The War for Talent: 6 Ways Small Companies Can Compete With Big Businesses

Smaller companies can still go head-to-head with the big guys to attract and retain top finance talent.
Sandra BeckwithApril 6, 2022
The War for Talent: 6 Ways Small Companies Can Compete With Big Businesses
Photo: Getty Images

When Workhuman opened its yearly kickoff meeting with virtual entertainment by a group of musically gifted employees, co-workers were blown away by the talent. “Most of us didn’t know there were so many talented musicians in the company,” said Steve Pemberton, chief human resources officer for the performance management platform company. 

Showcasing their non-work-related skills is just one way Workhuman engages staff so they feel appreciated and involved. It’s an important piece of the company’s strategy to attract and retain talent. Like so many other smaller companies, Workhuman strives to compete against significantly larger organizations with deeper pockets for the record number of people looking for their next position. 

What can companies do to bring the best workers on board if they can’t always compete on salary? Here’s some advice from the experts for not only attracting top finance talent in a highly competitive market but retaining your existing workforce.

1. Understand What People Want From Employers

For some, a bigger paycheck is what matters the most, but other factors come into play, too. A recent Gallup poll revealed that almost two-thirds (64%) of employees look for a significant increase in income or benefits when deciding whether to take a job with a different organization. But almost as many (61%) look for greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing. In addition, 58% want a position that lets them do what they do best. 

“Money is a piece of this but at the end of the day, people aren’t leaving jobs for more money. They’re making hops for work-life balance; culture; meaningful work; and feeling like they’re valued, growing, and developing,” said human resources consultant Heather Albarano, owner of RCR Consulting.

2. Put Your Best Face Forward

What does your website say about your organization to potential hires? 

“Sell your company’s unique sizzle,” says Joslyn Osborn, partner and national director of finance and accounting placement, at executive recruiter Vaco. “Company culture and reputation are more important to employees than ever, so it’s important to know your company’s differentiators, especially when it’s time to hire.”

Albarano recommends securing employee testimonials for the careers page and employer review site Glassdoor. Use the careers page to communicate core values and employee value propositions. 

Supply chain technology company Transfix employs storytelling to help communicate the company’s values to both current and potential employees. Its first environmental, social, and governance (ESG) report, available on its website, reflects how corporate values mesh with what’s important to employees. It documents everything from the organization’s sustainability efforts to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. 

“Sustainability and working for a mission-oriented company are important to a new generation of workers that want to feel connected to a company and its mission. We work hard to make sure that’s understood about us,” said Transfix CFO Christian Lee

3. Rethink Job Postings 

More and more organizations are shifting away from predominantly skills-based job descriptions to emphasizing workplace culture and why people like working there. 

“Job postings need to be from the candidate’s viewpoint, telling them, ‘These are some of the things you’re getting from us.’ Include information about work-life balance, flexibility, paid-time-off packages, and cool or creative benefits if you have them,” said Albarano.

Osborn says this is particularly important for in-demand talent such as CPAs and accountants. “How do your company’s culture, benefits, and reputation stack up next to the competition? Are there ways you can sell your company more effectively in job descriptions?” she asked. 

4. Communicate How They Will Have an Impact

According to McKinsey & Company research, 70% of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work. That’s why recruitment and retention efforts need to help people see how the company will allow them to do what’s meaningful. 

“The advantage of a company of our size and background is that there’s a real mission focus here. We can bring on financial talent and say, ‘You won’t be employee number 8,000 working on a small project — you’ll be a core part of a team that’s bringing us to the next level,’” said Lee.

Lee stressed that communicating the tech firm’s workplace culture is particularly important for his company. With plans to go public, he’s looking to add 10 to 15 staffers to his finance team this year.

Transfix’s chief people officer Brian Christman knew the company’s efforts to communicate the focus on mission were working during a recent conversation with a new hire. She acknowledged that she didn’t have supply chain industry experience, but did have a desire to do work that was meaningful at a company that excited her. That’s why she joined the firm.

“It was because of our storytelling about how what we do here has an impact, no matter what function we’re in,” Christman said. 

5. Review How and Where Work Gets Done 

Remote and hybrid work options are table stakes for COVID-19-era workforces. But taking a new look at who does the work and where they do it is about more than choosing how much time to spend in company offices. Organizations in high cost-of-living locations are increasingly reducing salary expenses by building remote teams located in less expensive regions.

“We’re seeing companies now look for, recruit, and locate talent in countries where they never would have done that before. For example, if I need to bring in an FP&A analyst, I can find them at half the cost at the same skill level by looking globally,” said Bjorn Reynolds, CEO of Safeguard Global, a workforce management platform. 

Reynolds also recommended preventing burnout by adding temporary staff as needed. “We’re a growth organization. We keep and reward a core team and when projects come in, we augment the staff temporarily so we’re not dragging down our core resources,” he said. 

6. Show Appreciation 

A recent Workhuman report found that workers who were thanked in the past month were: 

  • Half as likely to be looking for a new job

  • More than two times as likely to be highly engaged

  • More than two times as likely to feel respected at work

  • More than three times as likely to see a growth path in the organization

“We know that U.S. businesses lose more than one trillion dollars annually because of voluntary turnover and disengaged employees,” said Pemberton. Some of that can be prevented, he said, by showing gratitude and interest in employees as individuals. 

“The nature of the way we interact in the world of work forces us into transactional mindsets, we schedule a call, send out the agenda, cover the agenda, and go on to the next meeting. There’s no time to catch up about vacations, the kids returning to school — the things that drive workplace culture,” he said.

To become less transactional, make employee engagement a priority. “Get more specific around moments that matter — those conversations that normally happen outside the meeting or when you run into each other in the hall,” Pemberton said. 

Public recognition helps people feel more respected, connected to colleagues and the company’s culture, and appreciated. Recognition is even more important in a world of remote work, Pemberton adds. “It’s not just about me recognizing your good work, but doing so in a way that everybody else sees it, as well. It has a powerful positive impact on the team’s isolation,” he said.