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What can UK SME bosses learn from their counterparts in Singapore?

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Employer brand and financial success

There is a clear relationship between employer brand and an SME’s financial success. What this means is that SME bosses need to create a compelling story and vision about the origins and future ambition of their organisation, plus a realistic picture of what it might be like to work there.

Take steps to ensure your recruitment materials communicate clearly to potential candidates about what it’s like to work in your organisation. Be aware of your values, culture and future strategy and ensure these are shared with any partners in your recruitment process, including agencies, consultants and candidate. Consider what it is that you offer that is distinctive as compared to much larger or multinational companies. An example might be that your SME can offer greater responsibility earlier in a person’s career as well as a chance to do a variety of different jobs in different parts of the business.

Merit-based recruitment and financial success

The Singapore study also identified a clear link between merit-based recruitment and financial success. SMEs need to establish recruitment processes that have clear, merit-based criteria against which candidates are assessed. Alongside this, try to provide a realistic preview of what a job role might involve so that the expectations of all parties are managed from the outset.

Good working conditions and opportunities for development

Our analysis of survey data found clear links between personal development planning, formal training programmes, the provision of e-learning opportunities and overall financial success/delivery of targets.

Development is key to managing talent. What this means is that SMEs need to communicate clearly to potential candidates about opportunities for personal growth and skills acquisition. Allied to this, SME employers must show that they understand candidates’ expectations around working conditions and appreciate how and why what they have to offer might appeal to a specific target talent pool. For example, a company might focus on the technology available for Gen Y, its flexible approach to BYOD and the opportunities for flexible working for mid-career and older workers.

SMEs also need to be aware of the different talent groups within their organisations –Gen Y, mid-career, older workforce and also the soon-to-arrive Gen Z – and invest in time or talent to customise the company’s HR and management practices to support all groups, whether this calls for attractive and supportive working conditions or tailored reward and recognition together with flexible working opportunities. Another longer-term talent strategy for open-minded SMEs is to try to be amenable – where feasible – to requests from Gen Y to take time out before coming back (with deeper life experience and new skills to benefit the SME).

There is always a need to engage and involve staff and this is where the SME may have an advantage over larger MNC firms. Try to communicate regularly with staff about business performance and actively seek out employees’ ideas and involvement as much as is practical.

Hold regular and effective conversations

SMEs need to ensure managers are equipped with the capability to conduct regular and effective conversations with staff to review performance and identify career development opportunities. Developing the coaching capability of managers and providing in-house mentoring programmes are an effective supplement to on-the-job learning.

Managers in SMEs also need to ensure they provide opportunities for staff to be “stretched” and to work on challenging, complex projects, especially where vertical promotion is not readily available, as is the case in many SMEs. It is also critical to provide opportunities for greater autonomy and innovation and for most SMEs, more work needs to be done to create opportunities for staff to share information and knowledge either internally or externally. Creating opportunities like this to share knowledge can provide both a useful learning experience and another means to build group cohesion within the SME.

A strategic approach to talent management

Of the SMEs that are taking a strategic approach to talent management, there are a number of fundamental things that they are doing differently to those smaller organisations that have a less formal approach to managing and nurturing talent, including:

(1) Recognising talent as a key strategic enabler, driving accountability for talent management throughout the business by introducing “talent” objectives or KPIs into the performance management process and rewarding talent retention.

(2) Taking steps to identify critical roles and the individuals who have the potential to fill them in the future. SMEs should begin by identifying their key talent groups and ensuring they have a clear career pathway.

(3) Formalising the requirements of job roles and the competencies required, including an assessment of whether there is the capability to know the skills and capabilities that are required in the organisation and recognise the gaps and development opportunities within the organisation.

(4) Taking steps to ensure a consistent approach to HR practices across the business, including performance management.

Although operating in a very different cultural environment, there is much that SME bosses in the UK can learn from their counterparts in Singapore to make the most of talent within their organisations and ensure they’re leveraging reward and recognition strategies to stay ahead of the game.

Michael Jenkins is chief executive at Roffey Park.

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