It takes a lot of heavy lifting to make a multi-million and multi-billion dollar organization run. Jumbo employers need big software solutions and complex delivery systems just to address their human capital management needs. Or as I prefer to call it, their people and culture needs. Their price tag runs upwards of $500k/year…ouch! The good news for small and medium-sized businesses is there are plenty of solutions and approaches that you can take that give you the people advantage that you need without the jumbo price tag.

Don’t confuse culture with internal marketing

Culture isn’t a fluffy concept. It’s real and it starts at the top. As the leader, you will determine the tone, attitude and work environment. Too often do I see business leaders caught up in buying the coolest ping-pong table, spending a lot of money on engagement software and even hiring marketing agencies to write a thesis about their mission and values. That’s internal marketing – selling your organization to your own workers.

Culture trickles down from the corner office. You cannot buy enough Friday beers, on-site espresso machines, or cutesy perks to buy your way out of a flat (or worse, toxic) culture. While those 3 o’clock espresso shots are nice, they won’t retain employees when the C-Suite isn’t engaged with the mission and purpose of the company.

I always ask executives and business owners to dedicate time to TALKING to the people that work for them. If you value and have the budget for Taco Tuesday food trucks, great! Go for it, but don’t use these external perks to replace the human conversations. Connect with your employees in a meaningful way. Find out what they expect the company’s mission (apart from profit) is. Then, develop a plan to align the C-Suite to the prevailing desires of the employees.

Remember, culture starts at the top. No one is going to buy it if the leadership is saying one thing but doing another. Give your employees a mission and purpose, and they will follow you anywhere.

Think about your Employer Brand

Your Employer brand is not the same as your culture. An Employer’s brand is really two things: why buy our product or service and how we respond to market forces.

You can easily see the “why” of most major companies when you look at their advertising campaigns. “Why” is most often sold as lifestyle betterment. Look at any commercial for beverages. The why is generally, “you’ll have fun and friends!” The “why” is never really about the product itself. No one cares about features, they only care about benefits. If we were sold on the “features” of sugary soda, what would they tell us? “Causes diabetes, obesity, and cavities! Buy our soda!” No, they sell us supposed benefits – active lifestyles, surrounded by friends and family. Likewise, employees buy into the overall employer brand and employers attract talent in the same way a brand attracts customers. So, know your “why”.

The other side of Employer Brand has to do with the reputation in the job market; how a company responds to criticism, emergencies, and shenanigans that impact employees. It is how leadership plans and executes a recovery when something goes wrong. If you think current and potential talent aren’t watching, you are sorely mistaken.

For example, a single serve beverage company knows that they contribute more plastics and toxins in the environment because of the container they use to make their product. Instead of pretending like that doesn’t happen, their CEO made it a priority to find a better, environmentally-conscious solution and makes it part of their Employer Brand. Other companies like Patagonia make news when they leverage their brand to support their mission and purpose (again, apart from profit). Another example is how the food industry is supporting farmers and handling food waste. The good news is that companies of all sizes are learning how transparency improves their employer brand. Job seekers aren’t looking for the perfect company, but they are looking for a responsible and ethical one. That levels the playing field for all size employers.

Don’t over-invest in recruiting software and marketing solutions

The big boys have spent decades building a big ship and have legacy systems that will do the job but don’t allow them to pivot quickly. Huge ships take a long time to turn and that may make it difficult for them to stay relevant. To be honest, if they have done their job right, it doesn’t matter. Job seekers look for their company. They have an employer brand. You may not have that luxury. The worst thing you can do is be oversold on widgets, applicant tracking systems, outsourced recruiting, job boards, recruiting marketing platforms and more. Just keep it simple and have everything in one system.

Don’t over leverage yourself with third-party management and staffing companies

Everyone knows the advantage of being the 800lb gorilla. No one messes with you and most of the time you get what you ask for. As a growing business, you just don’t have that luxury and sometimes fall victim to slick sales pitches because you don’t know what you don’t know. That includes getting into contracts with third-party management, staffing companies, and consulting firms that aren’t always out for the best interest of your business. For us, that means keeping capping costs on non-revenue generating expenses or improving efficiency. There are myriad solutions and services available that can get people hired, paid and manage risk. The most expensive solution isn’t necessarily the best.

Determine your pay philosophy

This is the one thing that you should have in common with jumbo employers. You may not have the budget to spend on the highest paid wages but that doesn’t mean you can’t compete.

Circle back to the culture discussion above. You will find that offering a meaningful mission and purpose to employees is a better way to retain top talent than just handing them a paycheck. They can get that anywhere.

Know that there is more than one way to hire people

It doesn’t matter if you have friends and family working for you or people you found on Craigslist (yes, we said it). Knowing your legal obligations as an employer is huge to the successful growth of the business. The government will want you to provide a safe working environment and pay your employment taxes and manage the record keeping of your employees’ wages. You don’t have to pay thousands in legal fees and consulting fees. There are reputable services that specialize in risk aversion for employers.

There may be a time that you get that big and your people needs demand jumbo spending. In the meantime, let’s keep things simple. Using pepelwerk from the introduction to hire and beyond and only paying for what services you need is the best start.