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How do SMES win the war for talent?

The recruitment decisions made by an SME are often far more critical than those made by a larger organisation, and every new hire, no matter what role, can have a major impact on the Company’s overall success. Having one unproductive team member amongst 500 will usually make little difference to the Company’s bottom line, but having one person who is underperforming in a team of 20 can negatively impact on team morale, overall productivity, and cause huge disruption in your business.

Despite this we are often asked by SMEs how they can be expected to compete for talented staff, who are being offered extensive training and development, career opportunities and all the flash bells and whistles bigger businesses can afford. The answer to this lies in understanding the strengths and advantages of working for an SME and clearly communicating this to your candidates. Your offer is different, yet far more appealing to the right candidate, with the right attitude and temperament for your business.

So what is your SME hiring advantage?

  1. Access to the senior decision maker. How many people actually get to speak to the CEO of Telecom? And even if they did how many would know what to say? In an SME employees have the opportunity to speak directly to the top person on a daily basis. This means their contribution has real meaning to the business, and they usually have a better understanding of the vision and purpose of the company. They are closer to the key decision makers and are better able to influence the results. This can be a big attraction for potential employees.
  2. The opportunity to work with all parts of the business. I recently rang a large Government agency with two questions, and although one was answered quickly, they told me I had to call back for the second as that was handled by a different department…on a different floor…and the department I was speaking to didn’t know anyone on any other floors. Sound familiar? It may be only a lift ride away but for many companies other departments are like completely separate businesses. Not in an SME. If you have a question or need help from finance, it’s simple, get up, walk 10 steps and ask your accountant. How great is that?
  3. Variety. I love HR, but some days I could do with a little more variety than what is in front of me. I want something new and different, and to be involved in something that gives me a bit of a mind break. That never happens in a large business. Can you imagine an HR Manager answering customer phone calls, or a marketing assistant packing parcels in the warehouse? For staff who love learning different skills, inter-acting with different people and experiencing new things SMEs are the place to be. Some days you are busy and it’s all hands on deck in one area, some days you may be short staffed and everyone pitches in somewhere else. Staff who enjoy variety will love this challenge within an SME and enjoy the chance to be involved in the full scope of what the business does, and be free from the constraints of a silo.
  4. On the job learning. You may not be able to afford the flash week long courses in some big hotel, but when you stop to think about it, how much do the staff actually get out of them? I often see people walk away with one or two good ideas, and forget the rest, often at a cost of thousands to the organisation. Not in an SME. In your business they can absorb the skills they need directly from the subject expert as they need them and in a manner which directly relates to their role. Need to know about sales? Ask the sales guy who can explain how and why things work with real business examples. This is far more useful than a theoretical input only, and is far more likely to be remembered.
  5. Open communication. It is hard to hide things in a small office, and equally as hard to hide how you feel about decisions and other people’s re-actions to them. This transparency fosters an environment of open communication, where team members know where they stand and are comfortable sharing opinions.
  6. Teamwork. Teamwork in a larger organisation means working with the people sitting next to you. Team work in an SME means working with everyone. This camaraderie creates a sense of family in the organisation and this is usually highly appealing for candidates. In an SME team members grow to know each other on a deeper level, which creates security, trust and a more enjoyable work environment.
  7. Comfortable work environment. Not everyone wants to wear a suit to work. In fact surprisingly few people do. For the right candidate being comfortable and casual is highly appealing, as they are able to focus on results, not their appearance. This won’t appeal to everyone, but a more relaxed dress code where staff can kick off their shoes and get down to work can be a big hook for some candidates.
  8. A real chance to innovate and try new things. Most organisations talk about innovation and herald this as a core value. Unfortunately in many organisations what this actually means is that the executive team has new ideas which everyone else puts into practice. Not in an SME. You have to rely on the team members at the coal face coming up with the ideas to improve their part of the business so you can be competitive. So innovation isn’t just a slogan on the wall, it is a real everyday part of the job.
  9. Fast decision making. How frustrating is it when you have to wait months for things to go up one side on the management chain and then down the other, and then wait for the result to come back through the same channels? What can seem like a very straightforward question or idea can take months to be decided upon, often after the opportunity has long passed. Not in an SME. Have a question, ask it, answer it, do it – love it!!
  10. Flexibility and the ability to change. Finally had your idea approved in a big business? That’s just the first step, now it needs to get implemented. And so the process starts again, proposal up the chain, down the chain, changes up the chain, down the chain, change plan up the chain, down the chain….you get the picture. Not in an SME – what needs to change, how can we do it, can we do it tomorrow?

Now that you know what your recruitment advantages are, the trick is to use this to sell your role, and to recruit people who really do see these points as advantages and make sure you have the right “culture fit”. Candidates who have spent years in corporate environments, who value structure and processes, and think new ideas need a 10 page proposal to accompany it won’t fit with your business. Team members who are quick thinking, adaptable to change, empathetic to those around them, and value teamwork and trust will fit perfectly, and prefer you to any of the flash bells and whistles a big business can offer.