Beating the Staffing Crisis: How Small Businesses Can Find and Keep Top Talent in 2023

By: Ash Shastry

Many people believed the post-pandemic world would be blissful and easy. Instead, we’re faced with consecutive challenges. Resources of all kinds became scarce, including one which not many would’ve guessed: skilled workers. Factors including the retirement of boomers, growth of gig economy and the great-resignation have left most business owners scratching their heads – especially owners of ambitious small businesses.

Small-medium enterprises (SMEs) are sometimes at a disadvantage against larger firms with a wider reputation to attract and retain top talent, and it certainly wasn’t helped by the recent budget announcement. As leadership consultants, we work with companies to develop high-performing leaders and teams. Here are our key pointers to attract and retain top talent in 2023.

Sense of belonging

In a study, Evening Standard reported that more than 56% of SME employees were considering quitting this year. Their second biggest reason was a lack of sense of belonging.

At the recent SME-XPO, Dr Anino Emuwa mentioned that many companies overlook culture within their organisations – including purpose-led businesses who believe their culture is their purpose… it’s not. Instead, SMEs should intentionally build a motivational culture. For example, we did this with a local telecoms company by defining ambitious, yet achievable goals, then discussing with each employee how their goals fit in. By demonstrating that business goals were aligned with their own, not only did they feel they belonged, but it also increased their morale, satisfaction and loyalty. Dr Emuwa also suggested combining motivational culture with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to show acceptance.

Many SMEs pride themselves on employing “like-minded people”. Advice from the Strategy Lead of EMEA at AWS was to extend DE&I beyond ethnicity and sexual orientation to people from different backgrounds with differing opinions. When DE&I is just a sentence on the website, it hurts the company. When it’s at the core, it can result in 5.4x higher retention.

Recognition and appreciation

Many SMEs pride themselves on being “busy”. However, it comes at the cost of overlooking others – especially when managers aren’t properly trained. A study showed only 26% of companies provided leadership training. But as the workforce consists increasingly of millennials and Gen Z, a high IQ is not enough to make a good leader; an exceptionally high EQ (emotional intelligence) is essential. The resulting ‘people skills’ will improve the recognition and appreciation of the team.

Recognition is celebrating someone’s work or achievement. But a simple “good job” or “great work today” feels inauthentic. Our best tip is to recognise something specific – e.g. wording of an email, handling of a client meeting or the structure of a slide.

Appreciation is celebrating someone’s character and personality. Praising someone for their energy, their support of the team or their optimistic attitude can make someone’s day or even their week. Regular recognition and appreciation of your team dramatically increase employee engagement and loyalty.

Vision, mission and transparency

While having a purpose alone cannot define a culture, it attracts people with the same values. Having a clear vision and mission is important for SMEs to stand out. Harvard Business Review reported that people were willing to accept slightly lower pay if the work aligned with their values.

Charities have leveraged this for generations, but Deborah Meaden, from Dragon’s Den, urged SMEs to put their purpose front and centre in her keynote at the SME-XPO. She also explained that people want to connect with humans; so SMEs should stop hiding behind logos and perfectly curated blogs. Sharing stories of the founder and the teams, being authentic and vulnerable at times will attract the right tribe and help SMEs be seen as a leader in their field.

Opportunities for growth and development

Gary Vaynerchuk shared his winning management principle: hire fast, fire faster, and promote fastest. To elaborate, hire based on value alignment and potential; evaluate against delivery criteria and culture fit. If it doesn’t work, let them go. If it does, consider a promotion/raise even during the probationary period.

Gone are the days of yearly appraisals. Millennials and Gen Z want recognition for their value and to accelerate their career as they see fit. As a business owner, you can either disagree and stick to what you know, or evolve, remove age bias and promote/give raises based on merit. Not only does this increase employee loyalty, but it also fosters healthy competition in the team.

According to Dell, training and development are some of the most sought-after benefits, but not the standard e-learning. Employees want specialists to deliver immersive workshops on areas of personal development for their future. Peer-to-peer learning forms a stronger bond and leads to higher-performing teams.

Total rewards and well-being

At the Watercooler event, Good Shape talked about how important it is to periodically check what employees want, which allows you to switch up the discounts and promotions to services your team uses. There is an increasing emphasis on well-being, mental health and personal development.

  • Are you providing the right support in these areas?
  • Is it standardised or is it flexible to individuals?
  • How accessible are they?

Another simple, but effective way to retain your employees is to provide education and support in areas that matter most – e.g. childcare, flexible working, finance, etc. Progressive Academy partnered with financial advisors to allow employees to learn about savings, pensions and financial planning for themselves and their families. This partnership made employees feel like they were cared about by their leadership.


The running theme is employee opinion matters. Research your industry and others to see what is working now. Bonus: partnering with recruitment agencies and HR consultants or going to events might be more productive for recruiting than posting vacancies online. This may seem like a lot of effort, but it’s a process that has massively benefitted several SMEs and will continue to help you find and keep top talent in tough times.

Get in touch with Ash

Ash Shastry

Inspired Leaders

*We strive to do our best when supporting small business and their growth. Our business databases can give you information and data that can help you with advertising, market research, company information, and industry factsheets. If you have already taken the plunge, we would love for you to join us at a seminar, our workshops cover digital marketing, business model canvas and planning, demystifying taxes and intellectual property to name a few. Visit our events page or website for more information.

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