plan of action designed to achieve a long term or overall aim.'

When reading that definition, it seems blindingly obvious that any small business owner should have a 'strategy.' If you've got to a point where you have employees, then you almost certainly do/did have a strategy. You had a vision of what you wanted to achieve in business and set about doing it, which is how you got to where you are.

The problem is, which I can raise my hand to, that after a few years of growing and being stuck in the day-to-day of running a business, we lose sight of our strategy. We don't update it; we don't communicate it.

Does every member of your business know what you want to achieve (your vision) and how you're going to achieve it (mission and values)? Do you know these things? Are they easy to remember and regularly communicated?

If not, your strategy is lacking. How does that impact talent attraction and retention? Would you preferably sign up to and stay on trip A or trip B :

A - 'Ongoing trip, not sure where we're going or how we're getting there, but we're nice people, we could do with some more people to support us on the way, we'll pay you.'

B - 'Action trip, first to discover and summit Mount Victus. We'll be the first to try a combination of walking and climbing. We're all about having fun, working hard, and learning. All materials provided - opportunity to be part of a world-first team.'

For most people, the answer, of course, would be B because there's a clear vision, there's a mission, there are values, and an opportunity to be part of something. That's what humans want more than money. That's what every small business has but often doesn't articulate or communicate.

Having your vision, mission, and values in your head may have worked to get your business off the ground, but once you have a team, if you articulate and communicate it, you'll attract the right people, keep them motivated and hold on to them for longer.

2 - Systems

'Systems create a freedom' is the maxim we hold at Better Happy.

Most of us involved in business will have had the words' systems and processes' thrown at us. Generally speaking, the better the systems and processes in a business, the better the business. Systems increase efficiency, ensure things get done, and free up time.

Humans are complicated beings, but at our core, we're all very similar. Having just a little understanding of what makes people happy gives us great insight into what systems can significantly improve attraction, retention, and performance.

Pretty much all humans want to feel like they belong, that they have meaning and purpose, that they are achieving something, and that they are valued.

If a business owner is trying to do all of this off their own back, it will get very stressful very quickly. Trying to do this for every team member year-round while doing all of the other jobs owning a business creates is extremely difficult.

But putting some basic systems in place to support this will make sure that it happens, smoothly leading to employees feeling happier, more engaged, and more likely to stick around.

The basic systems we recommend and help small business owners implement are:

  • An onboarding strategy

  • A regularly updated org chart

  • OKRs (objectives and key results)

  • Happiness Surveys (health and engagement)

Having these systems in place supports the employee. It dramatically helps the business owner, reduces their stress, and allows the business to attract better talent.

3 - Coaching

'If you're not growing, you're dying unhappy.'

People don't want to be managed; they want to be coached.

Google studied more than 10,000 points of data to establish the best practices of its most effective bosses. The results of that study…. 'is a good coach.'

What does coaching mean?

It's best to explain coaching as having a balance of the best qualities of a manager and a friend, being too heavy on any of these while leading people will lead to performance dips and retention problems.

Too much 'management' - people get frustrated, fed up, and burnt out.

Too much 'friend' - people get comfortable, lazy, and become unfulfilled.

When getting the balance right, people are encouraged to perform and grow without fear. They feel listened to; they feel valued and appreciated.

There are whole books on the subject, but it comes down to do you make your people feel like:

  • are you interested in them?

  • Like you are invested in them?

  • Like you believe in them?

  • Like you want to develop them?

Get them saying yes to those four questions, and you'll have a happy high performing team in any industry.

How can we do this? At Better Happy, we recommend the following steps

  • Profile your staff in strengths and motivators

  • Run Structure Personal Development Sessions at least every quarter

  • Have a structured meeting pulse - yearly, monthly, and weekly

  • Provide regular feedback

Having basic coaching systems and a coaching mindset in place in your business will change your business in more ways than you can imagine.. ask google ;).

4 - Health

As our lives and jobs continue to change with technology, being healthy feels like it is becoming more of an esoteric art. Our nations are becoming increasingly unhealthy, which is, of course, having a significant impact on our businesses.

When people are sick, physically or mentally, they either can't work (absenteeism) or can't work well (presenteeism). There are also knock-on productivity losses for those who have to cover.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when people are thriving, productivity, innovation, and teamwork are sky-high.

So health impacts businesses in multiple ways… and health isn't merely the absence of sickness.

The quite apparent impact of sickness, but less often noticed, is the potential you're missing out on by not having good health.

Imagine having a sixth gear in your car but not realising it's there. How would your business perform if you and your people were full of energy, clarity, and confidence?

So what are leading businesses doing, that's small businesses and giants such as Google? They are promoting good health amongst their employees to create optimal performance and prevent sickness.

What are the rest of the world doing? They're reacting to sickness and providing incentives believing it will address sickness. Gym memberships and private health insurance don't solve problems; they're incentives.

People want to be healthy; they want to know how and want to be in an environment that supports them. Businesses can provide all of that with little to no cost. You don't need a corporate budget, an HR department, or a 50-page wellbeing strategy to promote and increase health in your business.

How can you go about it?

We recommend providing basic training, regular conversations, and company-wide challenges around the following four subjects:

  • Movement - how to maintain good physical health in a busy life with a sedentary job

  • Nutrition - how to eat for good health in a busy life with a sedentary job

  • Sleep - how to understand and implement good sleeping habits around your genetics and life

  • Mind - how to better promote good mental health and reduce stress in a busy life

Although we provide workshops, onboarding processes, and company challenges on all of these subjects, you can implement them easily without working with us by:

Arranging a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly get-together to talk about health in the workplace. Choose one of the above subjects for each of these get-togethers. One week in advance, tell your employees what the subject is, ask them to come to the get together with one struggle they have had in that area, one suggestion they have in that area to improve it at work, and one idea for a 30-day habit challenge that would help people improve in that area.

Just running a get-together that prioritises health will mean the world to your employees and is also likely to make you, the owner, think about your health more too. If you think you're too busy to do this, you're mistaken. As the saying goes, "If you don't make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness." That statement is even more pertinent to a business owner with a team because it applies to you for each person. Make health a strategic advantage in your business, don't let it be a negative.

5 - Owner Care

The owner of a business is the leader of a business. As we highlighted in our ship analogy, the owner is the skipper, steering the boat, looking after the crew, ensuring that it reaches its destination. That takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy, and a lot of stress.

When an owner buys into the false notion that putting the business, the employees, and the customers first will enable them to get more done, it's not too long before they burn out. The ugly truth of entrepreneurship is most businesses fail. There's a variety of reasons for this, some controllable, some not. But one thing that most definitely controllable that leads to the early demise of many small businesses is owner burnout.

Most of us have been conditioned to work hard to succeed. And let's be honest, if you're not willing to work hard, you're unlikely to get a small business off the ground. But letting hard work come at the expense of your health for too long a period of time is a recipe for success.

When the skipper of the boat skips their sleep to avoid taking a break, they're going to crash the boat or die an early death. This makes EVEN LESS sense when there's a perfectly competent crew behind the skipper.

It's not easy to hand over and switch off when own a business. It's not easy to take more time off. We feel we have to lead by example, to work hard, to be the first in and the last out. This is conditioned into us from an early age, but it's not what leads to great business because it doesn't allow scale, and it kills the skipper of the ship.

If the owner isn't healthy and happy, the business is being damaged. In the book 'The 1 Thing', highly successful entrepreneur Gary Keller details how he transferred his approach to business and life from the 'first in last out' to 'prioritising himself and his health.' Not only did his life and health improve, but his business also improved tenfold.

The world needs entrepreneurs, people who see problems, better ways to solve them, and have the tenacity to do something about it. Although sacrificing your health in the pursuit of that might feel bold, it's actually a sin because you're robbing the world of the talents you have been gifted with. You're also robbing your team of their leader; they don't want you to be at work every day; they want you to lead them.

How do we go about it?

At Better Happy, we recommend and support small business owners to:

  • Move towards being able to work 27 hours a week or less

  • To be able to spend 80%+ of their time working on the business

  • 80% Rule - You need your people to be 80% as good as you, not 100

  • To plan and follow a personal health and happiness routine

  • To set and check in on personal goals with an objective third party

This might all sound 'nicey nice,' but it's very tactical. Many of the challenges faced in small businesses are created by the owner struggling to let go or shift mindset. When owners look after themselves, prioritise their business life balance, and hand over responsibilities to their team, their teams and businesses thank them for it.

People, including you, are the key to success in almost any energy. By Implement just the basics from each of the five steps outlined in this post, you'll be setting your people and business up miles ahead of the rest of your industry. We'll be posting plenty of more specific useful content on these steps in the future so be sure to subscribe to keep up to date.

Want to find out how you're doing right now in each of these areas? Take our free scorecard and get an instant report in 5 minutes here.

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