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War on TalentWhen you are competing for shelf space against the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Nestle, you have to maximise every possible competitive advantage.

Many firms go head-to-head for a while, but far from all last the distance to cement their place in the fight for the customer’s attention. Initially, they might have a great product, an efficient supply chain and a slick marketing operation, but there is one variable that will always change over time…

The talented people who underpinned this success might leave.

This conundrum is understood and embraced by companies world over. People will leave for various reasons (you can’t chain them to their desks), so while you would like to retain your best people for as long as possible, you have to work out how you can consistently attract a stream of motivated and passionate people to your team.

Top talent has to be replaced by top talent, but how do you do it? Surely everyone wants to work for a prestigious company like Coca Cola? Well, actually, that really isn’t the case.

When we think about how the best SMEs in Food & Drink attract talent, it is worth looking at how their ‘proposition’ is key at enabling them to get ahead of the competition in the attraction and engagement of top talent.

So, how is an SME more attractive for potential employees than a Blue-Chip?

Firstly, people love the immediate impact that they can have in an SME – typically roles are broader and the lack of silos makes decision making easier. Job satisfaction comes when your purpose is reflected in your results. Smaller companies survive and thrive in a culture of innovation, something that is arguably far harder in an oil tanker of a blue-chip. There is often a greater flexibility in terms of progression in smaller firms – your career is not limited to your designated functional vertical. Also, many experienced professionals come to a point in their lives where balance is important – flexible working hours for a little while as you are a new parent for example is not always possible in the big leagues.

That is all interesting to consider, but what are some of the practical ways in which smaller companies can approach their recruitment and overall process? Especially if budget is an issue…

Well, to start with, many can make an effort to stand out on social media. Social has levelled the recruitment playing field and meant that any company can share their brand – plus its free!

Employer brand sites such as Glassdoor are increasingly influential, so make sure your values and culture are suitably reflected. Smaller companies also often have highly engaged employees who are happy to refer people from within their networks. Also, think about offering a referral incentive scheme – cash. This can work well to identify new talent – good people tend to refer on other good people.

Keep the recruitment process thorough but with momentum. Many large blue chips have overly engineered and lengthy processes which are a turn off for many and you’ll lose good candidates by deliberating. Remember, you’re an SME, so being able to act swiftly and decisively is your USP to a prospective candidate.

I love working with SME clients. So many candidates are keen to enjoy the benefits of working at a smaller company that often has big ambitions.

Talent is a battlefield where only the best SMEs win against the industry goliaths. Hopefully some of these observations and tips can help you play your part!

About Jonathan O'Hagan

With over 14 years of experience Jonathan is a respected Headhunter/ Executive Recruiter with a strong and proven commercial background. Having moved into Executive Search in 2006 Jonathan joined a midlands based Executive Search Consultancy establishing and specialising in the FMCG and Retail practice. He quickly and successfully built an impressive reputation in the market place and established himself as the preferred search partner to a number of major blue chip retailers, food manufacturers and wholesalers. Throughout his career Jonathan has handled various assignments across the UK and EMEA regions in all areas of the industry from Sales, Marketing, Operations, NPD, Technical and other specialist functions. In early 2011 Jonathan founded Leader Executive Search following a strong desire to provide a more personal, professional, quality driven and flexible consultancy for both candidates and clients alike in this ever demanding and changing industry. Previously Jonathan has worked for leading multinational companies including DSGi and the world renowned Franklin Covey Group. Specialties: Executive Search (Headhunting), Career Development, Talent Attraction and Online Resourcing Tools and Methods.