Expert business bloggers share 50 tips for SMEs – Part 2: people management and recruitment

Hiring the right people is essential. Our favourite business bloggers are on hand with advice on those all-important team additions.

23 January 2017

People Management

  1. Giving employees opportunities to learn doesn’t need to cost the earth. Development opportunities can be found in giving them work that challenges them to use less-developed skills. Encourage them to collaborate with their colleagues and find opportunities for them to work with more experienced people who will stretch their horizons and help them to grow. Why not instigate a mentoring scheme to facilitate knowledge sharing and skills growth?

– Jan Sargent, HR leadership and teams specialist, and director of two consultancies (read more HR tips for growing businesses)

  1. Incentivise staff. When it comes to staff wages, small companies typically struggle to compete with large corporations, so it is important that SMEs seek other ways of encouraging the best candidates. Research shows that beyond high salaries, job seekers prioritise roles that offer flexible work hours (37%), meaningful work (35%) and a pleasant work environment (32%).

– Cathy Richardson, recruiter, coach and business consultant with over 25 years' experience in the UK and Europe (Cathy Rich)

  1. If you have many years of project work ahead, consider forming a project management team – on a permanent basis – and include a Project Office to enable sound governance and controls. For one-off projects, tap into the active freelance market to find people with very specific skills to suit particular projects.

people management tips smes

– Lindsay Scott, director of project management recruitment consultancy, Arras People, and co-editor of the Handbook of People in Project Management (Arras People)

  1. Make sure people understand what is expected of them. Sounds simple? Perhaps, but this is often the root cause of many performance issues – a disconnect between what the employee thinks and what the manager expects. This is where effective, regular conversations make a real difference. It’s not about a once-a-year meeting! 
  1. Train your managers in how to have effective people conversations. Whether it is giving meaningful feedback, encouraging employees to think about their development or dealing with performance problems, these aren’t always easy conversations to have. Don’t assume that even experienced managers know what to do or don’t need any support. Invest in some coaching training.
  1. Avoid lengthy processes and forms. If the process becomes too complicated or the form too long, the conversation suffers. It is important to document the discussion, but keep it simple. You need to cover just three areas: current and recent performance, development needs, what is expected in the future. Avoid ratings systems – they don’t encourage meaningful dialogue.  
  1. Don’t let performance issues linger – they rarely go away on their own. They should not be left until the next formal review period – they should be promptly addressed with tangible examples and a very clear explanation about what needs to change in the future. Don’t be afraid to take professional HR advice when you need to!

– Tim Scott, HR professional and consultancy director with 20 years' experience (Tim Scott HR)


  1. Take care when recruiting staff - after all, employees are a huge investment of the business’ time and money. A haphazard approach, which leads to getting the wrong person into the business, can cause a lot of damage and stress, and may take considerable time to recover from. How you treat people – both positive and negative – sends messages to both those within and outside your business.

– Jan Sargent, HR leadership and teams specialist, and director of two consultancies (read more HR tips for growing businesses)

  1. When recruiting, ensure your job advertisement and job specification clearly show what types of projects need management (IT, business change, logistics, engineering etc.), as the most effective business project managers tend to specialise in certain types of projects.
  1. Opt for real world experience over training and accreditations. Look for proven experience over a number of years based on the complexity of your own projects. Also be aware that certain accreditations will carry more weight than others.
  1. People or behavioural skills are what make managers successful. Consider interview questions that test this part of your candidates' experience the most. Think about the people they’re going to be interacting with on a daily basis and the team they will be managing. The more you understand your own work culture, the more likely you are to ask the right questions in an interview that test their cultural fit.

recruitment tips smes

– Lindsay Scott, director of project management recruitment consultancy Arras People and co-editor of the Handbook of People in Project Management (Arras People)

  1. Taking on a new employee can be daunting for the smallest companies, but if you are already working at full tilt, it may appear as the only way to boost your revenues – other than putting your prices up. But getting it wrong can be very costly indeed! Once the workload is out of the way, it may mean that the new employee becomes redundant without any work to do. So make 100% sure that it is the right time to hire before taking on a full-time person.
  1. Get clarity on what you really want. Often, SMEs make the mistake of hiring what they think they want, not what they actually need in terms of skillset, experience and personality. I always suggest writing a clear description of the job based on the daily duties. Keeping this in mind will define the characteristics of the person you should hire. And stick to the brief when the interviewing process starts. This will ensure that you recruit the right person for the job, rather than someone you like.
  1. Instead of only considering experienced people for your job vacancies, considering a trainee or apprentice may give you a good result, especially with the amount of support available for this kind of recruitment.
  1. Take a multi-channel approach to hiring. More than half of job searches are done via a mobile device and this figure is expected to continue to grow. However, a mere 9% of SMEs currently optimise mobile for recruitment – with many UK SMEs still relying on newspapers and personal contacts as their main means of hiring. Jobseekers want the flexibility of searching for jobs on the go – so accommodate this in order to get the deepest possible candidate pool.

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  1. Keep the process clean – always ensure that all the candidates you consider are legally entitled to work in the UK. Make sure that your job ads are not discriminatory, and that the recruitment process is free of prejudice. Treat all interviewees in the same way, and make sure that the selection criteria is published together with the job description. Keep records of the process, so that should there be a problem later, you will have evidence of the process you followed.

– Cathy Richardson, recruiter, coach and business consultant with over 25 years' experience in the UK and Europe (Cathy Rich)

  1. Recruit big hitters carefully: I regularly see growing SMEs stumbling into the same recruitment pitfalls. Especially the recruitment of ‘big hitters’ from larger businesses who appear to be the finished article but are unable to adjust to the porous job boundaries of SMEs. By all means look for people who have big company expertise BUT don’t be their first risky foray into the SME world. Not all transplants take!

– Russell Watkins, management consultant specialising in lean business transformation and author of Operational issues hindering your business growth whitepaper (Sempai )

 To continue exploring the 50 business blogger tips for SMEs, click below:

Part 1: Sales and marketing & finance

Part 3: Business growth, leadership & networking

Part 4: Social media & technology

 Alternatively, to find out about our business energy solutions for SMEs, visit the homepage or call us on 0161 837 3395

 The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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