EntrepreneursExpert Opinion

Best Practices to Attract and Retain Top Talent in SMEs

Written by Anjali Samuel, Managing Partner, Mindfield Resources

SMEs account for the majority of businesses worldwide and are important contributors to job creation and global economic development. They represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. Formal SMEs contribute up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies according to published reports. According to MARMORE reports, In the GCC, SMEs constitute close to 90% (i.e. about 1.5 million SMEs) of the total companies’ base. The sector has the potential to generate 22 million employment opportunities by 2022 in the region.

The strategic importance of SMEs is apparent in some GCC states, with the UAE relying on SMEs for 53% of the national GDP and 60% of the employment. SMEs account for over 99% of the private sector in Saudi Arabia, contributing to over 28% of the GDP in 2018 and 64% of the total employment. Qatar SMEs contributed to around 10% of the GDP, which is one of the lowest in the GCC. In Oman and Bahrain, SMEs contribute to around 15% and 28% of GDP respectively.

Despite the economic significance of the SME sector, attracting and retaining talented employees is especially challenging for SMEs. Challenged by aggressive growth requirements, pressures on the bottom line and a significant emphasis on building brand, most SMEs tend to struggle with dilemma of investing ahead of curve when it comes to investments in Talent segment. Based on our experiences dealing with a large number of SMEs, here are some best practices that we find working most effectively for attracting and retaining talent when you have categorized “small” or Mid-Size company (SME).

Here are my 5 C’s.

Compelling Employer Brand
While motivated, ambitious and self-driven employees are an excellent asset for your company, they are also always on the lookout for better opportunities with the industry leaders. Despite your size you can still create a compelling employment brand. A quick look at the top 25 list of Best Workplaces across GCC markets will give an idea of how some of these SMEs have created a compelling employment brand which helps them attract as well keep their teams significantly engaged.

To retain top talent, you need to offer them something too compelling to be refused and help them see how they will benefit from working with your organization. It will take careful planning and full-fledged strategies to work out a blueprint that will not just attract quality talent but keep them in your organization in the years to come.

Co-Creative and Inclusive Workplace Culture
Employees these days value their individuality and their work-life priorities as much as they value their remuneration and enriching experiences. After all, the industry leaders are providing good pay as well as work environments that treat employees with respect and practice Inclusion and diversity. Today’s talent is putting high emphasis on corporate social responsibility and act like to engage in such activities as much as participating in planning and strategizing / co-creating the company’s future. A global study revealed that over 79% of employees leave their companies due to a lack of appreciation and recognizing of their individuality. So basically, they are not leaving your company; they are simply leaving behind a work culture that does not appreciate their efforts.

Communicate Effectively and With Intent
We are all familiar with typical “Boss Jokes” brewing among employees. But do we ever wonder what makes employees go behind the back of their bosses and talk disrespectfully of them? An unhealthy employee-boss relationship is a result of limited communication. Just how employees are given feedback, it’s equally necessary to take their feedback on how things can be managed better. If your employees are not allowed to speak their minds, it will only add to their growing resentment towards the company and make them feel less valued.

Talented people who aim to scale themselves will certainly not appreciate this treatment. Allowing respectful communication regardless of any hierarchy is the key to keeping your employees happy. You need to be very intentional and planful about your communication. Overcommunicating breeds clarity and augments connections… be it company’s business updates, or exciting new developments, or product launches, or performance feedback, or employee coaching or allowing them forums to speak their minds freely, access top-management views through townhalls, or participating in a culture survey wherein they can freely express themselves.

Cultivate a Culture of Career Growth
Remember, we are talking about talented individuals of your organization. While unambitious employees might be happy with a comfortable yet stagnant career, self-driven employees are likely to seek better opportunities that help them grow. The key to retaining quality talent is by constantly keeping them motivated and helping them visualize their growth. Whether it’s through reasonable remuneration, promotions, exposure, or importance in the company, you need to help your employees grow if you want your company to keep scaling.

This is an area where all companies must invest ahead of curve. Allow employees access to skill-building experiences, allow them the freedom to experience career ladders and lattices that are not bound by the role/function they start their careers with, and provide them the necessary feedback and calibration of expectations periodically.

CAPEX Approach to Talent Investments
Investing in one’s employees is the best investment any company can make. That’s why it’s important for you to ensure that you are investing in the right asset that reaps long-term benefits and helps you grow your SME. I recommend that all SMEs look at the talent landscape the same way as they look at building infrastructure, technology, product platforms, or category development. Ask your business teams to build Talent CAPEX as well!

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