Saturday, October 20, 2012

Retaining Staff in a Small Business

As a small business, you are forever competing with employee benefits offered by larger organisations – not to mention brand prestige, greater opportunities for career progression, travel, bonuses… the list goes on.

There are a few small businesses I know that can teach the larger organisations a thing or two about human nature, nurturing talents and retaining employees.

One of these businesses is a client of mine. They are a growing ISP. Over the past 18 months, I have recruited four IT professionals, bringing their head count to ten employees in total to date.

At a recent meeting with the Director, John, we spoke about the issue of staff retention in a small business. He mentioned that a senior developer had recently been approached by a worldwide search engine to come and work for them. He declined. I was surprised and pressed John on the reasons for why he stayed.

The senior developer is a typical IT geek. He rarely speaks to anyone, wears headphones all day, and probably has a touch of Asperger Syndrome or Autism. But when it comes to programming, which is what he is hired for, he is a gun. John mentioned that if he had ten times this guy, he would already be a multi-millionaire. So what is John’s secret to making them stay? His office is modern and simple. Nothing special. There is no ‘break-out room’ where the staff can play pool, watch TV, listen to music, and relax in ergonomic furniture.

John quite simply understands the needs of his staff. For this senior developer, all he requires is a beer and the ability to play computer games around 4pm each day for half an hour. Then it is back to work. John has another developer who enjoys going to a local take-away for a chicken roll and Pepsi with John once every two weeks. They talk about IT stuff and this makes him happy.

John’s ‘HR strategy’ is listening to the needs of his employees and acting on them.

Without a doubt, there are other factors that come into play to retain staff such as remuneration, working in a challenging and stimulating environment, and workplace culture.  But if business owners like John start practising this type of leadership in the early stages of business to keep good staff, there is no doubt that his business will flourish.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Use training as a retention and growth strategy tool in SMEs

Training and education opportunities are typically offered in larger organisations. They often have Learning and Development Managers who organise training budgets and requirements for all staff. Training is just as critical in SMEs but is often overlooked due to the perceived costs, the organisation of training requirements, and the valuable time that may not be spent on the business.

For SMEs, it is a matter of approaching training opportunities in a practical way. The first step is to analyse the skill gaps in your business. It can be an exercise for all staff in your business to analyse their existing role and consider what skills they would like to improve on to benefit the business. For example, the office manager may require MYOB training, or the marketing manager may require training in social media. All training options must be relevant to the employee’s role. You may find that rather than hiring another employee due to a skill gap, you could train up an existing employee. This training analysis not only engages your employees, but also creates a sense of loyalty because you are investing in their skills. After training is completed, you and your employee should be able to identify how the business will benefit from the new skills that have been developed. 

Once you have decided on the appropriate type of training, you could create a simple training agreement that covers the following:
  • Type of training
  • Justification for training
  • Learning objectives to be achieved
  • How training will be evaluated (e.g. changes anticipated, performance standards to be met)
  • Cost of training
  • Date of training
The next step is to identify training and education opportunities that fit your budget. For some professionals, professional development (PD) must be completed every year. The professional associations tend to offer a range of courses to build up PD hours.

Other cost effective training options can be sourced via the following channels:
  • Your local TAFE, CIT or University
  • Locate Registered Training Organisations in your area and ask if there are any Government subsidies currently being offered to up-skill employees. Visit for more information 
  • Free webinars offered on business websites such as
  • CareerMums training website has a range of learning options including online, distance learning, face-to-face, and short courses.
Training is a risk management tool that builds human assets in your business, opens up new opportunities for your business, and engenders a loyal workforce.