How can SMEs leverage their talent?


March 2nd, 2015

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talent shutterstock_246133963According to a recent survey from UKES, almost a quarter of small and medium-sized businesses are maximising staff talent to boost productivity leaving around 9 million people employed within SMEs who fare less well.

With SMEs at the heart of the Government’s growth – this is worrying news indeed.

In a recent blog, Richard Branson said that “business is all about people, people, people” – a view, without question, we would all agree with. Having a clear belief that your organisation’s success depends on your people is the first step in effective talent management. Whilst, SME organisations may not have the breadth of resources at their disposal to invest in detailed talent management strategies, this shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance, rather an opportunity to throw the rule book out the window and address talent management creatively.

We recently carried out a research project with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in Singapore on talent management and productivity within Singaporean SMEs. Our research found some interesting insights that all SMEs, regardless of where they are in the world, would do well to pay attention to.

Working conditions trump pay and reward

Our research found that organisations with good working conditions had the largest impact on and were the most successful in attracting talent. This may not be surprising, but the implications are that we must take a holistic view about the employment value proposition (both from the perspective of current and potential employees). Such a holistic approach means that the fundamental isn’t just about the working environment but also encompasses flexible working opportunities, opportunities for personal development, a grasp of what appeals to a multi-generational workforce and a strong sense of values and purpose.

People leave managers and not an organisation

Our UK workplace survey – The Management Agenda 2015 – found that 45% of the survey participants are looking for new job opportunities because of poor management. Poor promotion prospects and lack of appreciation are also high on the list of reasons. Managers who take advantage of opportunities to be closer and have quality conversations with their teams so they can dig deeper into career or development plans will retain their staff. And those staff will be more energised and productive in contributing towards organisational goals. The implication of this is that to develop and improve people both as managers and leaders is also a fundamental strategic imperative that sits inside talent management as a whole

But development isn’t just about training

There is no one size fits all approach to talent retention and attraction. Whilst some employees will be attracted to organisations with formal training and promotion prospects, others will see it differently. Training budgets will be more restricted within SMEs but this doesn’t stop them offering opportunities to work on projects or secondments, having a greater exposure to senior leaders, greater autonomy and the chance to innovate and learn – all which will be equally as successful.

Avoid the “easy come, easy go” mantra

Employees will stay in an organisation if they believe their performance is appreciated, recognised and rewarded. That’s easier said than done because it not only places great onus on your managers to review and appraise, but requires everyone to have those courageous conversations that are essential to performance management. Our research into Singaporean SMEs found a link between good working relationships and lower turnover with many organisations proactively encouraging social events to strengthen relationships and build a sense of community.

There is no doubt, that organisations with a clear belief in a tailored approach to talent management and the courage to make radical changes – are more likely to have higher productivity and financial success. So whilst at times it may seem like an uphill effort to attract, retain and motivate your employees, it’s a struggle well worth taking on.


There are a number of resources available on our website on Talent Management and SMEs including an infographic outlining 8 key talent management actions, a briefing paper of our MOM Research and a copy of the full research report – Talent Management and Productivity in Singaporean SMEs