The ways of developing talent in SMEs

An entrepreneur asks: I am a small company and started operations a few months back. How do I develop talent in my company?

MentorSquare response: The universal issue most start-ups are faced with, are that they have limited resources to send employees for training. Because they are usually a small team, there is a heavy work overload, and insufficient time. As a result, career development is put on the back burner. In addition to this, managers are too busy fighting fires and their focus is very tactical and on getting the job done.

Seasoned entrepreneurs who have been in the industry for decades feel, in start-ups especially, career development  in terms of acquiring new skills through training etc is not the focus. A majority of the learning happens on the job.  Resources are a big constrain in a start-up, so  it is quite logical to  spend money on product development and market discovery, and hire talent which is ready to produce. In addition, managers need to be observant of the people on the job and recognise their innate talents, skills and areas for personal growth in their employees. Understanding their personalities, interests, attitudes and values would also help managers to mentor their people and create opportunities to further their employee’s growth.

Training by itself results in poor ROI since most people go for training and enjoy a few days off and when they come back they most likely don’t apply what they have been taught. This is why it is in the personal interest of managers to take personal responsibility (and not leave it to HR alone) for their employee’s career development.

Mentoring is a key enabler for career development followed up by application of skills on the job. On the plus side, most employees in start-ups, get thrown into types of responsibility, authority and accountability that they could only dream of getting in a larger corporate structure. Hence, it usually is incumbent on employees and the founders to quickly hone up on the missing skills from a technology and industry perspective. The team an entrepreneur picks is very important in shaping the future success of his venture. While it is important that the founders of a start-up have the entrepreneurial instincts, it is important to nurture the entrepreneurial instincts in the early set of members of the team as well.  An employee comes with the instincts - a start-up is the perfect place to take it and hone it better.

Dealing with such challenges requires the founders and top management in creating a culture where a manager’s performance, compensation and rewards & recognition are tied to also developing their employees. What is the best way of achieving this ? Having a six month or annual focal point review of all employees could be a way to focus on this important aspect of career development. As part of this review, soliciting the informal and formal  feedback from other stakeholders on developmental areas, strengths etc could tie in nicely and be helpful. Employee behaviours, attitudes, values, interests in addition to skills should be solicited because ultimately managers need to be grooming their people for higher levels of leadership and responsibilities. Behaviour, attitude and values are integrally tied into a company’s culture and employees also shape that culture.

(To share your views or to send questions on businesses, mail to: Your questions will be answered by seasoned Mentors from MentorSquare.)

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