As an SME one of your key assets are your staff, and time and time again we see talented staff leave, simply because they are not being given the career development opportunities they think they deserve or expect.  This is such a easy fix if you just take the time to focus on understanding and exploring your employees career development expectations.

We know finding the time to do this may seem impossible and get pushed down the to do list, but it is absolutely key for engaging and retaining your top talent - so make it a priority, new years resolution even!

As we all know, development is all about making employees feel valued and invested in, but the upshot is by giving them encouragement to progress individually, you will ultimately see them propel your business forward and reward them in the same move as they push into more senior levels of responsibility. Win win.  

The uniqueness with SMEs is that during the Startup phase of a business, the rate of personal growth is often enormous: most people are learning nearly 100% of the time and pitch in on areas that they wouldn’t normally associate with.  Everyone feels important and integral to the success. It’s as you start to scale and evolve that many of the challenges present themselves.  The need for providing learning opportunities continues, but structure and roles are more solid and the informal learning opportunities that once naturally presented themselves, suddenly seem more restricted.  

The great Albert Einstein once said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”. Its within our nature to grow, we have been growing since we were little and whilst our physical growth slows over time, that ambition of personal growth never goes away.  

If development is disregarded, knowledge becomes out of date, motivation levels stagnate and careers begin to drift and these factors have an obvious impact on hard measures like productivity and staff turnover.  Then you run the risk of getting to the point where training and development comes last on the To Do list, with a common reason being “we just don’t have the budget for it”….

Not everything needs to cost the earth though, if you’re prepared to think creatively and invest a little time, you can easily organise all sorts of focused learning activities. And your team will thank you for it by being brilliant.

  1. Peer to peer learning: Having the respect of our colleagues means a lot to us, so encourage people to speak at conferences, enter competitions, or host meetups  with their peers to share knowledge with others. Sometimes it’s going to be necessary to fund employee's’ attendance at these external events.  So to maximise your investment in doing this, make it a condition that staff share their learnings when they are back in the workplace.
  2. Everyone needs a sense of purpose: It may be that you aren’t setting out to save lives or some other noble cause, but the chances are that your business has a higher purpose than just simply seeking cash. So help staff understand how they fit into this bigger picture by spelling it out in order to capture people’s true potential.
  3. Allow people to show off what they’ve learnt: Decide on the core skills for your business and each technical function and assign different levels of expertise required for each (competencies) which people can earn credits to show they’ve attained the level.
  4. Share “best practice”: Bring in a recognised expert for your employees to spend some time with: use your network and contacts to find someone you admire and value and bring them into work with you. Get the more experienced members of your team to share some of their past notable successes.
  5. Give them wings: give your new employees more responsibility or ask them to undertake a challenging piece of work or project and don’t be surprised when they rise to the challenge and hopefully surpass your expectations! Give a mini group within your company a real business problem and challenge them to come up with the solution.
  6. Use Skills Already In-House: There are loads of ways you can do this, depending on the circumstances which include asking  team members with specific areas of expertise to deliver short training programmes or presentations for other staff, focussing on their specialist areas; Promote inter-departmental sessions, for example by organising ‘brown bag’ lunches, with each hosted and run by a different department in turn.  
  7. Time out to play with new ideas: Encourage your team to pursue their personal goals by allowing flexible work schedules, the freedom to work remotely, and arranging social gatherings outside of work.
  8. Explore E-Learning: Training courses are no longer just about hotel conference suites and flip charts. These days there’s a whole new world of virtual training on offer, with courses available on almost any topic imaginable.  Online training means staff can learn at their own convenience and pace, with costs generally low and many even free. Check out websites like,, and, to find out more.

We naturally want to become bigger and better than we are, there is no right or wrong way to go about it as long as everyone feels like they are moving forward, no one wants to stagnate, but remember we measure that with different views and on our own scales.

TheHRhub is the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs - providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. It's like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag!

Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at for a no-strings chat about your HR needs.

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