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How Smaller Businesses Can Win the War for Talent

Although I'm not fond of the term, 'war for talent' in the context of business, as the definition of war includes 'armed conflict' which clearly no business faces as a risk in developed nations when it comes to recruiting staff, at least not yet! Many Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are indicating that attracting and retaining people is currently a big challenge, not only to sustain but to build and grow. First world populations are decreasing due to long-term demographic trends while recent shifts to increased remote work have increased competition for talent, also providing access to a new and diverse pool of workers. Smaller businesses that leverage their agility to adapt can benefit from these and other fast changing staffing challenges.


Recently, Eddie Lemoine provided a very interesting talk on Navigating the Talent Gap (TEC Canada, July 6, 2023) and provided some key insights:

  • most new employees will stay in a job less than 2 years

  • younger employees want purpose and fun in their job

  • younger employees want to development for promotions

  • employees will be seeking flexibility to accommodate their needs (daycare, education, another job, etc.)

  • Canada will have 1 million job openings while the United States will have 10 million, putting pressure on Canada to retain workers as global recruitment intensifies

  • hybrid and remote work options are expected along with a work culture to support it

  • employers have, on average, 53 hours now to orient a new employee before risking their disengagement and possible regret of accepting the job

Winning the war for talent can be a significant challenge for smaller businesses, especially when competing with larger corporations that often have more resources and established employer brands. However, there are several strategies that SME's can employ to attract and retain top talent:

  1. Offer Competitive Compensation and Benefits: While smaller businesses may not always match the salary offerings of larger companies, they can still provide competitive compensation packages, along with other benefits such as flexible working hours, remote work options, extended health insurance, retirement plans, and performance-based bonuses. For smaller companies, it's easier to connect performance directly to financial results!

  2. Create a Positive Company Culture: Highlight the unique aspects of your company culture and work environment. Emphasize factors like a tight-knit team, opportunities for growth and development, and a supportive leadership style. A positive workplace culture can be a strong draw for candidates looking for a fulfilling and engaging work environment. Smaller businesses have a huge advantage in creating and maintaining a connected culture!

  3. Promote Work-Life Balance: Strive to create a work environment that prioritizes work-life balance. Flexible scheduling, remote work options, and reasonable working hours can be appealing to potential employees who value a healthy work-life balance. The larger a business is, the more complex and less flexible staff scheduling becomes!

  4. Focus on Employee Development: Smaller businesses can offer personalized attention to their employees' professional development. Implement training programs, mentorship opportunities, and career advancement paths that show your commitment to helping employees grow in their roles.

  5. Leverage Employee Referrals: Encourage your current employees to refer potential candidates from their networks. Employee referrals often result in high-quality candidates who are a good fit for the company culture. In one job earlier in my career, the company gave each employee 100 business cards with the employee's name and business logo on it to provide to friends, knowing the high-value of connected networks. It worked and vacancies got filled!

  6. Use Social Media and Employer Branding: Leverage social media platforms to showcase your company's values, achievements, and work culture. A strong online presence and positive employer branding can make your company more attractive to potential candidates. Be online where your future A-player hires are!

  7. Offer Performance-Based Incentives: Consider implementing performance-based incentives and recognition programs. Rewarding exceptional performance can motivate employees to excel and attract ambitious candidates who want to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work. Leverage connected performance rewards at the individual, team, and business levels!

  8. Promote Responsibility and Autonomy: Highlight the opportunities for employees to take on meaningful responsibilities and make a real impact within the organization. Many talented individuals seek roles where they can contribute significantly and have a sense of ownership. A powerful way to reward performance while growing your business!

  9. Prioritize the Interview Process: Ensure that your interview process is efficient and professional. Provide timely feedback and clear communication to candidates throughout the process, making them feel valued and respected. Only hire A-players and get outside help for interviewing!

  10. Showcase Success Stories: Share success stories of current employees who have thrived and grown within the organization. Highlighting these stories can inspire potential candidates and show them the opportunities that lie ahead. Success stories show your culture much better than a job description!

  11. Partner with Local Educational Institutions: Establish partnerships with local colleges and universities to tap into the pool of fresh talent. Internship programs and campus recruitment initiatives can help identify and attract promising young professionals. Also sponsor or contribute to local career fairs, professional associations, and civic events!

  12. Emphasize Sustainability and Social Responsibility: Increasingly, job seekers are interested in working for companies that prioritize sustainability and social responsibility. Showcase any initiatives your business has in these areas to appeal to candidates who share these values.

  13. Become Early Adopters of Emerging Technologies: A-players are motivated to perform, grow and learn to continue making an increasing contribution to success. In 3 Human Super Talents AI Will Not Replace, the authors point out that employees will need to

"learn how to leverage these new tools and cultivate the skills machines can't replace"

By utilizing many of these strategies, SMEs can outperform larger companies. As Eddie Lemoine highlights in Navigating the Talent Gap, employees ask 3 things when asking to join your business:

  1. Why is this job important? (why)

  2. Who will I be working with? (why stay)

  3. What do you want me to do when I walk in the door? (must enjoy the work and like the activities I'm doing)

In conclusion, SMEs may not have the same resources as larger corporations, but they can leverage their unique strengths to attract and retain top talent. By focusing on culture, employee development, work-life balance, and other attractive factors, these smaller businesses can compete effectively in the war for talent.


Jerome Dickey, MA, PCC, CPHR, Q.Med

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