How Your Small Business Can Compete With Tech Giants For Great Staff

We are very pleased to post this guest blog by Ben Geoghegan from Get More HR Clients. Scan any of the ‘Best Companies To Work For’ lists and you’ll find them filled to the brim with the usual collection of all-powerful, all-conquering tech giants: Google, Facebook,  Dropbox, and other such behemoths. Why do the global tech firms fill the lists? It’s not hard to imagine the impressed looks on the judges’ faces as they stroll through the gleaming corridors of power that lead off to celebrity chef-led restaurants, rooftop bars, indoor swimming pools, and ‘zen rooms’. And that’s not to mention the whopping salaries and bonuses they pay to the delighted tech staff. That’s good news for the tech giants but it can make for depressing reading as a small business operator trying to compete against the big boys for talented staff in the UK. But it’s not all doom and gloom for SMEs seeking to fill vacancies. For a start, take heart from the fact that life isn’t as rosy as you may think for the HR and recruitment staff in the large tech companies. LinkedIn’s recent excellent analysis, led by Michael Booz, of global employee turnover revealed that ‘tech companies (software, not hardware) had the most turnover over in 2017 with a 13.2% rate. Retail—a historically high-churn sector—follows closely behind at 13.0%.’ Not only is turnover an issue for the tech giants; it seems that employee engagement can be a problem too. In fact, there are even whole discussion groups dedicated to the listing and review of all the things that these tech staff dislike about their employers. Knowing all this, here is a powerful way your SME can compete with the tech giants for great staff in the UK . . .

Turn Your Small Company Size Into A Strength

It’s time to think David versus Goliath. Your business may be small but there are many opportunities to leverage into greater appeal for potential staff.

“Welcome! Here, you’re a person, not a number.”

Obviously your biggest strength is the fact that, rather than getting lost in corporate city, a person can feel at home in a small business. Do you think that Employee #23,368 at Facebook chats to Mark Zuckerberg about her plans for a new payroll improvement process she has in mind? Does Employee #73,931 at Google chat in the kitchen with CEO Sundar Pichai whilst making a quick cuppa? Corporate MBA programs teach managers the concept of management-by-walking-around but the typical person in corporate world can smell this ‘technique‘ a mile away. You, however, have the advantage of operating in the local zone so you have many more natural opportunities for regular human interaction – how you choose to use these micro moments is up to you. In addition to closer contact to the people that matter, potential hires will also appreciate the fact that their work will have a much higher impact on the business. Compare it to the grumblings of staff at Google about the negative aspects of working in the mega-corporation:I worked at Google for 3 years and it was very difficult to leave but there was one major factor that helped me make the decision — the impact I could ever have on the business as an individual was minimal. As noted in many answers below, Google is an incredible machine that prints money thanks to AdWords. Unless you are an amazingly talented engineer who gets to create something new, chances are you’re simply a guy/girl with an oil can greasing the cogs of that machine.“ Show your people the impact they have and turn your small business size into an advantage.

Develop an employee value proposition

Life can get a little frantic when running a small business and having a staff engagement touchstone can help to keep you grounded. One way to do this is to work with your staff to develop an employee value proposition that encapsulates why it’s so good to be part of your company. Sounds a bit too corporate for your liking? It doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of examples of small businesses developing a collective and codified understanding of what makes the people happy and productive. The staff at one small physiotherapy business in Australia have even become minor business celebrities with their internal Culture Book.

Personalise your employee lifecycle

It’s a sad indictment on HR and recruitment practices in the corporate world that many people who apply for jobs are not surprised when they hear nothing back from the employer or they receive some cold, faceless computer-generated email. It can be a surprisingly small world when it comes to finding great staff, particularly if you ever want to hire via employee referrals. Hence it makes good sense to review every step of your hiring process from the job ad, to all the auto-reply emails, to the interview process, to the rejection process, right through to the induction and onboarding process for new staff. Review the entire employee lifecycle and make it shine. Give it a personal, human feel at every stage, wherever possible and then use HR software to make it hum like a well-oiled machine. You can either do the reivew yourself, assign it to a colleague or team in your business, or even hire a summer intern for an outside perspective. If you do this right, not only will your potential hires think more highly of your business, your employees are likely to stay for longer as they see your business becoming a more caring (and well-run) place to be.

Give them formal & informal development opportunities

Just as potential new hires like the idea of their work having a big impact, you can promise greater development opportunities. These opportunities may not be week-long corporate getaways but they’ll be much more closely aligned to helping them succeed at their job and career than any corporate junket would provide. On the informal side, try following Isa Watson’s excellent advice and “create moments where employees can listen to each other, foster opportunities for them to connect around the things they care about most.” This is always easier to do in a natural way in a small business. On the formal development side, consider offering new development opportunities. Options include e-learning subscriptions, encouraging pre-planned employee-to-employee learning, and external mentor programs which can bring in fresh new ideas and different perspectives to avoid the group-think of the tech giants.

Inspire people

No, we’re not suggesting you morph into some modern day William Wallace who rallies the troops before battle. Do, however, consider this: unlike those big televised town hall meetings where the CEO tries in vain to motivate 1,000 people at once, you have the opportunity to inspire people every day, face to face – that’s far more powerful. Talk to your people, tell them about the challenges the business is facing, ask for their ideas – the energy you create just by involving them will surprise you. Not sure how to do it? There’s a wealth of information out there and a myriad of inspirational role models to choose from. Start with the classics: In Search of ExcellenceRicardo SemlerDelivering Happiness, and even Losing My Virginity. Then, create your own style and continue work at it.


As Huw Morgan astutely points out: “The top 25% most engaged companies enjoy the benefits of: 200% annual net profit, 18% higher productivity, 250% revenue growth, 12% greater customer advocacy and 50% fewer sick days. On top of that, employees are 87% less likely to leave the organisation.” Putting in the effort to get this right can return hefty dividends.
About Ben Geoghegan: Having worked in senior Human Resources roles across Europe and Australia, Ben is an avid follower of HR trends and developments, particularly in the areas of employee engagement, organisational strategy, and HR tech. Ben has a dislike of outdated management practices such as one-off annual staff surveys, hence his support for companies that utilise continuous, real-time employee feedback.
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