SME war for talent

Over the past few years we have become accustomed to battening down the spending hatches, asking our employees to do so with us by freezing pay and benefits and eliminating all but the absolutely essential training. Employees were risk averse when it came to moving jobs. Better to stay put unless the company was at risk of going out of business, to rely on accrued years’ service so that should the worse come to the worse, redundancy payments would help soften the blow. With ‘real wages’ suppressed across most industry sectors most people at least felt they were in it together in terms of taking the pain in reduced earnings.

Recent unemployment figures are dropping and recruiters are getting busy again. People are on the move as good people are being sought out once again by talent hungry businesses.

There will be many tasty offers made to people flattered by recruiters and with the chance to make up income again people will be more than tempted to move. But, before the recession drove us to act in the ways we needed to in order to survive, the SME companies were a very real and good place to work too. Our people chose to work in the smaller to medium size businesses rather than the large corporate enterprises and so now is the time to remind everyone why that was. To hold on to the great people you have, to find yourself the winner, not the poor relation in this war for talent, now is the time to act.

The first step begins with a plan and like all plans it is only as good as the way you execute it.

Key components of this plan should include:

STEP ONE: Positive feedback
Tell people you value them and why that is the case. How many times have you spoken to people who have resigned over the years and asked their reason for leaving? All too often the reason is because they didn’t feel valued, didn’t feel there was any way to grow their career. By simply letting people know that we value them is the first step to overcoming this.

STEP TWO: Personal development plans
Work with people to create a meaningful personal development plan. Take the time to really understand their ambitions, what interests and motivates them. Where they see gaps in their skills and experience discuss ideas for closing these. Listening and then actioning what makes sense for the company and the individuals is another sure fire way of showing people that staying and developing, learning and progressing is their best career option. It doesn’t have to cost the earth; many great learning experiences take place on the job.

STEP THREE: Remuneration packages
Review your remuneration packages. If you have been through a period of lock down with reduced or frozen pay and benefits over the past few years then it is time to review. This isn’t about raising unrealistic expectations for large or unaffordable increases. Looking at where you stand compared to your competitors and being transparent with employees about how you will reflect the growth you get in the company with growth in remuneration too will go a long way to encouraging people to stay with you.

STEP FOUR: Regular catch-ups
During the tough times you will have needed to be talking regularly with people about what is going on in your market, the business and your competitors. As you start to grow again it is important to keep this going , in fact time to raise the noise level even more. People need to see the future looks better where they are, that growth will come and with that growth will come opportunities for them too. In a SME you have the advantage of being accessible and to create a community. The large corporations you may be competing with as employers of talent will need to work even harder at creating this so make sure you use that advantage to the max.

STEP FIVE: Sell the SME advantages
Now is the time to abandon being coy and to be brash and loud about why working for a SME is such an advantage. This is a part of your employer value proposition (EVP). Being able to be a big fish in a smaller pond is really attractive for many people wanting to develop their career. The ability to get a wide variety of skills because smaller businesses require their people to roll their sleeves up and help out across the business can make for a really interesting job. In a larger business it is harder to do this and the likelihood of being a smaller fish in a bigger pond means you are more likely to be more specialised in your skills. Also being in a smaller pond means you get to be known by everyone and your opportunity to shine is greater.

As the war for talent hots up, it’s time to be prepared to fight to keep your people so that you are ready to take advantage of the growth your markets will experience in the years ahead.

Bev White is Managing Director, Penna Careers Services, at Penna Plc. She joined Penna in 2002 and has led Penna’s Career Transition business into the number one position in the UK market place in the private sector. White is a main board director of Penna PLC. White’s earlier career included seven years as CIO of NtL and prior to that as director I.T. for Schlumberger. Today, she is chair of the Career Star group, which delivers to over 70 Countries across the globe, and president of the UK Association of Career Firms and of the European Board for the Association of Career Firms.

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