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Getting Started

Retaining key staff

Some tips on how an expanding business can hold on to its most important employees

Retaining key staff

Two thirds of UK SMEs have no clear plan in place to ensure their business does not suffer if key people leave,1 according to a survey by SME bank Aldermore.

Yet most recognise that losing talented staff is an obstacle to successful expansion and a threat to the long-term vitality of the business.

Martin Brown, CEO of SME business growth advisor, Elephants Child, explains some of the things that you can do to hold on to your best people, and how you can groom them to take up the reins of the organisation.

Articulate a clear strategy

There are few things more demotivating for staff, says Martin, than not understanding company strategy, the plan, their role and their targets. Clarity here makes retaining and developing employees easier.

Martin adds: “If you have good people and you give them a role, they need the autonomy and trust to get on without micro-management from above. They might make certain mistakes along the way, but in the right sort of supportive environment they'll feel engaged and empowered.”

Training and development also helps people better themselves and improve their performance for your business. Being seen as an employer that gives staff the time and freedom for their continuing professional development can help to retain key people.

That could be informal leadership/coaching or peer learning. Alternatively, it could be more formalised academic training. “Of course, the fear is that staff will take these new skills to another organisation,” says Martin, “so  the challenge is to ensure they want to stay.”

Develop your company culture

Creating a culture in line with the business strategy is a critical way to help people enjoy their role and want to stay and grow with the business, says Martin.

“Make sure people understand the business values and how their behaviours influence the business. Include and show people the right way to behave – and incentivise them to do the right things.”

He also suggests a culture that aids staff retention by meeting the changing expectations of employees: “Some companies provide benefits like cycle-to-work schemes or a crèche facility – things that were unusual in the workplace 10-15 years ago.”

One benefit of retaining key staff is that you have capable people in-house who might one day step up to run the business. Martin says: “Think about who might be suitable for the CEO's job but cascade this thinking to all roles throughout the various layers of the company. What kind of development might they need: mentoring, shadowing or a formal qualification? Or it could just be exposing them to different parts of the business.”

He adds: “Of course, it's perfectly valid to think about succession in terms of recruiting externally, too. Consider the role – is it a core one that you want to develop in-house or recruit for, or peripheral and suitable for outsourcing?”

Road to success

Traffic managment company Hooke Highways has successfully hung on to key staff as it continues an expansion that will see expected profits rise to £1.2m this year. Managing Director Michael Montague says: “We've identified key managers and ensure they understand the bigger picture and their pathway in that."

Staff at every level are made aware there are opportunities for them as the firm opens more depots, and that the company will help fund training for qualifications for those that want it. “And there’s ongoing talent-spotting in-house to see who has the potential to step up to something new,” says Michael.

Staff retention and succession planning is part of Hooke's overall business plan, he reveals. "If you’re losing your good people you’re never going be able to grow your business, you’re always going to be plugging holes and that will slow you down."

1, February 2017

Where the opinions of third parties are offered, these may not necessarily reflect those of St. James’s Place.