A company is only as good as its employees, but startups have additional pressure to attract the right talent and retain it. When the budget doesn’t allow for turnover, it’s especially important to find the right people and ensure they grow with the business instead of seeking greener pastures.

So what can startups do to retain staff over time?

Soul Searching

It all starts with making a good hire in the first place, and to do this it’s important to know yourself first. Define your company culture, and you’ll be able to evaluate candidates based on cultural fit.

Think about your company’s core values and the people who should be representing and developing your product or service. In the process of creating the job description, consider not only the skill set but the values you’d want to see in the ideal candidate.

Look for Can-Do Staff Members

You know the saying ‘attitude is everything’? It’s especially true for startups. Often the best idea for startups is to hire dynamic employees who are willing to jump in where they’re needed, as opposed to experts who specialize in one particular area.

Startups face a number of challenges and unexpected hurdles, and it’s important to find someone who can not only adapt but help you find quick solutions. Later, with a good understanding of multiple aspects of the business, they’ll often go on to focus on a certain department.

Hiring an executive assistant is an effective means of reducing the pressure on your leadership team, and of freeing-up their time to focus on decision making.

Set Clear Expectations

Employees struggle when expectations for tasks, projects and outcomes are confusing or unclear. This is also frustrating for management, so although you may have hired people to take care of the minutia, it’s important to spend the right amount of time making sure all instructions, processes and desired results are crystal-clear.

It’s also a good idea to define performance expectations from the very beginning. Having defined goals and expectations helps with fair performance evaluations and discussion points for areas of improvement.

Avoid Control Issues

Also known as micro-management, control issues arise when employees aren’t given authority over their tasks. Startup leaders can be especially guilty of it, and may be hesitant to relinquish control over even the simplest of things, but retention of staff can hinge on this single issue.

Employees need to feel autonomous and important; they need to know they are trusted and that their opinion counts. Engaging staff in decision-making will also make them feel more invested in the startup and its goals. Empowerment will let them know you have confidence in their judgment and that they can contribute freely without the fear of being raked over the coals if something goes wrong.

If it’s hard for you to loosen your grip, try starting off with small inconsequential tasks until you see the level of responsibility you’re looking for.

Keep the Door Open

One of the largest factors in staff turnover is lack of communication. People need to feel that they come to higher-ups with questions and concerns. We all know the feeling of the closed boss’s door and having to wait for the right time to get answers.

Be available, be open and ready to field questions and help resolve issues. Not only will it help your staff get their jobs done, it will provide you with valuable feedback on processes in real-time.

Watch the Workload

Companies often wait until there’s plenty of work to fill a new position, particularly startups with limited budgets for staffing. But, this may mean existing employees have to absorb the excess until a new member of staff comes along, and this can be bad for retention. People who feel overworked and undervalued are at high risk of searching for another job.

Continuous evaluation of staff workloads, taking each employee’s feedback into account, is key to establishing healthy assignment practices and ensuring no one is overloaded. When it becomes clear that an additional person is needed, it’s usually worth it to put the position announcement out and begin the hiring process well in advance.

This also gives your startup time to bring the new person up to speed before being given a full workload; having to orient a new colleague while managing a busy agenda can be enough to drive any staff member over the edge.

Regular Interviews

Exit interviews are a regular thing in HR because they provide valuable, honest feedback. This can lead management to wonder if there was something they could have done to prevent the person from leaving, so why not hold ‘exit’ interviews throughout the year? Transparency and feedback are extremely important to startups, so check in with your employees.

Ask them what they like about the organization and what they would change if given the chance. There may be subtle adjustment that would make an employee much less likely to look elsewhere. You can also start to determine patterns as your corroborate the feedback from various employees, and develop a plan to address pressure points.

Promote from Within

One of the best ways to retain a person is to allow them to advance with the company. Instead of looking elsewhere, consider whether your next supervisor or manager is in the office already. Even if the existing skill set may not seem to meet the needs of a higher position, consider the fact that a staff member with the right attitude can be developed into exactly the level of leadership you’re looking for.

Aside from motivating other staff, a track record of providing upward mobility is also great for attracting new talent.

With a good level of self-reflection and an openness to continuous improvement, startups can successfully retain staff and expand to meet future goals.

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Oliver Michaels BA (Hons) is an independent business consultant from London, specialising in startups, SMEs, B2B and digital marketing, with over 15 years’ experience.

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