The VP of Engineering looked at me and said ‘Jess, we might not be as big as some of the other companies out there, but we’re great, we can absolutely retain our top talent and keep them from quitting to go to some of the other big brand names out there.’

And I nodded and said sure, and I’d put together a project plan… but here’s my shameful secret.

I thought he was freaking nuts.

Sigh. What little I knew!

And of course he was right. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if someone gets an offer from Apple or Google, my guess is they’d head to Apple or Google rather than stay with a medium sized engineering and manufacturing company in Canada.

BUT… that wasn’t really the point. The point was… what can WE do and control and influence that would keep them from even applying to those other companies in the first place?

We might not have had millions of dollars in the budget for staff events, or apartments on campus purely for new hires or beer fridges or taco tuesdays… but what DID we have?

Here’s what I’ve learned in the many, many years since working around retaining talent when you’re NOT Apple or Google and you might not have the extravagant budget. And trust me these are absolutely key with keeping people engaged, happy and keeping their resume off of other company’s recruitment desks!

1 - Flexibility

If you ignore everything else on this list, I’m begging you to really think about this one and get creative here. It’s absolutely free, and yes may take some logistics work on your side, but could reap huge rewards in terms of loyalty and commitment.

The obvious ‘flexibility’ ideas are hours and location (ie core hours and work from home options). But think outside the box even more. What other ‘rules’ do you have at your office that you put into place purely because it’s ‘the way other companies do things??

Do you truly need that start time? What about pets or kids - why can’t they be in the office at certain points in the day, week or month (don’t get me started on the undying loyalty that would get out of the breastfeeding new moms out there!!)? Is that dress code really serving anything? Why shouldn’t people get to answer the phone in whatever fun quirky way they want, as long as it’s friendly to clients and customers? 

Get flexible and you will be AMAZED at the return on that investment in the form of loyalty, productivity and commitment.

2 - Career Conversations

Ok, yes you are too small to have a huge career ladder with 15 planned promotions… but so what? In today’s talent market you’re lucky to get 3 years out of someone before they move on, and getting 5 years is a miracle.

So just own that up front. Know that even your top person will very likely leave you for a bigger or different job in the future… so be honest about that with each other. Don’t only talk about what next job or assignment they want with you, also talk about where they want to take their career overall, and how you can support that in the meantime while you have them.

3 - Decision Making Power

In a big company you’re lucky if you even know who is behind a decision, let alone getting to influence it in anyway. Take this as an advantage, speak to your employees, involve them in the decision making process, even if it’s in areas of the business that ‘doesn’t concern them’ - so what! 

And this applies to all team members - seriously you’d be amazed at what ideas your 18 year old student employee would have on budgeting or marketing or client appreciation events. Give them a chance to have a say.

4 - Access to Information

Be open, honest and transparent with your team. Seriously I get that this is an uncomfortable one, especially if you’re in a small business owner role and your company is ‘your baby’... but let the team in. Let them see what’s really going on from a business perspective.

And it’s OK if the story isn’t great. Not only can you engage them with your honesty, you can brainstorm with them about how they (and you) can help bring things to a more positive place.

Sounds like a small one but this is a huge advantage small teams and companies have over big name corporates!

5 - Special Projects

Someone is in a customer service role but they really love marketing - awesome, give them a shot at running the social media feeds for a special project. Your office manager loved planning their kids’s wedding and wishes they could do more events - perfect, let them plan the next client appreciation event.

It doesn’t matter that it’s not ‘in their job description’, you have a golden chance to let people learn and do more on the things that genuinely interest them, don’t waste it because of what’s written in a 5 year old job description!

6 - Training & Conferences

Ok granted this one does have a price tag attached. But in most regions this will be a completely tax deductible expense (please check with your accountant!) and feeling invested in by attending a training or conference is a big motivator for people.

And get creative - if there’s a conference that your business truly can’t afford both travel expenses and the conference entry fee but your team member is so passionate about, is there an opportunity to contribute funds to it? Combine it with additional paid days off so maybe they pay for the travel but you can help it be a holiday as well? Have a grown up conversation with them about it and go from there.

7 - Team Building

This can be as cheap or extravagant as you want it to be (I’m looking at you ‘team trips to Vegas’ people!), but giving team members time to really bond outside of work projects is such a boost to loyalty and motivation.

If you truly have zero or very limited funds in the budget for this, cool, get creative. Can you have a pot-luck lunch at a local park? What about a silly lunch time public skate at the local ice rink?

And best option? ASK your team members. What would they find fun to do?

This is just a quick short list to get your started thinking about all the ways you can build a great team dynamic that people want to stay a part of.

Most importantly - keep measuring what works and what doesn’t. Make sure you get feedback from your team members on a very regular basis of what keeps them coming in to work - and what frustrates the hell out of them.

Keep asking questions, keep course correcting.

Let me know in the comments what YOU’RE going to implement to UP the retention rates in your team!