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How SMEs can improve their productivity

| Heidi Thompson | 28 November 2022

I’d advise SMEs to always remember that employees are your most valuable and expensive resource, their skills, knowledge and abilities being the key to your competitive advantage. This is why a clear people strategy is crucial for a business as a whole, including productivity.

Right now, companies are seeing that attracting, developing and retaining the right people as their top priority and their biggest challenge. These challenges are set to continue as companies compete for a limited number of employees with the skillsets they need.

Productivity depends on having enough qualified and experienced team resource. This is a major challenge for many businesses we work with and it can have a real impact on output and your ability to meet your goals for growth. The demand for staffing also has a more direct financial impact too because competition leads to rising labour costs.

We can’t all win the battle for the best talent; great people are in too high demand and there aren’t enough of them to go around, so while we have to ensure we’re in the best position possible to attract talent, I would put most focus on retaining the talent you already have. Upskilling and training is essential for this but you have to accept that the payback from this will take time as you equip your team to provide the service that you and your customers/clients need.

Often, companies feel that they have to focus on technical skill training, but soft skills are equally important, particularly for managers as it is people and culture that gives a company a competitive advantage. There are now five generations in today's workforce with differing needs and wants. It is, perhaps, easy to focus on their differences, however, we can harness the power of that diversity in culture, skills and knowledge by ensuring we listen to what our employees want, adapt communication styles, look to unite teams and find ways to help teams learn from each other. To this end, strong management and leadership is critical and focussing on culture, values and behaviours to ensure that competitive advantage .

Another critical step is to look at the rewards and benefits you offer. Economically, we are in an extremely difficult time and, more than ever, companies will need to be mindful of costs, so reward and benefits will be a focus for spending. Therefore, ensuring the benefits you can offer are competitive and meet the needs of your employees is critical. Are your benefits what your employees want, take time to understand their needs and be open and honest with what you can provide. There are low cost benefits such as flexible and hybrid working, additional leave that are very valuable for employees.

During the cost of living crisis you may not be able to provide pay increases to the level your employees might like, but enabling flexible working to help reduce commute times or travelling costs can still add real value. In addition, ensuring an authentic approach to wellbeing (mental health, physical and financial).

Finally, with talented employees being a valuable resource, you’ll need to maximise the productive capabilities of every member of your team, so you could look into technology and the way you manage your business. Consider automation and tech which can free up time, and ensure you are offering services and products that work within your constraints and that work for your business, avoiding anything which puts too much pressure on employees while offering little reward.

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