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How to Attract and Retain the Best Employees for Your Growing Business

Go from wishful thinking to adding great team members who are aligned with your values

Stephan Rabimov

Around four million Americans quit their jobs in April 2021 — a 20-year record, according to the Labor Department. In 2021, 69% of companies reported talent shortages and difficulty hiring — a 15-year high. And 55% of Americans say that they will be looking for new employment within the next year, following a change in personal values brought about by the pandemic. In short, attracting and retaining top talent is a growing challenge for business owners. 

It also can be challenging to know how many employees to bring on. Scale too quickly without hiring enough employees, and your team will be overwhelmed. Hire too many and you might sacrifice profits. We spoke with several interior designers who run their own design firms to find out their hiring strategies, including the best way to attract and retain employees as well as knowing when to bring them on board. 

Building Your Team 

Design and implement business processes.

When interior designers take the plunge and start their own businesses, they often struggle with the switch from working alone to working with a team. Designer Karen Wolfe in Short Hills, New Jersey, says it’s important to implement a system of processes that employees can follow to complete projects thoroughly and efficiently.

“We have spent a long time refining our business processes,” Wolf says. “Given COVID and the havoc that it’s causing in the industry right now, having the business processes and an approach to how to get the project done has never been more utilized and effective.” 

Interior design business management software like Houzz Pro can help you build a process, as it houses everything under one roof: lead management, product sourcing, communication, proposals, invoices, marketing and more. Having set processes creates a clear and guided path for new employees so they can adjust quickly and stay on track. “With Houzz Pro, it’s seamless,” says designer Ann Ueno of Miami. “I can bring somebody in and train them in an hour or less, and they’re set.” 

Write compelling and accurate job descriptions.

Employees see a job description as a sample snapshot of what life would look like for them in their new role. The more accurate and specific your description of the duties and expectations of the role is, the more likely you will attract the right person to fill it. If a job description is misleading, employees can feel ill equipped to handle the role or unsatisfied with what is expected of them. Therefore, the best way to find the right employees is to make sure they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. 

Find employees who are aligned with your values.

The interior design industry is facing a talent shortage, so firms are competing to fill vacant positions. However, the right employees will flock to you if your company values align with theirs. Ueno says upfront honesty is key to attracting the right employees. “I am clear with, ‘Here’s who I am, here’s my business, here are my goals,’” she says. “Finding people that have passion and are aligned with my values and the DNA of my brand — that’s been critical.” Shared values foster loyalty and drive employees to work harder and succeed. 

Wolfe agrees, emphasizing that you can teach employees skills, but you can’t teach them values and passion. “I’ve been hiring based on a culture fit,” she says. “I’m not hiring the people that have five years of experience doing this. I’m hiring based on what I think is going to work for the dynamic in our office and then providing as much as we can.”

One place to search for employees who are aligned with your values is on social media. Houzz research shows that one-third of interior design businesses ​​leverage social media to spread awareness of job opportunities, and more than a quarter offer on-the-job training for recent hires — meaning they’re focused more on finding the right person than on someone with certain skill qualifications. 

Additionally, 21% of interior designers  partner with local colleges and universities to offer training programs, and 18% give talks there to attract younger talent into the industry.

Growing Your Team 

Know when it’s time to hire.

Many business owners are reluctant to grow their teams because they fear the cost outlay. But if you fail to grow your team when necessary, you’ll risk losing your existing employees, who will be overwhelmed by the increased workload. Make sure you monitor the workload and how your team is managing it. “I know that my staff here, we’re all running around,” Wolfe says. “They have a lot on their plate. We might have to push back a deadline by a week in order to make certain things happen. That’s when you really know you need to hire.”

Ueno believes that growing a team can actually help increase the bottom line. “You’ve got to change your mindset that hiring is an expense. It’s not an expense,” she says. “It’s going to drive more revenue to you, so you can go do the things that you love or take on bigger clients. If we’re taking more clients and creating more revenue streams, I have to have a support team.”

Hone your business skills.

It takes more than an eye for color to run a successful design firm. “Generally speaking, creatives, but specifically interior designers, are probably pretty good in their field of designing, but they don’t know how to run a business,” Ueno says. That’s why she advises interior designers to hire a business mentor, take business classes or even get an MBA. Honing business skills such as monitoring profit and loss (P&L), forecasting accurately and negotiating with vendors is essential. 

Ueno’s business has been profitable since day one, and she attributes this to her corporate experience. “If you’re not bringing in the revenue, and your P&L isn’t in a healthy place, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your designs are,” she says. 

Hire internally.

Hiring from within might mean you’re not growing your team per se, but you also won’t have to spend time training a new employee or making sure he or she fits in with the culture. Plus, it makes the person feel valued. In fact, employees who are promoted within three years of being hired are 70% more likely to stay at the company. Internal recruiting shows employees that the company is invested in employee growth and wants to offer opportunities to evolve.

When employees feel that they have no control of their paths to success, they quickly become disengaged. Internal recruitment gives employees a visible career path, so if they feel like they are ready for more challenges, they won’t have to look for outside opportunities. It also increases loyalty; when you show employees that you believe in them, that faith is reciprocated and makes them more likely to stay.

Retaining Your Team

Build a culture of recognition.

It pays to say “thank you.” Openly acknowledging and expressing appreciation for your employees’ contributions to the company has shown to help with employee retention. One study found that companies that scored in the top 20% for building a “recognition-rich culture” actually had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates. This type of culture has been shown to improve productivity, enhance loyalty, boost morale and promote collaboration. 

Create learning opportunities.  

Many employees today value career development over a higher paycheck. According to a LinkedIn study, 94% of employees would be willing to stay at a company longer if it offered learning opportunities. This is especially the case for younger workers, with roughly a quarter of Gen Zers and millennials saying that learning is the No. 1 thing that makes them happy at work.

Investing in learning opportunities not only increases employee satisfaction but expands employees’ skill sets and makes them better at their jobs. It’s not enough to simply offer a three-day training program once a year, though; you want to provide regular training programs and workshops that focus on hard skills and also soft skills, like leadership, communication, collaboration and time management. It’s also helpful to bake learning opportunities into the everyday activities of your employees so they can learn on the job. Hiring great leaders to act as mentors who offer constructive feedback is incredibly valuable too. 

Set up your employees for success. Burnout is a huge driver of employee turnover rates. When employees are asked to perform tasks without being given the tools to succeed, they can feel overwhelmed and frustrated. That’s why it’s so important to utilize digital tools that make it easier for everyone to stay organized and productive, like Houzz Pro. If you’re running an interior design firm, you don’t want your employees spending too much time on administrative tasks vs tending to client work. “The more you can streamline and make processes more efficient and automated, the less time you’re having to stay at the office late and work through accounting issues and paperwork,” says interior designer Deana Duffek of Laguna Beach, California.

Ueno adds: “Any system that we have that can work hard for us allows us to scale, that’s invaluable in this day and age, especially when we’re managing as business owners and even as employees. We’re doing so many things every single day. We’re leading people, we’re client services, we’re creatives, we’re vendor relations, we’re on phone calls.”

While the employment statistics and mindset of many employees may be challenging to business owners right now, there is still top talent out there. With the right approach and systems, hiring the best people for your business can be more than just wishful thinking.

To continue learning how you can keep your team feeling motivated and fulfilled, read our next article on How to Manage Rapid Growth While Keeping Employees Happy.

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Stephan Rabimov

Stephan Rabimov leads Content Marketing at Houzz. Portland resident. Global citizen. Nature loving.

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