The might of the global corporates can be hard to beat when it comes to incentives. Generous pension schemes, health insurance, expensive gym memberships and lavish meal allowances are simply not feasible for many small firms to offer, at least not if you want to make a profit. But there are ways of attracting and retaining top talent, and small firms can often provide a personal touch that the corporates would find hard to match.
To an employee, the ability to be involved in more than one aspect of operations extends a wealth of experience that’s impossible to gain in a large corporate. In an SME environment, an ambitious young leader can explore business from an HR, finance, sales and marketing, and even boardroom perspective. They will learn a huge amount more than one who’s in a more rigid structure, with clear performance management processes and career levels to go through before they can even think about an upwards move.
One thing corporates can’t easily do is single out employees for special treatment. Rigid structures and meticulously applied HR processes make it difficult, if not impossible, to truly tailor training and development to individual needs.
For a small firm with a smaller workforce and fewer rules, it’s much easier to identify and nurture those who demonstrate a particular skill or show huge potential. I recently worked with a 27-year-old woman who had comfortably achieved every goal she’d been set within her small organisation, so was made a director and allocated a generous number of shares.
There’s always a very real risk that the person you’ve nurtured and invested in will take their skills and experience to a rival company. But this doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. There are limits to how much you can learn in a small firm, particularly if the employee has been in the same company from the beginning of their career.
I have a client who encouraged his high-flying protégée to flee the nest, and gave her paid time off to find a job within a larger company. He’d recognised that she wasn’t achieving her full potential, and wanted her to gain experience in a larger organisation so she could potentially come back at a later date to take the business forward.
Taking a structured approach to talent management can help you to identify those who are ready for a challenge – and those that are holding you back.
Using a simple nine-box grid system, work out which employees fit into each category, for example the high-performer ready to move into a new role; the high-performer who doesn’t have much potential for improvement but is a real steady Eddie – every business needs those; the average performer who doesn’t seem to be moving on and needs help to progress; and, importantly, the low-performer who shows no potential, who need to be managed out.