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Attracting the best talent

What makes a great workplace? The people? The pay? The jobs you work on?

We can’t all be like Google and give employees time off to work on pet projects, or provide free lunch and on-site barista around the clock like LinkedIn. But the latest MYOB SME Snapshot research highlights that smart SMEs are leveraging small business attributes – namely culture and employment flexibility – as selling points to attract talent.

The research showed 38% of SMEs said employment flexibility was the key seller in attracting valuable talent, while 21% believed the small business culture appealed to potential candidates.


When you think about it, it makes perfect sense . Lifestyle and flexibility is one of the key drivers for people to start their own small business, so it makes sense that this would be appealing to employees, and be a key point of difference from bigger firms.


So how can the average SME create a great environment?

We pondered this very question 6 months ago. At The Practice, we wanted to redefine and reinvigorate our workplace. We’d just undergone a rapid growth phase, and knew we could better engage our people and harness their collective awesomeness to achieve our goals… and have a bit of fun while we do it. In a nutshell, we wanted everyone to enjoy coming to work.


Tips to attract the best talent

When we took a good, hard look at our culture, here are a few of our key learnings or outcomes:

Prioritise it. We set up a project team with a scope and deadlines which had the public backing of the owners, so it would get actioned.

Ask. Of course we had ideas about what would make it a better place to work, but it’s important to involve your team, so you don’t miss important things, and so they feel heard – and buy into it.

Get flexible. One of the key findings from researching our team was the desire for flexible work arrangements. This can sound scary, but needn’t be. It can be as simple as the occasional option to alter your hours – come in earlier, or stay back later – to meet a tradesman, attend a school event, or head away early for the weekend.

Technology now enables your team to work from practically anywhere in the world – we no longer need to be tied to our desks. So free yourself from this way of thinking, and give your people options. Greater workplace flexibility is attractive to candidates, and can help you attract high calibre people (especially when competing against the prestige and deep pockets of larger firms). It can also expand your talent pool – technology makes it easier for stay at home mums to participate in the workforce, opening you up to a whole host of highly skilled people.

Focus on making your people better – even if that means they leave. LinkedIn are open about their development plans for team members – they want to give you awesome projects to work on, so you progress and grow… with the understanding you’ll leave in 3 years (which, of course, they never do… they enjoy the environment, the development opportunities and challenging work too much.)

We’ve always aspired to make The Practice a leadership factory – create an environment that fosters and nurtures leaders, so they can one day go forth and be outstanding leaders in their own right… but in the meantime they’ll help us improve our firm’s leadership density, and remove the reliance on a few key people to make our organisation run well.

Think win-win. One of Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people. The LinkedIn example shows the power of treating people like adults – they will one day leave (it’s not personal), so let’s get the best outcome for all parties – we’ll invest time and resources to train and develop you now, so you give us outstanding service, and when the time comes to move on you’ll have a killer CV to get a better job.

Focus on what you want – not what you don’t. Don’t focus on the negatives – the bottom 10% who are underperforming, or doing the wrong thing – because you’ll end up holding back the best and brightest in your workplace, and build a barrier preventing you from attracting top talent. Instead, focus on building an aspirational culture – focus on your top 10%, and create an environment with the ‘best of the best’ in mind.


When it comes to attracting top performers, think big. There are plenty of positives about working for an SME, and lots of simple things you can do to create a business that’s attractive to the best of the best. Thinking about why you got into running your SME – and what you love about it – is a great place to start.