Article from Business Times, 25 April 2017

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How SMEs can win the battle for talent

Business Times, Tuesday, April 25, 2017

By Paul Heng

ONE of the key areas that hiring managers and headhunters generally look at in resumes is "branding". Resume branding is generally looked upon as the profile of the companies worked in, such as small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), multi-national companies (MNCs), government-linked organisations and not-for-profit enterprises, and also the industries these employers belong in.

Depending on the stage of one's career, it is usually more challenging for a job seeker with a "non-MNC branding" to break into the MNC space.

Interestingly, the converse is usually easier. A possible reason could be because hiring managers typically view work experience with MNCs as a relatively more attractive proposition. MNC training, systems and processes are generally considered more cutting-edge compared to SMEs, and thus, a job seeker with this experience is more desirable.

SMEs have always had a challenging time attracting talent, especially the relatively younger ones such as fresh graduates. There are a variety of reasons why this is so, including starting pay, perceived value of the work experience to be gained in a smaller-sized, Singapore-focused business, and resume branding.

All things being equal, academic qualifications and number of years of working experience, for instance, a job seeker from an MNC is generally perceived to be more attractive and can even command a salary premium.

Given the maturing workforce and the perennial shortage of talent, SMEs must continuously strive to do things differently to have a chance of winning the talent battle. Here are four suggestions.

1) Have in place a talent acquisition and development role or even a small department.

Ideally, this should not be part of HR, and the department head should report directly to the CEO. This will send a strong signal that the leadership views human resources as one of its key assets, which realistically is usually the case.

The main objective of the department is to attract the right talent as well as to plan the career path of employees identified as future leaders of the company. Strategies that could be put in place include periodic job rotation, stretch key performance indicators (KPIs), and overseas business trips and even postings.

Ideally, this pool of potential future leaders should constitute about 20-30 per cent of the staff strength. This should mitigate the risks of fall-outs along the journey.

Make sure that this initiative is well publicised to the job market - have the CEO talk about it at every opportunity. Over time, this could well result in the company joining the league of "preferred employers". This is definitely good branding for the company, and will in turn attract job seekers.

A matured talent from the same industry may well be a strong potential candidate for this role.

2) Have in place a compensation and rewards scheme that offers above-market terms to those who have worked hard, made contributions and have the potential to further contribute to the business.

I know that this will raise CEOs' eye-brows, but this must not be looked upon as an "additional expenditure", but as an investment for the future of the business. Studies have confirmed that recruitment time and effort can add up to a hefty financial figure.

Hiring right, providing continuous learning and growing opportunities, and compensating well, will enhance the chances of keeping these people. The resulting effect is a pipeline of talent that can help CEOs bring their business to the next growth phase, and beyond.

3) Taking good care of employees is easier said than done. Workforces these days consist of at least two main profiles, the matured workers, and the millennials. Given this diversity, it does not make sense to have a "one-size-fits-all" set of benefits and working conditions.

Here are some suggested areas to consider in coming up with a menu of benefit options: working hours, work location (office, home), annual leave, medical, dental and hospitalisation benefits, family care leave and skills development.

With workforce diversity, the challenge becomes even more daunting. SMEs must too, embrace diversity in its packaging of staff benefits, or face the challenges of being unable to attract the right type and number of talent, and labour turnover. Providing what employees value, rather than what you want to provide is the key here.

4) "Coaching versus Telling" leadership style - these are just two of a wide repertoire of leadership styles a leader can possess. Depending on the situation and individuals involved, an appropriate style should be deployed for leadership to be effective.
Generally speaking though, leaders should adopt a coaching approach for two good reasons - it contributes to the development of employees as they are entrusted with coming up with their own answers and solutions to day-to-day challenges. Secondly, it frees leaders to do the strategic work of managing the business.

When a coaching leadership style is used, the organisation will evolve to one that sees empowerment and growth as key drivers of the business culture. This is likely to suit both matured workers and millennials.

We look forward to the day when the tables are somewhat turned, and SME-experienced job seekers will compete - in both perceived value and compensation - on an equal footing with job seekers with MNC-branded resumes.

•       The writer is the founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group

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