Productivity

How small businesses can hire the best talent

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

How does small business compete with the big corporates when it comes to hiring the best talent?

woman punching man

Richard Thame CEO, Fastway Couriers

Less hierarchy means ideas can be turned into action faster. “Many of our franchisees are from corporate backgrounds,” Thame explains. “The Fastway system gives them the chance to operate their own business while enjoying the support and proven success of the Fastway model. A franchise system also provides a network of peers to share experiences.” 

Having worked for numerous multinationals, Thame has an inside track on what to offer potential hires. “I think you learn a lot about business systems and governance from a large company… But a smaller owner-operator environment drives a great sense of accountability and hands-on business experience.” 

He’s found that people from corporate backgrounds particularly like how, when you’re in a smaller business, you have a greater say across a range of areas. “Less hierarchy means ideas can turn into actions a lot faster, which can be very personally and professionally satisfying,” he says.

“We’re also more inclined to take a risk and try something new. We like celebrating success and letting people have a real say in how their ideas are put into action,” he adds.

Brendan Foley, CEO, Select Funds

Offer a profit-share scheme and give staff a voice. In competing for talent with outsized human resources departments, Foley uses some of the experience he gained working for Ernst & Young and then hedge fund manager the Man Group. 

He co-founded his own fund services business, Select Asset Management group, 11 years ago, and offers his staff the incentive of a profit share scheme as well as the less tangible attraction of making sure their voices are heard. 

“The reason talented people work in small businesses is that they want to see how their efforts impact on the success of the business and then share directly in that,” he says. 

“We run the business with quarterly and annual objectives linked to a bonus based on a percentage of salary. There is a quick feedback loop through the quarterly bonus as it gets assessed based on completion of those objectives.” 

For Foley it’s also a matter of size. “For me, the perfect size of a business is between 20 to 25 employees. Any bigger than that and the decision making process gets too diluted and complicated.”

The reason talented people work in small businesses is that they want to see how their efforts impact on the success of the business and then share directly in that.

- BRENDAN FOLEY, SELECT FUNDS

David Whiteman, Chief Marketing Officer, GetPrice

Promote open communication between  staff and management. Whiteman is a corporate refugee, having worked for four large corporates, including Google, before joining GetPrice, the price comparison website that was once part of News Limited. 

“Decision-making in large corporates can be frustratingly slow,” he says. “Your ability as an individual to create change gets diluted by the sheer size of the organisation.”

GetPrice has 29 employees, half of them lured from big business. “People want and need to see the results of their labour. We offer people the ability to have a meaningful impact on the success of our business. GetPrice is extremely agile with a very flat structure. It’s easier to adapt strategy and tactics quickly, and get the team pointed in the right direction,” says Whiteman.

“The most important thing we’ve done is to try to break down any walls preventing effective communication between team members and management. This includes simple things like creating an effective working space that promotes communication, to being completely transparent about our strategy, business objectives and progress. Maintaining that openness has been our secret weapon.”

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