Recruiting in the "noughties" was tough; it was a decade in which we were all obsessed by "Generation Y" that was notoriously very hard to please.
In HR and employment circles, Generation Y candidates seemed to have a huge amount of confidence, often walking away from a perfectly good job with terrific career prospects because they did not like the colour of the wallpaper in the staff canteen.
But they could afford to be choosy seeing as there was virtually full employment in some sectors, and often they chose the big corporates and their glossy graduate schemes over small or medium-sized companies.
How a recession can change things - now employers have the upper hand. There is now far greater supply of talent than there is demand, which is good news for small businesses. The evolution of the internet and social media has meant that smart smaller firms can compete with corporates on a digitally levelled playing field. They can create great websites cheaply, and improve their visibility to candidates by blogging and exploiting social media sites and job boards.
The question is: how do these smaller businesses take full advantage of this opportunity?
Here are some simple things that any organisation, no matter how small, can do to improve both talent attraction and retention:
1. Have a strong profile in the marketplace. Today, the first thing most people see if they are researching a company is their website or social media presence. This can be a very cost-effective and powerful way to present your company's message but it is vital that it is kept up to date. Nothing will turn a potential candidate or customer away more quickly than a website, social media page or blog that is clearly outdated. Make sure the company website refers to the kind of people you employ and let the market know that you are always looking for strong talent, whether novices or experienced hires.
2. Have a clearly defined recruitment process. Poor communication, conflicting messages and drawn-out processes are consistently identified as reasons why candidates turn down jobs. The recruitment process itself can create the first impression about a company and if it appears to be disorganised, the natural conclusion is to assume that the business is poorly managed. Sadly, this is often true. It is vital that key stakeholders agree their needs before they start recruiting. Resist the temptation to cancel interviews at short notice, set clear timescales - that includes giving prompt interview feedback - and stick to them.
3. On-boarding new employees. On-boarding is the most overlooked part of the recruitment process. "Transitioning" is the word psychologists use to define the process that anyone goes through as they move from one relationship to another and it is equally applicable in our professional life. A study run by KPMG some years ago concluded that an employee who considers they had a highly successful first three months in a new job is 72% more likely to be with the company 18 months later, compared with other new joiners. Success does not just happen, so it is important that every new joiner is given a plan that is regularly reviewed and amended as needed.
4. Review and appraise regularly. Human beings are social creatures and we all thrive on interaction. Objective feedback is therefore a vital part of the learning experience. The typical small company tends to do much of this on the hoof, but it is far more effective if this ongoing process is supported by something more structured. Appraisals are recommended, as a minimum, every six months and they do not need to be complicated. An incredibly effective scheme being used by a small company had a single sheet of paper with three separate sections that had the following headings: "KEEP DOING", "DO MORE" and "DO LESS". Each member of staff had three appraisals each year and the vast majority were completely clear about what their objectives were and what their manager wanted from them.
5. Communicate the company's progress and objectives regularly. Studies show that the most common source of stress in the workplace is a lack of knowledge about performance, leading to the feeling of insecurity. Regular company-wide communication from the management team helps to keep the workforce informed, engaged and aligned to the objectives of the business. Equally important is the fact that employees who are not aligned to the broader objectives, the so-called "energy sappers", will become apparent much more quickly.
The key for any small business wanting to compete for great talent these days is to think about their resource planning strategically. By adopting just a few simple techniques, such as those above, small businesses can take full advantage of hiring and retaining the best talent in the market today.
For more information on recruitment, take a look at XpertHR's tools and resources on the topic.
Norman Burden is CEO of True North Human Capital.