By Anne Cantelo, MD of Onyx

The most challenging thing for any small company is to find and hire the right people. If you’re a service company, you’re essentially selling the skills and expertise of the people in the team, so it is critical to get it right.

1. Think flexibly.

Attracting and retaining good people is not that dissimilar to attracting and retaining customers. The best people have their choice of jobs and a start-up or a very small company, with little or no brand recognition, will probably not be top of their list. You therefore have to think about what you can offer them, over and above a very high salary that you probably can’t afford. Offering people flexibility in their working hours is highly attractive and will help you attract and retain the ‘brains’ you need without you having to pay them for working full-time. Managing flexible working really isn’t difficult. We are a global economy, so unless we work 24/7 we are all working part-time.

2. Recruit people not job roles.

The best people do not usually come along at exactly the moment you need them and they almost certainly don’t fit neatly into the job roles you have. The best employees will develop a job around their strengths and abilities, so take that a step further. When you meet someone you’re impressed by, consider how the person could add value to your business, rather than trying to fit them into a specific job role that may not make best use of their skills and experience. If there is a fit, it is worth having the conversation with them now and letting them know you’re interested, even if you don’t currently have the budget immediately. Quite often, if the person is interested, they may themselves come up with suggestions, such as bringing clients with them or combining your role with others.

3. Recruit people who are better than you are.

You are not an expert at everything; you have strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself about what those are and recruit people who are strong in the areas that you’re weak. Prioritise plugging any areas you really struggle with. Your goal is to build a strong team with no weak areas.

4. Recruit for attitude first and skills and experience second.

You can teach skills, you can give people experience, you can’t teach attitude. A bad attitude can bring the motivation of a team down very quickly and will lose you clients. You want people who know how important that breakfast meeting is with a key client, so plans to be early rather than risk being late. You want people who actively think about how they can contribute to the company and how they can support and help the rest of the team. Consider; would you want this person as your manager? Once you have a core team of people with the right attitude they will self-police any newcomers and those that don’t fit will quickly be pushed out.

5. Don’t recruit in your image.

An eclectic team helps the company be agile and innovative. It makes it a fun stimulating place to work, particularly for the younger members of the team who will see and learn from different approaches. It develops a culture of respect and appreciation for the fact that we’re all so different. At Onyx we even make sure we have ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ people in the team. We have a team that will question and challenge what is ‘obvious’, whoever says it, and that way we come up with better solutions. Those organisations who only recruit from Oxbridge (as reported in the news this week) will create one-dimensional teams that will make the same mistakes over and over.