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Finding and retaining senior talent

In recent years the way people have had to work has changed, and having more flexible options available has meant that people have individually considered how they want to work and what best suits their lifestyle. To find and recruit the best talent you will need to find those who align with your business culture and ways of working. If you have recruited well and staff are happy at work, they are likely to stay with your business and you will have a high retention rate. So how do you find the best talent, recruit and then retain those individuals? Our guide below is designed to help answer these questions.

How do I run a recruitment process which will attract the best senior employees?

Your best recruitment tool will be your reputation and your brand as a business. So, as part of your recruitment strategy ensure that you have built a positive reputation and that the market understands what your business is about and the type of people who work for you. This will enable you to attract recruits who are aligned with this. If you can use social media and other marketing platforms to communicate exactly what you represent as a business and can clearly explain what type of candidate you are looking for, you will not only save time sifting through applicants who are not right for your business, but you will also differentiate yourself from the competition, who will also be seeking to recruit the best talent.  

As a starting point, all the advice in our articles on recruitment and the selection process and writing a job advert apply. However, senior employees are likely to have more options available to them than more junior employees and may require for more time to be spent discussing the detail of their contracts, job descriptions and the business as a whole; to ensure that a move to your business is the right fit for you and the new employee.

As noted in our article ‘How to ensure recruitment and selection processes are fair’, it is critical that you do not discriminate in any way and on any grounds when recruiting. For example, wording around ‘senior’ must be linked to experience and relevance of previous work and skill level and not around age.

Instead of using the traditional route of hiring a recruiter or placing a job advert, you may already know exactly who you want to hire for a role, and will therefore want to be more targeted with your recruitment and headhunt an individual. This is easier than ever given that you have access to contact details of most people on social media and if done effectively can save you time and money on recruitment. Clear thought must be put into how the approach is made and what is said but building rapport and having a confidential conversation may be very worthwhile.

To attract more experienced staff, it is helpful to have an open dialogue and really listen to what it is they are looking for in terms of remuneration and financial package, but also in terms of the type of work they want to be doing, how they want to be doing that work and what their priorities are.

Once you have attracted who you believe to be the right candidates, you will need to assess their suitability for the role you are recruiting for. You are likely to include at least one interview, but you may also want to consider aptitude or psychometric testing as part of the recruitment exercise to get more breadth on the candidates you are recruiting. Only by getting a full and true picture of the candidates you are trying to recruit will you know whether they are going to fit and perform well within your business.

What should I include in the induction process for senior employees?

Whether called ‘induction’ or ‘onboarding’, the process of introducing new senior employees to your business, processes and members of the team is important and sets the tone and expectation for the rest of the employee’s employment with your business. For this reason, it is critical that you not only give a senior employee the information they will need to settle in and be productive for your business quickly, but that you try and minimise the formulaic approach, treat new recruits like individuals and tailor the induction to the role being performed and the individual being asked to perform it.

Whilst there will need to be some similarities in the induction process for all new recruits to ensure consistency and that fundamental information about the business operations is not missed, you will want to ensure that individuals feel like individuals and that all the information being given to them is specific and relevant to their role.

Generally, it is useful to include the following somewhere in the induction process:

  • Crucial information and contacts required to perform the relevant role effectively.
  • A copy of the signed employment contract, a staff handbook or at least information as to where all policies and processes can be found.
  • A tour showing where different departments and facilities are in the office.
  • Who to contact for different enquiries. In the early days, you may consider appointing a ‘buddy’ or giving the senior employee a specific point of contact for all queries, however big or small, to make the employee feel welcome and to encourage an open dialogue and close connectivity with other staff members, from day one.
  • Requests of information relating to any illnesses, disabilities or allergies in order that first aiders, occupational health and HR have important information to be able to best deal with these.
  • Health and safety training, including location of fire exits and alarms. If the employee will be working remotely, a workstation assessment should be completed, and any specific equipment arranged.
  • Senior employees in particular will require training on equal opportunities and bullying and harassment, on data protection and privacy, and use of IT systems including social media training as well as anti-bribery and corruption training.
  • An explanation of the probationary procedure and any metrics for performance as well as any progress meetings.

Using the experiences of recent recruits to help put together information for new starters can help you to understand where your induction process may fall short and assist in understanding how it feels to be a new recruit in your organisation. How you want new starters to feel about your business and how you best go about this should be central to any induction process. Whilst the induction process should of course be informative, it should not be overwhelming but should be welcoming and make the new employee want to give their long term commitment to your business.   

What additional employee incentives might be attractive to a senior employee?

To retain your employees and to keep them engaged in your business, which incentives are likely to work? This will be dependent on the individual employees involved, but here are a few ideas:

  • Flexi-time and flexibility of workplace location – during the covid-19 pandemic, many workers changed their working practices to fit around home working and other activities, and post-pandemic they have wanted to keep some or all of those changes. It may be that as a smaller business you cannot offer too much flexibility as you need service coverage. However, if you are prepared to listen to the priorities of the employee, discover how they would ideally like to work and if you have clear objectives and deliverables for your staff and they are achieving those at home and/or during flexible hours, such as a four-day working week, you could trial this. If you have staff you would like to retain and they are happy and performing well, this is more valuable to your business than them looking elsewhere because their lifestyle requires more flexibility than you are prepared to offer.
  • Sabbaticals – senior employees are likely to have spent a long time doing their job and whilst they may not want a sabbatical as soon as they have been recruited, knowing that your business would be supportive of this in principle, further down the line, may be something that provides an employee that your business is interested in their welfare and promotes flexibility.
  • Well-being packages – you could go further than just allowing for sabbaticals and dependent on your budget and contacts you could offer free or discounted gym memberships, or internally to your business you could allow staff the ability to buy more annual leave. This is a good incentive to consult with your employees about and can have a positive impact on your business, as if people are physically and mentally well, they are less likely to take a leave of absence for sickness and less likely to choose to leave your employment.
  • Team social or learning activities – whether these are formal social events, such as a Christmas meal with the team, informal drinks after work or learning-based activities such as a book or yoga club during lunch breaks, before work or after work for whoever would like to join; team social or learning activities cannot be underestimated in making employees at all levels feel included and part of something bigger. The ability for your employees to spend time outside of work with their colleagues allows them to build trust and learn more information about their colleagues’ skills and experiences as well as their temperament, likes and dislikes, which can be helpful when working as a team in the office. These social events can be tailored to the specific interests of your employees and can move away from the traditional perks if it is deemed democratically within the team that the social budget could be put to better use. Many of these social events come at little financial cost to your business but could bring the significant benefits of employee loyalty and better communication and teamworking.
  • Refreshments – it really can be the little things which employees appreciate and make them feel appreciated, such as free tea, coffee and biscuits and free ice cream in the warmer weather. Again, for little financial cost these little details really can pay dividends in lower absence and higher retention of staff.
  • Salary sacrifice schemes – such as cycling schemes, ultra-low emission company cars and childcare vouchers can be offered to employees and tend to be attractive to higher earners as they are all tax-free.
  • Share schemes - if your company has assets of £30 million or less, you may be able to offer Enterprise Management Incentives (EMIs) to your employees, which can be a tax efficient benefit for senior employees. More on these schemes can be found in our article 'How much equity should start-ups give employees?' You could also offer employee shareholder shares, which they can then choose to transfer into an ISA.
  • Non-sales related bonuses – whilst it is true that your sales employees bring in the money to your business, giving sales employees a bonus whilst the people who support them in their role receive no bonus, can lead to divisions and resentment in your team. If there are team targets and incentives as well as individual targets this can feel more equitable, as long as you utilize well implemented performance processes, when required and individual performance can be objectively tracked. This not only helps with incentivising employees, but it also assists managers with progressing employees and performance management.

Once you have decided what might be possible to offer, it is useful to check with employees what of the perks you have listed would be of interest to them and whether they have any other suggestions you might be able to consider. There is little point in giving employees options that none of them want to take up.

What documents and processes should I have in place when hiring senior talent?

The most important document you will need is a well drafted, thorough and clear employment contract or director’s service agreement if you are hiring a director. To give you a starting point, there are some tips in our article 'How to write an employment contacts'. But when hiring senior talent, to get the best protection for your business, it is advisable to seek advice from a specialist employment solicitor, who can tailor the contract to the specific role and your specific business.

As well as the recruitment and induction processes already discussed, additional training regarding equal opportunities and bullying and harassment, data protection and privacy, the use of IT systems including social media training as well as anti-bribery and corruption training is likely to be relevant for senior employees. Your business will need to have up-to-date and comprehensive policies and procedures around these things as well as disciplinary and grievance procedures, to train the employee on their purpose, meaning and implementation. If your business does not have written stand-alone policies or a staff handbook containing these policies, or they have not recently been updated, before hiring it would be advisable to seek advice from an employment lawyer to ensure these policies and procedures are in order first. 

What other protection should I think about for my business relating to hiring senior talent?

You will need to think in particular about protection of your business’ confidential information, intellectual property (IP) and restrictive covenants to protect your business once a senior employee departs.

If you can consider what IP your business has and whether it is adequately protected in terms of intellectual property law and in terms of security within your business, this can be helpful. You can also consider information, data and trade secrets that are central to your business and which an employee may have access to, so that these can be explicitly referenced in an NDA you ask employees to sign. These can also be borne in mind when thinking about the wording of restrictive covenants, if an employee decides to leave your business. For more information, we recommend you read our guide on restrictive covenants in employment contracts which will give you an idea of some of the restrictive covenants that you might be able to use to protect your business. To ensure that these points are thoroughly covered, though, professional advice from the outset can be highly valuable, as the damage that could be done to your business if a senior employee takes IP, confidential information or contacts to a competitor, could be substantial.

How can I keep senior employees motivated and loyal to my business?

In addition to the incentives mentioned above and recruiting the right employees in the first place, by making employees feel that they have an influence and that their views are respected by your business will help inspire loyalty by senior employees. See our article about motivating employees for some ideas.

Whilst consultation with all employees at certain times can be beneficial for your business and make employees feel included, senior employees may particularly see value in being consulted on important business decisions and being given advance notice of any changes. This is not just so that senior employees feel involved in the process and that their views are considered, but also so that they are aware of any changes before their direct reports, so that they can plan how they are communicated. Communication is key to any successful working relationship and so opportunities to provide well thought through and diplomatic but honest and constructive feedback to those at the top of the business and feedback and appraisals to those who report to them, are likely to be highly valued by senior employees. Regular formal and informal meetings to allow for this are advisable.    

Allowing senior employees to have a certain degree of autonomy over their direct reports including who they are, how they work, how they are managed and allowing for that management to be carried out by the employee in question, will feed into this feeling of being valued. 

Employees will want to remain loyal if they believe they are not just ‘doing their job’ but are also contributing to something worthwhile. This is where business culture comes in. We have written an article on how to shape your company culture which may be of interest. This is about more than just doing a good job, it is about conduct and morality and how the team works together and with other incentives should take into account employee wellbeing.

About our expert

Ella Bond

Ella Bond

Senior Employment Law Solicitor
Ella joined Harper James as a Senior Solicitor in January 2020, having previously worked at top 50 West Midlands law firm Shakespeares (now Shakespeare Martineau). Having qualified in 2007, she is highly experienced in the field of Employment Law, working with a vast range of clients from start-ups to large national and multi-national companies.

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