How to attract and retain the right people for your growing small business

blog Jan 24, 2023

“In toxic cultures, people get promoted for results even if they destroy relationships. Abuse is a high price to pay for performance. In healthy cultures, no level of individual excellence justifies undermining people. You’re not a high performer if you don’t elevate others.”

Adam Grant

Just about every business owner I talk to, or work with, asks this question - “how do I attract and retain the right people for my growing small business?”

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, but you can focus on what you can control.

To kick things off, it is essential to develop an overarching people and culture plan. 

With competition for skills placing businesses under increasing strain, an ‘ad-hoc’ approach will no longer make the grade.

A best practice approach to your people, and the culture they operate in, not only improves workplace harmony and productivity, but also recruitment and retention - ensuring you have the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs when you need them.

It does my head in when I hear small business owners tell me they don’t have the time to focus on their culture and people! 

You don’t have any choice if you want to build a successful small business with ease.

It must be a priority and a focus, otherwise you will continually be frustrated and struggle to grow your business.

In fact, you probably don’t have a business….you only have a job, so why waste your time, your energy and your money? 

Go get a job with someone else!

It all starts with a PLAN.

Developing a people plan for your small business

The PLAN is a strategic plan.

A key part of the strategic planning process is to consider current and future resource requirements - including your people.

In planning for growth, it’s important to factor in the roles, people and skills you will need to succeed, and with a timeframe.

The following provides a guide to assist with your people planning.

While your approach and requirements may change, it’s important that as a small business owner, you put time into considering and planning for your people - this is where the value is at for your business, so don’t ignore it.

  • Current and future staffing: First, map the current staff you have by role, experience and skills. Then consult your strategic plan to consider the number and type of people you think you will need in the future, and when.

An organisational chart is an effective way of documenting this.

An organisational chart is a diagram that shows the structure of an organisation and the relationships and relative ranks of its parts and positions / jobs. It is used to illustrate the roles and responsibilities of each individual within a business.

The following are some good options with respect to software to prepare your organisational chart:




SmartDraw, and


  • Employee Value Proposition (EVP): In a competitive market, you need to consider more than just salary. Your EVP is what will attract the right people to your business. These days, employees are looking for training, flexibility, career progression and autonomy as part of their overall package.

Be flexible with work schedules: Consider offering flexible work schedules and the option to work from home. This will make your business more attractive to those who need a better work-life balance.

An Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP) can be a great option and enhance your EVP.

Have a listen to our podcast with Craig West of Succession Plus, who have a unique structure. 

A Peak Performance Trust which has won the Australian ESOP of the year twice.

  • Attraction: It is best to use a range of strategies to attract applications from potential team members. Use both traditional and new media methods, including employment sites and professional bodies.

Make sure your business has a strong, positive brand that is attractive to potential team members. This can be done through social media, company websites, press releases and other forms of advertising.

Build relationships with local universities, alumni associations, and other industry groups. This will help to spread the word about your business and increase your visibility.

Ensure you ask existing staff to activate their networks too, and consider providing them with a financial incentive if they introduce you to a new team member - providing they complete the probationary period.

  • Selection: It sounds obvious, but make sure you select people who will best fit the role, the team and your business. Make sure you interview potential staff against the skills and qualities you are after and even get a colleague to do the same, but separately. 

It is also important to use psychological testing to determine their fit, as humans are often poor judges of one another.

DiSC is a great option, which looks at aspects of someone’s personality and doesn't measure intelligence or aptitude. Instead, it looks at indicators like how you respond to challenges and how well you work with others. 

  • Induction: Allocate sufficient time to induct staff so they know what to do, how to do it and feel part of the team. As much as possible, make this formal and gradual to set your new starters up for success.

An onboarding process is an important part of your systems, to ensure you are consistent with inductions.

  • Systems and processes: If you don’t have these in place, you will not have consistency across all aspects of your business.

If you have systemised your business, then training is also critical.

If you do not have both in place, you are setting your people up for failure!

  • Training and re-training: All team members want to know they are making progress in their role and career. 

Invest in training and development programs that will help your employees to grow and develop professionally. This will create an environment of growth and development, which can be attractive to potential employees.

This may include both current and new skills, across your business. This will help internal flexibility as well as see you become an ‘employer of choice’.

  • Pay and conditions: A fundamental of the role of an employer is to make sure people are paid correctly and lawfully, and that you have suitable employment details and contracts in place.

More often than not, outsourcing all or part of this function makes sense to avoid costly mistakes.

  • Create an engaging and supportive workplace: Make sure your workplace is an enjoyable and supportive environment. This can be done through team building activities, social events and other fun activities.
  • Build a list of candidates: Connect with potential candidates and nurture the relationships so you have multiple options should you wish to hire 

Make sure you show appreciation to your employees and recognise their efforts. This will help to create a sense of loyalty and satisfaction among your team.

Developing and managing your culture in a fast growing small business

I love this quote from renowned researcher and management writer Edgar Schein who said: “If you are not managing culture, it is probably managing you.”

In other words, you need to be shaping the culture of your business so it supports your strategic direction.

A healthy, strong culture pays dividends not only in terms of people satisfaction and retention, but flows into the experience your customers or clients have in dealing with your business.

Ensuring your business is trusted in the market, starts from the inside.

The following steps will help you create the culture you want to foster in your business:

  • Assess your existing culture: Sit down with your management team and your team to discuss the positive and negative aspects of your current culture.

Create a compelling story of your business: This should be compelling and focus on your mission, vision and values. This story should be shared on your website, social media and other marketing materials. Stories are very powerful.

  • Consider your desired culture: Consider the cultural aspects that you would like to see introduced or more of.

This would include the creation and documentation of your CORE VALUES, which are the fundamental beliefs of your business. They serve as a guiding principle to help shape decisions, actions and behaviours.

  • Publish and spread the word: Once you have decided on the core values of your business, be sure to document and promote them across your business so all your team knows and understands them. Your managers must be effective role models.

Telling stories about your people ‘living’ the values is an effective way of keeping them front-of-mind.

I recently came across a business based in Victoria, Australia. Each month the team decides on which team member lived the values each month. Then that member gets to spin the wheel (one spin). The wheel has great prizes. Hotel nights, lunches, dinners, etc. BUT on one section is a “bum prize”. If you land on it, you have to clean the kitchen and take out the rubbish for a month. 

As luck would have it, the very first employee to win a “reward and recognition” spin landed on the 'cleaning and taking out rubbish' prize. Here’s a video showing the moment it happened. And after a year he’s the only one to win the “bum” prize. 

  • Put it in a plan: Develop a plan for the next 12 months, scheduling a series of actions and activities that align with and reinforce your values. These might be formal - like an award for people displaying the desired behaviours - or informal, such as a team lunch.
  • Align across the business: Once your plan is operational, make sure you include your core values in job and person specifications, performance reviews and when promoting your business on websites and in brochures.

Re-assess and evaluate

People and culture plans, like others in business, aren’t ‘set and forget’. 

They - and your progress towards goals - should be evaluated at least quarterly and adjusted when necessary.

Remember that by nurturing the right culture and looking after your people, they will return the favour by looking after you.