What is it about small businesses that attracts top talent?
Many job seekers are drawn to work for an SMB (small to medium sized business) over working for large corporations or other similarly large organizations. SMBs, which are generally identified as having less than one hundred employees, comprise 98% of the over 1.17 million employer businesses in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2015). In contrast to the often bureaucratic environments of larger organizations, employees of SMBs value the personal feel of these smaller business, as well as the ability to directly see the impact of their efforts throughout the company.
SMBs are common in tech-related industries, where early growth stage startup companies and small team projects provide a social value that isn’t reflected by salary. Employees and job seekers in this space find the challenges of startups to be invigorating. The problems that startups face can be difficult from being ill-defined and unique, yet are highly rewarding when solved and often require teams that can quickly adapt to sudden industry changes. For tech startups in particular, methodologies have emerged to address these challenges, particularly what’s known as “Agile” project management for design and development.
Agile project management an effective way to inject your team with small business dynamics
Agile project management is typically seen in software teams and is based on “iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams” (CPrime.com). These approaches emerge from the bottom up, and are based on frequent team member interactions around engaging and challenging problems. Agile works well in such smaller company work environments because project and company goals are naturally aligned, if not are one in the same.
“Using Agile means trusting your people to make the right decisions based on the information they have at hand, which, like an SMB, allows teams to quickly react to changing conditions at a faster rate.”“Part of that is understanding decisions may sometimes be wrong, but with good people, they’ll be right more often then not.”
In any larger company, there are bound to be projects of important overall value, projects which can provide intangible employee benefits and job satisfaction. Yet these projects can become disconnected with the company’s mission and goals, leading to their value being overlooked at the executive level. This disconnect can create barriers to attracting talent, i.e. red flags for job seekers looking work environment that support their personal and professional development.
Not just for software companies, Agile helps businesses in any industry
In addressing these barriers, some companies outside of the software industry have looked to Agile methods for helpful workflows around smaller and more engaging team-based projects. For example, NPR’s implementation of Agile in its programming has resulted in more than a notable 66% cost reduction, but also other benefits:
“Like the folks at NPR, many non-tech teams have found that employing an Agile mindset and using Agile practices can help their team or business get more done, make their customers happier, and make their teams more collaborative” (Tech Republic).
The term “Agile” – as well as other software development terms such as “scrum”, “design sprint”, and “kanban” – has become a sort of secret handshake for employees and job seekers in identifying work environments that are engaging and challenging. Yet it’s also understood that Agile development teams also have enough of a structured workflow to avoid confusion and burnout. Sometimes it even sounds like Agile is itself a sort of software product, e.g. “Yeah I’m used to working with Agile, less frustrating and we get more work done. What does your team use?”
After fifteen years of increasing use of these methods in the tech industry, the buzz around the Agile’s success in smaller companies has of course has reached the executive level of larger companies that are looking for talent. However, even with the goal of attracting top talent by initiating and promoting dynamic and engaging team-based work environments, larger companies can easily fail at successfully implementing Agile methods and best practices.
As Sam McAfee discusses in February 2018, “Why Enterprise Agile Teams Fail” (February 2018), his experience on consulting a $20 billion company trying to go “Agile” led to the following observation:
“This is not an Enterprise Transformation situation. [The company’s Agile teams] have neither explicit support nor discouragement from senior executives. The official corporate attitude on Agile in this company is best described as benign indifference. So, they are more or less on their own to try it and either succeed or fail.”
For McAfee, there are several lessons he’s gleaned from his work with larger companies looking at Agile as a prescription for job dissatisfaction and/or talent recruitment. These range from a lack of a clear project vision and business metrics, to trying to do too many things at one time.
The overall lesson for larger companies in trying to implement more engaging and satisfying Agile work environments is that it can lead to a more competitive position not only for operational efficiency but also in attracting talent of the next generation. The alternative, McAffee claims, is “slow?—?or fast?—?death at the hands of smaller, more nimble competitors”.