Small businesses are notorious for losing employees, with bigger businesses often able to lure them away with more perks or cultures and role assignments that are already crystalized. But keeping the workers you hire as you get off the ground and try to innovate isn't impossible. Take it from Kyle Lelli, co-founder and general manager for polling and opinion platform The Tylt. The company gathers real-time sentiment data via surveys on their website, as well as tracking Facebook and Twitter hashtags. Lelli hasn't lost a single worker since the business got up and running in April of 2016.

So how'd they do it? Part of the success comes from the fact that Lelli involves all 16 members of the team in the hiring process. That collaborative approach automatically supports diversity and deep camaraderie. But Lelli says the key is to take the following steps both before and after hiring.

Before you hire


  1. "Be clear with the individual you're looking to hire on the realities of the role and culture. If there's misalignment on what you tell them and what they experience, you risk losing that person."
  2. "Be an evangelist for the company's mission and vision. It's important to bring new team members on board that believe in what the company is doing."
  3. "Look for candidates that are intellectually curious, driven and candid. People that are curious enough to teach themselves new skills, driven enough to push through the inevitable challenges you'll face in building the businesses and candid enough to speak up in their advocacy for your product are invaluable, and they're generally much happier in a startup environment."

When hiring is over


  1. "Make the person feel welcome. Go for lunch or coffee on the first day. Encourage other team members to reach out and do the same. Have a team breakfast or lunch. Go for a team happy hour. The earlier the individual feels like part of the team, the better."
  2. "Follow through with plans you've made. Show the new team member you are invested in [their] success."
  3. "Work with the new hire to set achievable, periodic goals to allow for near-term accomplishments and encourage peer-to-peer recognition for those early successes."


The ball is in your court


Lelli reminds us that turnover isn't inherently bad. It can work in your favor, for example, if you've made a mistake and hired the wrong person. But low turnover is a good indicator of a positive and supportive company culture and successful worker integration. It also builds foundational knowledge your business will turn to for long-term health and viability. With this in mind, even though some aspects of turnover are beyond a business leader's control, much of the responsibility for workers who stay put falls to you. And when push comes to shove, Lelli's guidance boils down to being honest, open and encouraging. That's not a matter of strategy--that's a matter of character.

"One important thing we've learned is that you cannot manufacture culture. We empower our team to take risks, and collectively they instill in each other confidence to move on from failure and the ownership necessary to take pride in collective wins. If you rely on catchy slogans written on a chalkboard to be the guiding principle for how your organization operates, you're missing the point."

"Be a people driven business. Treat team members with respect, provide opportunities for everyone to learn and grow, be clear on expectations and follow through with promises. Talented people will always have a number of opportunities available to them, but if they believe in your mission and you're genuinely invested in their success, that's hard to replicate."