Thank your stars
How to keep your best talent as your business grows
The idea that people are the most valuable asset of any company has become something of a cliché – but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you’re running a small business that has set its sights on ambitious growth, it’s crucial to keep your brightest and best talent with you as you scale up.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that staff retention is all about money. But while remuneration is one consideration, the financial package you offer is very unlikely to be the be-all and end-all for your star performers. Instead, your priority should be to focus on employee engagement: above all, think about how you will make sure your people feel that they’re doing something meaningful and authentic – do they understand your business’s values and purpose, and do they feel invested in them?
One way to build this sort of culture is to avoid the command and control model with which employers have traditionally run their businesses in favour of a more collegiate and collaborative approach. Focus on the why when delegating tasks or projects; why do you want them to do something and how will it help move the business forward?
Crucially, this approach to management emphasises trust. People are more likely to feel part of the business when you give them responsibility for getting on with the job. You’re trying to build an environment in which people feel empowered to work autonomously towards a shared vision for the business. That may mean giving them more freedom to experiment – and developing a “fail-fast” culture in which your best people are able to try things even if there is only an outside chance of success. This allows the business to move forward quickly and try creative solutions, rather than waiting for large-scale corporate projects that are often slow and cumbersome.
There is still a place for accountability. For example, competition between staff can work very well in growing businesses focused on teams securing particular objectives or results. But learn to celebrate your successes as a team, where everyone takes pride in what has been achieved.
As for remuneration, take the time to understand what your best people are looking for and be prepared to be flexible. There is a good chance your most senior staff are less concerned with pay and more focused on some form of equity stake in the business. This aligns their interests with yours.
It’s possible to offer more junior staff the chance to invest in the business too, perhaps through some form of share option scheme. But ask them what they want from a benefits package. Often the answer will be greater freedom than large corporate employers offer – more room for manoeuvre on holidays, part-time working or remote working, for example. Flexible benefits packages, in which employees choose from a menu of options, are often much more attractive than the highest salary.
You should be investing in your staff in other ways too. They’re more likely to remain committed if your actions show you believe they have a long-term future at the business. Focus on their career development and skills, leveraging external training providers if you’re not able to offer this in-house.
Finally, think about how you will maintain these practices as the business achieves its growth objectives. As the company scales, it may be harder to maintain the same culture as a start-up where everyone has regular one-to-one interaction.
If your set-up does change, keep people informed about how they will be impacted – who they will report to, for example and how their performance will be assessed – and look for their input. Most importantly involve them in the process. Your business will need more formal structures as it grows, but that shouldn’t mean giving up on values such as transparency, inclusion and communication.
Steve Cordiner is an Investment Director at Livingbridge
Livingbridge Growth invests equity of up to £5m and supports founders with bold ambitions for the future. We invest in exceptional entrepreneurs and can provide transformational capital and expertise to accelerate business potential.
If you would like to find out more about Livingbridge Growth investment criteria, or if you think you know of a business looking for early stage investment, please get in touch.