Australia’s SME’s Are More Stretched Than Ever Before: Here’s How to Get The People Support You Need, Without Blowing Your Budget

Australia’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often referred to as ‘the engines of our economy,’ generating on average, around 55 percent of all GDP. Over the past two years, however, we have seen businesses struggle brought about by pressures associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to larger businesses, SMEs have been hardest hit, particularly in sectors such as retail, hospitality, food and entertainment services. The flow-on effects continue to impact just about every industry imaginable, as staffing and supply chain issues continue to disrupt operations.

While many SMEs responded to the challenges with innovation and creativity, the pivot required simply to keep functioning has been draining. Many do not have the resources or budget to keep pushing the boundaries, however, as explained by Merran Brown from Reddin Group, there are steps that can be taken to find a competitive edge without blowing the budget.

“Having spent the last two years working closely with SMEs, it’s abundantly clear that people matter more than ever before”.

“SMEs often don’t have the resources or budget to employ the expertise they require to support their people. Outsourced HR services is one of the most effective ways SMEs can get access to the expertise and support they need. It’s the smart way of filling some critical gaps,” she said.

While some SMEs do have a HR function within their business — it’s often a junior still developing skills and a resource of this nature can only be stretched so far. Merran further believes that the pandemic has seen C-level executives stretched to the brink as they attempt to run a business, pivot in new directions, communicate to staff, and manage the expectations of the team.

“Many feel completely burnt out. Businesses are still facing huge challenges; they are having to manoeuvre their operations around emerging obstacles. Pandemic fallout and associated people issues are a huge cost to SMEs, so businesses really need to look at their operations and take a smarter approach,” Merran said.

The war for talent in the SME market

Anyone running an SME will tell you that the talent shortage in Australia is causing big problems for small businesses. There has even been talk of ‘wild money’ being offered to potential candidates in bigger business and some sectors in a bid to secure top talent.

“Recruiting the right people takes time and, in this market, it’s not easy. The market is shifting, and opportunities are plentiful. Smaller operators must be prepared to move quickly to secure the right talent. If this is not your strong suit, consider outsourcing to a partner with expertise in this area. It’s not something you can afford to get wrong,” she says.

“Its also true the first people to leave are often the most confident employees, the higher performers who will get another opportunity the market. They leave a big gap in a team and can spark a wave of people following suit. This leaves a team in a more vulnerable state than ever before,” Merran explains.

Remote workforces

While most pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted, 60 per cent of workers are yet to return to the office. Some have no plans to ever return to the office full time, with many companies choosing to entirely shift their operations to a hybrid working model.

“Some businesses have completely shifted the way their workers are engaged on jobs. For example, many are choosing to have employees on contracts or projects, working agile, and rarely setting foot into an office,” Merran says.This gives specialists the opportunity to work between companies and maximise remuneration when companies don’t need their services full time.

However, remote working and splitting the team while convenient for many, can make it difficult for teams’ cohesiveness.

“ Teams can become fragmented unless a concentrated effort is made to ensure connectivity and effectiveness of remote members. New starters can have trouble finding their feet and graduates can have issues connecting and learning from their senior colleagues. These are the types of issues that we must address if we want to keep working remotely in the longer term. A stretched HR function simply may not have the bandwidth to focus on ensuring their entire workforce is an effective workforce,” she comments.

Employee Activism

Merran believes that employees are now more active than ever before when it comes to voicing concerns especially around a company’s values and practices.

“If a business and their leaders are not ‘walking the talk’, employees get disenchanted. People want to connect more deeply with their employer. They want to believe in an organisation’s purpose and values. If an employer is not living up to their end of the bargain, you may find yourself with some real people challenges. This is not something that can be fixed overnight. It takes real time and energy — which is not always something an SME has an abundance of.” she says.

Strong leadership

“Leading an SME’s takes a special breed; these managers are often founders who start their commercial journeys quite instinctively. However, real leadership development takes expertise, coaching and guidance. An outsider’s perspective can help these leaders see a broader picture, clearing the way for bigger thinking, brighter ideas, and more innovative change. While it does take investment in the short-term, the long-term benefits are enormous.

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David Reddin

With 40+ years executive search, recruitment, HR, coaching & commercial experience David still loves the work & finding bold and audacious solutions.