National Payroll Week: How can businesses attract and retain top talent?

3 September 2018

An organisations greatest asset is of course its people. But SME businesses, both new start-ups disrupting our industries, and established firms who are pillars of their communities, face their greatest challenge recruiting and retaining staff who are fundamental to growth projections.

But how can businesses recruit and retain talent in a competitive market place? Is salary the most important perk for potential employees? And how can businesses who run a tight ship stand out from the crowd when the salary on offer is lower than the competition?

It was a pleasure to catch up with entrepreneurs  Claire Harper  and Piers Linney , along with Gareth Jones , a leading expert in organisational design, culture, leadership and change recognised by both the academic and corporate worlds, to share strategies SME businesses can adopt and implement in celebration of National Payroll Week.

Are there any key strategies which would help SME's successfully manage cash flow, particularly towards the end of the month when wages are due?

“An inability to cover payroll can be the final straw for a business.”

I think we all agree managing cash flow is critical for businesses. It sounds like a sensible approach but, as we head towards the end of the month, ensuring there’s enough money in the bank is vital.

We asked Claire for some advice;

Reviewing overheads, increasing margins and just reviewing timings for all key expenditure will all assist with being able to pay colleagues, as well as maintaining and growing operations. It requires a smart approach and very close attention to detail.”

However, sometimes circumstances change beyond the owners control. Market conditions detoriate, bad weather could delay supply chains or destroy goods for example. Piers is keen for businesses to take the initiative when trouble occurs…

Take early action instead of ignoring and hoping it will be overcome. This may involve uncomfortable conversations with suppliers, staff, HMRC, shareholders, lenders and new investors, but they will invariably respond more positively to an open dialogue. It is also far harder to source new capital on palatable terms in a distressed situation.“

How can business leaders motivate and reward employees aside from financial rewards?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team work so hard when our MD Nick promised a pizza delivery at lunchtime. And there’s certainly a boost in productivity when  Matt Dawson sends us brownies .

But, what motivates us might not work for our colleagues. In stepped Gareth to steer us in the right direction.

My previous experience at Polygram International and the BBC taught me many of the dark arts of HR and Remuneration. What I learnt from this is that financial rewards alone are never enough. People want to work at organisations where they feel valued, developed and well led. It is also a mistake to assume that everyone’s motivations at work are the same – some are motivated by money and comfort, others by security, some by warm and satisfying team relationships, and yet others by power, recognition, and autonomy.”

When payroll budgets are tight, how can SME's think outside the box to attract key talent to help their business grow?

Our conversation shifted less towards innovative perks, although there are some, but more towards appealing to the intrinsic motivations that inspire a candidate.

SME’s can adapt their rewards programme, but the personal story behind their business is often far more compelling to potential candidates. Piers stressed the need for owners to clearly communicate their future aspirations.

It is key to sell the vision and seek out people who are genuine excited about joining the team to contribute to the success of the business.

Piers went on to share the risk vs reward recruitment strategy, which can pay dividends for those willing to look slightly outside the core competencies they wish to hire.

SMEs should take more risks on keen individuals with less experience and lower salary expectations who are capable and hungry for personal development, but then manage them closely.”

Which Claire wholeheartedly agreed with...

Colleagues need to feel excited and valued and help shape and influence the business and take it to the next level, so play up to what makes your business different!

Gareth concluded our discussion bringing the topic back to how we feel about Monday’s. Do you dread, or look forward to them?

"The best talent won’t stay in a place where they don’t want to be, so the key challenge is to create a culture where people feel they can grow and be stimulated."

Thanks to Claire, Gareth and Piers for their time.

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070  or email .

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