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Attracting high quality talent: The challenge for small businesseS

Smart entrepreneurs understand the importance of attracting and retaining top talent. They know that passionate people committed to the company's vision, are the best bet for making the enterprise grow. However, not only is it difficult to attract high quality talent in small businesses, but it is perhaps harder to convince people that the company has robust people processes, to measure performance, ensure learning and grow people. Conventional wisdom suggests that well-established companies hav ..

Working in senior HR positions in startups, I have had many bright candidates say, "I am excited by the vision of your company and would like to join, but I am not sure about my long-term career here. What is my career path?"

This is a critical question. Even if the candidate is convinced by the vision of the company and the role that he is being offered, he needs reassurance that he has a career path and that he shall learn and grow in the company. Typically, the Human Resources functions in small businesses lack expertise, are understaffed, and are working at a transactional level. They lack leadership and influence. The answer they provide to this question may be vague and on many occasions not backed by effective.

Many impatient entrepreneurs think that 'People Processes' are non-value adding and slow. People processes are associated with excessive form filling.


Which people processes are critical? How does one set up effective people processes that grow people and make them stay with the enterprise? How does one ensure rigour with flexibility?

It is important to only focus on a few critical people processes. These should include
(i) Hiring/Recruitment
(ii) Performance Measurement and Feedback
(iii) Learning

The emphasis has to be on simplicity, transparency and rigour in design and implementation. The key elements of the company's business context and its core ideology must be built into the processes. People processes must be looked as critical business processes and the top management of the company including the CEO, should be involved in designing it. Often, this is not done. HR departments put something half-baked in place, sometimes home grown, and sometimes lifted from other companies.

The key questions that must be answered while designing the people processes are

Hiring process
What key attributes are we looking for in the folks that we are hiring? What attributes are exhibited by our best people?
How do we assess these attributes? What steps should be part of the hiring process?
Who is responsible for these various steps? Are they equipped to do their part?
How will we measure the effectiveness of the process? How do we get feedback from the various stakeholders?

Performance measurement
What does performance mean in our business context?
What aspects should be measured; results and/or behaviours
How do we measure these aspects in the simplest manner
Given the business we are in, what should be the frequency of measurement
How much performance-based differentiation (in salary/growth) is appropriate in our business?
How do we link performanc measurements to Rewards and Career Growth?

How do we communicate the criticality of continuous learning amongst our managers and employees?
How do we determine our learning priorities?
How do we make learning fun?
How do we give opportunities to our employees to learn?
How do we measure the effectiveness of learning imparted?

Robust people processes can only be designed by a capable Human Resources team/or CEO with the involvement of the top management. Effective implementation also needs the full commitment of the leaders and regular communication to the stakeholders. There needs to be clarity that people processes need to be run by the leaders, not the Human Resources department.

The impact of these simple, thoughtfully designed and rigorously implemented processes would be seen in enhanced engagement and productivity, longer tenures and lower attrition. This will undoubtedly take time, but as competent leaders emerge from the ranks, the organization can give the examples of these role models to attract high quality talent. Effective People Processes, have a huge impact on the enterprise culture: the way things happen and behaviours that are encouraged or frowned upon.