Attract and retain talent, SME-style
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Human resource management isn’t just about payroll or processes; you need to grow your employees too

Like large companies, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) appreciate the importance of human capital development, but limited human resources (HR) prevent them from growing their workforce.

“They spend most of their time on transactional HR activities such as payroll and processing work instead of strategic HR activities like talent management and development,” Spring Singapore said at the launch of its Human Capital Movement in SMEs in 2015.

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SMEs need to see the “importance and urgency” of shoring up HR resources – capability and capacity – and managing talent. Career management is an essential tool for SMEs to attract and retain talent.

Here are six steps to follow.


Debunk the notion that the boss knows everything. You don’t know it all – nor can you do everything yourself.

Have the mindset that people power your business. You may be great at selling your business vision. But it’s your leaders who convey the message.

Involve your second-liners in your growth planning, so they catch your vision and inspire the troops. Working with your leaders also gives you the opportunity to size them up for succession planning.


Being small does not mean that you are left to hire those who have been filtered out by the big boys. But attract the right fit.

What is the aspect of your company that you are proudest of?

Perhaps you are family-oriented (thus, caring), or expanding overseas (offering postings abroad), or practise flexi-hours (supporting working mums).

Highlight that in your job ads and during interviews, and that may attract talented job-seekers who would prefer to work for you than for a more prominent organisation.


You need not have a bottomless budget for training and development. Look for outside help or get creative within.

Tap external funding. For example, SkillsFuture Credit gives $500 to all Singaporeans aged 25 and above to spend on approved training courses. You just need to give your employee time off to pursue these courses.

Have career conversations. These chats allow employees to tell their supervisor what matters most in their career journey.

Make the sessions intentional – schedule them as often as you need. A casual chat over a cup of tea does not cost much but can do wonders for morale, productivity and your bottom line.


Employees in an SME may have to wear many hats. They have to grapple with being jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

Worse, they are thrown into the deep end each time a new role comes up, leading to frustration.

Provide a mentor for each new assignment. However, the exposure to multiple roles forms an all-rounded employee – someone ready to be poached.

This is when retention schemes kick in. Incentivise him – via promotions, overseas attachments or leadership opportunities – to stay.


HR is a strategic business partner – not just a support function.

Arm your HR people with software that reduce labour-intensive, transactional tasks such as attendance data entry, reconciling payrolls and tracking leave patterns.

Free your HR personnel to do what counts – scout for savvy individuals with the right fit.


Typically, SMEs start off as owner-run family operations.

But in today’s marketplace, growth and legacy are best directed by an experienced performer – not necessarily a family insider.

SMEs must spell out their vision clearly, so employees don’t worry about nepotism or the company’s survival, and focus on contributing towards the company’s – and their own -long-term success.

This article was contributed by Right Management (, the global career experts within United States-listed HR consulting firm, ManpowerGroup.

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