Recruiting and retaining a great team in 2020

Recruitment and retention

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the work environment undergone a seismic change. The change will likely continue into 2021 and for the foreseeable future.

Some organisations have furloughed staff, others have quickly adapted to home working. The tech sector is a prime example, where all staff at the ‘big tech’ platforms have been ordered to work from home permanently until at least March of 2021.

With the growing influence of super-fast broadband, 5G, video conferencing and automation the work environment is likely to continue to adapt to ‘work from home’ conditions. The decisive measure is productivity. Across the economy, productivity seems to have increased. This complete with the (sizeable) cost of office space means that businesses can be more productive and reduce operating expenditure by allowing staff to work from home at least for a portion of the working week.

Indeed, remote working opens up numerous possibilities for employers and employees.

With this in mind, the importance of building and retaining a great team is paramount. In this article we will investigate how to best recruit and then retain the best employees to your team.



Before you undertake the hiring of new staff, managers should outline both the milestones and desired timeline for the recruitment process. Flexibility is fine, but the process needs to have enough rigidity so as to ensure that decisions and budgets are adhered to. A company does not want to miss out on a potential superstar employee by messing them around and delaying decisions until permissions either from management, or Board are given.

Indecision and needless delay makes an organisation look amateurish and that it does not value the skillset and time a potential employee can give to it.


In order to identify the perfect candidate you must first understand the reason for employing the person. This sounds like common-sense, but you would be amazed at how many positions are created merely to meet perception of a requirement within the business.

The normal way of doing this is in the budgeting stage, when the relevant senior manager and Executive take a helicopter view of the business. However, it is not always possible to prognosticate entirely the operational requirements of an organisation.

In all scenarios, the manager needs to create a business case for the new hire outlining what the tasks, the outcomes and the key performance indicators that the employees’ performance can be judged against.


As part of the process, the creation of a great job description, complete with desired skills, experiences, responsibilities and core competences needs to be created.

From this job description, a job advert can be created. When creating the advert, the most relevant key words that potential candidates would use to search for the position should be included.

Remuneration, location and a brief overview of what the organisation does should also be included. I like to think of the job advert is a first filter for candidates. With this in mind, it is vital that the advert does not stop the cohorts that may be of interest from applying.


Often, the best and most cost effective way of hiring a team is to utilise the power of existing employees, or folk you know and trust. LinkedIn is a help here. Your contacts explicit recommendation can we weighed as a good option.

It is always worth being straight-forward with the existing employee and ask not only whether they are any good at their job, but whether they would hire them. You will be able to better gauge what the existing employee really thinks by being upfront with them.

From experience, it is always worth double and triple-checking the work history and achievements of the potential employee against what the existing employee is suggesting, especially in the sales environment. You do not want to hire a person just because they have a friend within the organisation. How will this friendship impact the culture of the organisation?

Does this candidate have the same values?


If you have a start-up seeking to hire a seasoned back-end platform engineer proficient in Python, or systems admin head specialising in cloud-based privileges and administration then rather than utilise the recruitment agencies it would be better to seek specialist recruiters that have undertaken some talent mapping. They often have a pre-registered and filtered list of suitable candidates ready to interview. What’s more, they are likely to better understand the industry segment and/or nature of the roles you are seeking to fill.

Likewise, if you’re a NFP and looking to hire Director-level staff then using a nonprofit executive search specialist would be advantageous.


Before you choose candidates to interview for the open role, it is worth processing the timeline of their career. Do they have a habit of moving on every 6-12 months?

If they do, then it is likely with all things being equal the pattern will continue. Mitigate the risk by doing some simple research on LinkedIn and asking the right questions.


It goes without saying that the better candidates prepare for interviews. However, it should also be said that the better managers also prepare for interviews. The team is important. Its absolutely vital that managers take the hiring process seriously.

In my career I have sat in on multiple interviews that were carried out by senior executives who clearly had not done their homework on the candidate. They spent the entire interview either looking bored and distracted, or not truly understanding what value the candidate offers to the organisation.

Why is the manager interviewing candidates they have no intention, or interest in hiring?


During the first round of interviews, it’s wise to cover the bases and discover the skill set. Additionally, it is worth drilling down on a question, or two in order to move away from prepared answers and into the ‘nitty gritty’ of a subject. You can tell a lot about how much a candidate knows and understands about their industry, or role by watching how they answer.

People, especially those from Management Consultancies, or with MBA’s often give rehearsed answers that they deem theoretically safe and ‘correct’. Personally, I like to see a bit more than that. Instead, I want to move beyond the theoretical.

In the second-round interviews I prefer to look more at the person, their motivations, characters, interests and depth of understanding. That way I understand how a person will hit within the organisation.


Personally, I have always found doing an informal interview where the candidate is more relaxed and can take his, or her time to answer the questions and discuss answers more naturally and thoroughly is the best way of understanding the cultural fit and knowledge of the candidate.

I also like to ensure that the candidate knows that they have my undivided attention and often set aside more time than allotted to ensure I know them better. Remember, the interview process is more than merely a Q&A session. It is about understanding the skillset, character, strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.


This should go without saying. However, unfortunately if you are hiring the new team member without using an agency you’ll have to check and double check that the manager, or HR representative has got references relating to the candidate. I will not embarrass any individuals I have worked with before, but there was one notable occasion where a somewhat disruptive character could have been identified early if references had been checked properly.

If in doubt, ask the hiring manager who the references were from and what they said.


With the cost of employee turnover often being around double the employee’s basic salary it should go without saying that the retention of staff starts with the recruitment of the employee. Recruitment and retention are intrinsically linked.

In theory, senior candidates hired should be willing to spend at least 3 years with the organisation. I like to think of it as a three year assignment.

Below is a brief list of methods to help you retain your key staff:


People have different character traits. Some folk are naturally gregarious, whilst others are more reserved. It is important that managers across the entirety of the organisation know and understand the nuance and have an adaptable management style that can successfully manage different characters.


One of the key methods of retaining staff is to keep them busy and interested in what they are doing. If you make the role boring then focus and productivity will decline massively.

Dialogue and performance metrics can be used to better understand productivity and the motivation level of staff. If you see a drop-off then change it up a bit. Add to the role. Increase the interest levels.

If an employee is passionate about what they do for a living they will almost always be (1) productive; (2) motivated; and (3) good at their job.


People are patient and understanding to a degree. However, if your business, or organisation is paying significantly below the median salary, with little in the way of perks and benefits then you are increasing the risk of staff flight to competitors that offer a better package. This should go without saying, but often management lose sight of landscape changes.

One good example of this is the tech sector, where significant number of talent left Yahoo to join upstart Google because of pre-IPO benefits and options. Yahoo could not compete and did not offer a compelling story to existing employees as to the development of their career and product.


It is imperative that employees are provided with achievable and realistic career progression pathways, so the person knows where their career is potentially heading. These are reviewed during the 6-monthly performance review cycle.

Without a career path an employee can feel like they are not progressing in their careers, even if you are gradually paying them more money.


Management need to be transparent with the employee. The same is true at Board level, when dealing with the Executive. These are the goals; the targets; and objectives. Here are the milestones. This is how you are performing against them.

Personally, my belief is that one of the big mistakes a business can make is by rewarding staff members with promotions based on purely intangible factors. It makes other staff believe that there is less meritocracy within the organisation and more of cronyism. This leads to resentment and division within teams. The most successful organisations are based on a meritocratic operation.


All employees should want to learn and grow.

Career growth is often attained by staff upskilling both in terms of formal and informal training. For example, junior web developers can learn much from sitting alongside their more senior colleagues. Finance professionals can learn accounting part time via remote learning and exams.


Rapport between team members and disparate teams is important. This is one reason why many successful CEO and COO’s move teams and desks around the office. With the additional rapport comes an increase in understanding and respect for the hard work done across the organisation.

In a home working environment, like we are experiencing now, team rapport needs to be reinforced. Video conferencing and all staff virtual meetings can help, so can back office teams and managers taking time out of their day to increase interactivity with staff.

Rapport is easily gained, but just as easily lost. Much of it is dictated by the culture within an organisation and the core values that drive it.


The average staff turnover across industry is between 10% and 12% with certain industry verticals such as media, advertising and technology being notably higher, partially due to the competitive landscape and scarcity of talent.

To counter potentially high staff turnover, a business be it a start-up, or a mature corporate should monitor staff turnover for patterns. Exit interviews and surveys can and often do help you spot any patterns as to why staff are leaving. Is it because the organisation is failing to support career growth, training, or is it management, better offers, et alia.
It is important to know.


Employees must be provided with the necessary tools in order to do their job properly by their employer. If you fail to provide the tools, or support required to adequately perform the role it is likely that the employee lose patience and look to other career opportunities that will help them achieve.

This is especially the case with when working in the tech and creative sectors of the economy. Licenses can be expensive, so must be budgeted for from day one.


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