As an SME you should have a high concentration of talent and it’s vital to your business’ success that you retain that talent. And that means investing in it. Don’t make the mistake of putting the onus on the individual to provide their own path to personal and professional development, although your immediate focus is to grow the company, the fact is that if you’re not investing in your people then you’re not investing in the future of your business.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that if you spend too much time and energy developing your employees that they will become more valuable in the marketplace and jump ship. With this approach, your talent management strategy is one that could do more harm than good and virtually guarantee you the very outcome that you are trying to avoid!

Remember that investment in your talent can mean a lot of different things, ranging from personal development to financial incentives to activities - it’s not just about the traditional training opportunities. The point is that you want to show genuine care for your employees, and in return, they will take care of your business. It really can be that simple.

So, how can you invest in your team’s personal and professional development and ensure they stay the course?

Invest in employees personal and professional development:  Help them set and reach both short and long-term goals, both personal and professional (as the 2 are closely linked). This doesn’t need to be over engineered and can be as simple as getting your employees to ask themselves “Where am I now, where do I want to be, and how will I get there?” Follow up with regular check-ins - if you aren’t helping your employees consistently track against their goals, then they won’t make any real progress leaving them feeling disengaged.

Offer the perks and benefits that matter to them:  Be seen to invest in what matters to employees.  In order for your perks to be effective in keeping your employees happy, they need to be tailored to their specific needs and desires. Consider running a short internal survey to understand what types of rewards your employees would like to see offered and, where possible, launch these across your business.

Feeling valued is one of the greatest strengths that small businesses have over larger corporations, so you should take the time to find out what your staff want for their futures, and individualise incentives and career plans to suit each member of the team.

Give them an opportunity to earn something extra: Offer a commission or bonus based on the achievement of a specific goal. As Dan Pink (author of Drive) argues, autonomy is 1 of 3 major human motivators. Offering commissions gives employee a sense of ownership in their outcomes, and is an excellent way to help them grow and take responsibility for their own and the company’s success.

If you’re growing your business with plans to eventually sell (although you may not have thought this far ahead yet), consider some form of share option scheme. This is another great investment that will give your employees a real sense of ownership in the business and can act as a motivator as well as retention tool with your top talent.

Make employees feel loved:  Still, the most common reason why employees leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated at work.

Remember that being recognised for hard work goes a long way and to really succeed in creating an environment where employees consistently feel appreciated and invested in you need to remember to say well done and give employees a pat on the back.  Something as simple as a weekly team meeting to recognise achievements can work wonders.  You should also consider celebrating work anniversaries with something personal or a meal out with a Director.

Working conditions trump pay and reward:  Businesses with good working conditions are, in most circumstances, not only more successful in attracting talent but retaining it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this type of investment relates just to employees’ office space and who has the most modern technology - it doesn’t. It includes flexible working opportunities, opportunities for personal development, a grasp of what appeals to a multi-generational workforce and a strong sense of values and purpose.

Create a healthier work environment: You would be surprised how many employees consider health and wellness offerings as important at work. Research show that employees with high wellbeing are more attached to their organisations.

UK productivity and engagement figures remain low. Compared with other Western economies, the UK has not fared well with regard to employee engagement and productivity. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), during 2015 UK workforces were 31% less productive than those of the US and 17% less productive than the rest of the G7 countries. This is despite employees in the UK working similar hours to these regions.

Invest some time creating a healthier work environment to help boost productivity and think outside the typical fruit basket approach. Throw down a challenge like the mile a day challenge (who can collect the most 1+ miles run in 30 days). Challenges and contests are a great way to get people involved in wellness programs, especially if there’s an extra incentive for winning (like a gift card or prize).

Give time to volunteer during work hours: Today’s workers (especially Millennials) want to work for companies that benefit the greater good, so invest in ensuring your company has some sort of social tie. Even if your product doesn’t directly give back, there are ways you can help your employees feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves such as allowing them a few hours a month to volunteer for a project in the community.

Investing in employee’s social interests is a quick win which will cost you nothing and it’s also something you can shout about when recruiting.

Invest in team building activities:  Having friendships at work helps to boost employee satisfaction and while you obviously can’t force friendships in the workplace, there are ways you can foster it.

Team building events don’t have to cost the earth and are a worthwhile investment. Things like the spaghetti/marshmallow challenge or a company rounders competition are simple and cheap but effective. Events like this require people to work together to achieve a common goal (just like in your business).

Consider holding an annual offsite event which includes some office awards. Off sites give your team a chance to step away from the day-to-day work and build camaraderie. Plus, it gives employees something to look forward to each year.

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to investing in your talent.  Whilst some employees will want formal training and promotion prospects, others will see it differently.

In a previous blog, Richard Branson said that “business is all about people, people, people” – a view, no doubt that you will agree with. Having a belief that your organisation’s success depends on your people is the first step in effective talent management. As an SME, you may not have resources at your disposal to invest in detailed talent management strategies but this shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance, rather an opportunity to think more creatively.

Investing in your talent really is beneficial for you and your business and you’ll increase staff confidence in your organisation. If employees are positive about talent management practices of the organisation, they are more likely to believe the vision of the organisation. The result is a workforce that is engaged, committed and determined to do what is best for your company.

For more details on this or any other HR challenges you might have, drop us a line at or call 0203 627 7048.

For more reading on giving your own leadership style a bit of a kickstart , then download our new eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.

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Photo by Kris Krug

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