6 Ways to Hold on to Your Top Talent

by Vanessa Richardson on June 9, 2011

The economic situation is slowly improving, which is good news, except for one thing: The job market is improving as well, meaning your workers could be eying the door.

That’s actually a touch of bad news for small business owners, says Bob Kelleher, CEO of the consulting firm Employee Engagement Group, because when its comes to retaining talent, you have a tough time competing on the basis of salary, benefits, and other perks that larger companies can offer. “If someone is interviewing with a company like GE, the smaller guy is going to lose the ‘us vs. them’ competition.”

So what can you do to hold on to the talent you hold most dear? You have to offer a  different type of employment deal, one that a Fortune 500 can’t compete with. Kelleher, who recently authored the book 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps….That Drive Results, offers some tips.

Identify your value proposition. What do you have that is different, and what a larger company can’t offer employees? “First off, you don’t want the person who wants to work for GE,” says Kelleher. “You want someone who likes to be entrepreneurial too, and do a variety of things. So identify what is unique about your company and how you can leverage that.” For small businesses, that often means giving employees more responsibilities, flexibility, and a bigger role in the company. Woo employees who want to wear many hats by showing that the smallness of your company is a plus.

Ask for their input. Small businesses are better able to encourage idea generation than bigger firms with more bureaucracy. Keep all of your employees engaged in all aspects of the company, by meeting with them regularly, both collectively and individually, and telling them what the company’s vision is and how they fit into the big picture. “Ask everyone at staff meetings what they think, and let the accounting person have an opinion about marketing, and vice-versa,” says Kelleher “A ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality brings up a variety of ideas that help you make a better product.”

Show recognition. “The bigger a company gets, the less time there is to recognize jobs well done, but realize that recognizing and celebrating people’s successes go a long way,” says Kelleher. Recognition can be inexpensive, like offering sweatshirts with the company logo or Starbucks gift cards. “A free ‘good job’ in front of the staff goes a long way, too,” he adds.

Offer financial incentives. While you may not be able to offer Fortune 500 salaries, you have to at least be competitive. “At least be competitive in the market you’re in,” says Kelleher. “Offering potential stock or options can go a long way toward keeping employees.”

Show you care. Small business workers often bond as closely as family. Show that you are  indeed small enough to really care about your workers and have empathy for their situations. “Telling them that you care about them, you want to help them grow, and you want to get to know them and their families shows a lot of empathy,” says Kelleher.

Have fun. Holding social events brings people together and puts them in a positive mood. Going out for drinks after work with significant others or hosting a bowling night not only goes a long way to support your business, it’s a good way to see what your workers are like outside that office and it fosters team bonding. “Taking a breather to have some fun is always important, especially during tough times,” says Kelleher. And it reminds your employees what a great place they work at, too.