A UKCES study found that only a quarter of small- to-medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are in the top tiers of development. What are these successful few companies doing right?
A recent CIPD article summarised the findings of “Growth Through People,” a study conducted by the UK Commission for Employment Skills. The UKCES interviewed 90,000 SMEs (those with staffs ranging between five and 99 people) and used the results to organise the employers into seven groups based on the commission’s five proposed elements of “high performance working.”
The Seven Groups
To be deemed “high performing,” an employer’s staff needed to exhibit excellent planning, organisation, skills, rewards, and autonomy. In order of highest to lowest level of performance, the UKCES labelled SME employees as either organisers, developers, recruiters, trainers, free-riders, plodders, or survivors.
They found that 24% of businesses interviewed were “organisers” and “developers,” the top two tiers of high performance working. Unfortunately, the vast majority of employers found themselves somewhere closer to the bottom.
Organisers and Developers
According to the UKCES, “organisers” have incredible standards for planning and organisation when it comes to training and rewarding their employees. “Developers” are better than average at planning and allow their employees enough autonomy to add their own value to the workplace.
Free-Riders and Plodders
The staff of the other 76% of businesses, which employ nine million of the workers interviewed for the study, were placed on one of the five lower tiers of the performance hierarchy.
“Free-riders” are described as leaving little room for autonomy and often maintaining larger staffs, and the UKCES estimates that, incredibly, nearly three million people work for “free-rider” companies. The 8% of organisations labelled “plodders” were said to underperform in all five of the areas essential to a high performance workforce.
Summarising their findings, the commission stated that the “plodders” were typically found in wholesale and retail, the “organisers” in public affairs and utilities, and the “developers” in finance and real estate. But there’s no reason why any business – in any industry – shouldn’t be able to use the insights gained from this study to maximise its performance.
Maximising the Talent Your SME Employs
By focussing on the UKCES’ five elements of a high performing workforce, a business can maximise its talent and develop the skills of its employees.
To accomplish as much, the commission recommended employing a bonus scheme, increasing the variety of tasks assigned to each worker, maintaining flexibility about job roles and assignments, identifying the kinds and degrees of talent in your workforce, and holding annual performance reviews.
By better assessing the talent within your workforce, you can assign tasks to the best people for the job, both increasing the quality of each finished assignment and creating an environment in which your employees can progress and thrive. UKCES deputy director Lesley Giles emphasised that identifying, acknowledging, and nurturing your staff’s skills will inevitably increase your overall productivity.
John Walding, a spokesperson for the Forum of Private Business, reinforced this idea in arguing that “high performance workplaces where employers train their staff so that they become internal experts and then use that expertise will perform better than other firms.”
This is especially valuable advice for SMEs, since these employers often know every member of their workforce by name and can personally recognise and improve upon the skills and talent of their team. Whether or not the majority of small businesses heed this advice remains to be seen, but those that do won’t soon be calling their company “small.”