How to Compete in the Talent War Without the Budget or Perks of Tech Giants

When Apple® decided in 2015 to add a music service to its list of products and services, it used its tech platform, offering iPhone® owners a free 3-month subscription to Apple Music. Four years later, the tech giant again leveraged its built-in iPhone, Mac, and iPad® users to enter the TV scene, spending $6 billion to create content for Apple TV+. Apple has been using its seemingly unlimited coffers and market dominance to get what it wants, including top talent.

But this approach is not unique to Apple; practically all tech giants (including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft®) are using their market dominance to find and retain top talent. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for start-ups and subject matter experts (SMEs) to compete in the talent war.

Tech giants may have inherent advantages that they leverage against their competitors, but this in no way means it’s impossible to compete against them. They might be more vulnerable than you would imagine.

Consider these numbers:

  • Going head-on against Apple and Google, Spotify established a $50 billion+ business and became the music streaming market leader.
  • In the videoconferencing sector, where tech goliaths have worked for years, Zoom developed a $50 billion+ corporation.
  • In an e-commerce sector dominated by Amazon, Shopify grew to be a $100 billion firm.
  • Even while Microsoft and Apple pre-install their solutions on their operating systems and Google supplies vast amounts of storage for free, Dropbox has grown into a $10 billion firm.

Why Finding and Retaining Top Talent Is Important

Talent is remarkable for producing an enormous productivity boost in an organization. According to a research study that included over 600,000 entertainers, athletes, researchers, and politicians, high performers record 400% higher productivity than average.

Similar research available on businesses shows comparable outcomes. It also shows that the productivity gap between top talent and average performers widens further based on the complexity of a job. In highly complex jobs like software development or management, high performers record as much as 800% more productivity.

Big Tech Has Deep Pockets

When competing against tech giants like Apple and Google for high-performing talent, it’d be impractical to try and compete on prestige or salary; it’s a battle you’re likely to lose. The average salary at Google is $121,000; $123,000 at Microsoft; $126,000 at Meta (Facebook’s new name); and $129,000 at Apple. Keep in mind that these salaries do not include bonuses. For instance, if you include everything at Facebook, the total median compensation jumps to $240,430.

These large corporations with seemingly unlimited resources are driving up wages and are willing to pay more for top talent from any location. Today, businesses must deal with wage inflation and a competitive landscape beyond their borders. This makes the talent shortage even more difficult for small and midsize companies.

According to a Princeton University case study, Google paid $3.5 million to keep one of its employees Facebook was trying to take from it.

Tech behemoths can afford to spend a lot of money to keep the best employees. They offer not only money but also a substantial employee value proposition (EVP). Insurance, mentorship, and vacations are all included in the EVP. Start-ups can’t compete on these fronts.

Across the economic spectrum, there is tight competition for elite talent. You’ll need highly competent technologists to destroy your competitors, even if you’re a nontech company like manufacturing or commerce. Yet, the coming technology wave⁠—the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), where practically every item will be a smart device generating massive amounts of data⁠—will make today’s battle for IT talent seem insignificant.

Competing Against Tech Goliaths

How do you compete in a hiring landscape that’s becoming steeper? Simple: Provide employees with benefits they can’t buy. While the titans can provide large salaries and generous benefits packages, they are likely to struggle in areas such as coaching and mentorship. Let’s look at seven ways you can compete in the talent war without the budget or perks of tech giants.

Offer hybrid work options and be flexible with work hours.

The most important thing about work/life integration is that different people have different preferences. Some people want to work from home all the time, others want to be in the office 5 days a week, and still others want a mix of both. Consider offering hybrid work options and flexible work hours to attract and retain top talent.

One way to do this is by offering employees the option to work from home 1 or 2 days a week. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, there was a 13% increase in productivity when employees were allowed to work from home. In addition, there was a 50% decrease in quit rates.

Another way to be flexible with work hours is by offering employees the option to start and end their workday early or late, as long as they get their work done. This is especially beneficial for employees with young children who need to drop them off at school or pick them up.

It would help if you also considered offering employees the option to take a sabbatical. Sabbaticals are becoming increasingly popular among workers of all ages, and they’re a great way to retain top talent.

Commit to diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are no longer just buzzwords. They’re business imperatives. Companies that embrace D&I are more innovative and more profitable. They also have a competitive advantage in the war for talent.

The best way to commit to D&I is by making it a part of your company culture. This starts with senior leadership setting the tone from the top, but it also requires buy-in from every level of the organization.

One way to do this is by offering unconscious bias training to all employees. Unconscious bias is the bias we’re not aware of that can lead to discriminatory practices in the workplace. Unconscious bias training can help employees become aware of their own biases and learn how to avoid letting them impact their decisions.

Another way to make D&I part of your company culture is by offering employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups promoting inclusion and supporting employees from underrepresented groups.

Make mentorship and coaching a priority.

Mentorship and coaching are two of the most important benefits you can offer employees, yet they’re often overlooked in favor of more tangible benefits like salaries and bonuses.

Like committing to D&I, the best way to prioritize mentorship and coaching is by making them a part of your company culture. This means setting up a formal mentorship program with clear guidelines and expectations. It also means making sure that mentors and mentees are appropriately matched and have the opportunity to meet regularly.

In addition to setting up a formal mentorship program, you should encourage informal mentorship relationships, which develop organically between employees. Encourage your employees to seek out mentors and to be mentors themselves.

Provide opportunities for professional development.

Professional development is another significant benefit that’s often overlooked, yet it’s one of the most important benefits you can offer employees, especially millennials and Gen Z.

The best way to provide opportunities for professional development is by investing in employee training and development programs. These programs should be tailored to the individual needs of your employees and updated regularly.

In addition to investing in employee training and development programs, you should also encourage your employees to pursue external professional development opportunities. This could include attending conferences and workshops, taking online courses, and completing certifications.

Encourage accountability and transparency in senior management.

Accountability and transparency are two critical values in the workplace. They’re also two values that are often lacking in senior management.

The best way to encourage accountability and transparency in senior management is by setting the tone from the top. This starts with the CEO and other members of senior management making themselves accessible to employees and being transparent about company decisions. It also requires regular communication from senior management to all employees.

In addition, you should also hold senior managers accountable for their responsibilities and actions, including meeting deadlines, following through on promises, and treating employees with respect.

Encourage employee feedback and input.

Employee feedback is essential for creating a positive work environment. It allows employees to have a voice in the decision-making process and makes them feel valued and respected.

The best way to encourage employee feedback is by setting up a formal system for collecting it. This could be anything from monthly surveys to weekly one-on-one meetings. It’s also critical that you make sure employees feel comfortable giving feedback, creating an open and inclusive environment.

In addition to setting up a formal system for collecting employee feedback, you should encourage informal feedback, such as impromptu conversations in the hallways or more structured discussions in team meetings.

The Bottom Line – Team-First Culture

The bottom line is that competing with tech giants with deep pockets requires a team-centric, people-first culture, where leaders ask: “How can I make it all about my team and their success?” Then, companies can bolster this vision with the right mix of benefits, flexibility, opportunities, and tools.

Putting people and teams first means investing in employees personally and getting to know their goals and characteristics. This will help leadership establish pathways for their team to work toward achieving professional satisfaction, which will trickle down into all areas of the company. And there is no reason not to do this. After all, even in an increasingly hybrid and remote world, one can still get to know his or her team by grabbing a coffee or meeting virtually to simulate watercooler talk.  

Getting to know employees and adopting a supportive, positive mindset toward your team will not only entice top talent to stay but also help them thrive and do their best work. If you do this right, you’ll have a diversified, high-quality workforce that can’t wait to contribute to your company’s success in today’s technology-driven marketplace.

Max Nirenberg is the Chief Revenue Officer and Managing Director for North America for Commit USA. He leads and optimizes Commit’s growing international organization while overseeing strategic planning for the global account management teams and ensuring that the company’s innovative and unparalleled delivery capabilities meet the U.S. market needs. Nirenberg brings more than 20 years of management experience to Commit USA, with a strong specialty in software-as-a-service (SaaS) and tech services. Previously, he served as the global Chief Sales Officer for independent pure-play quality assurance company Qualitest.