Hiring tips for SMEs


By Catherine Wijnberg, Fetola

The success of Small businesses is far more dependent on the performance of key staff than in larger organisations, yet small businesses often struggle with effective human resource management, especially when it comes to recruitment of new staff.

The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, in many cases the financial cost of hiring a qualified human resource manager is simply not justified in a small team. Secondly, as most SMEs start with a tiny team and grow organically, the first employees are likely to be family or a close-knit, cohesive team of like-minded people who ‘manage themselves.’

It is only as the business grows and needs to expand the work-force that staff issues become a challenge, and attention is placed in this area. Sound familiar? Here are some simple, practical tips for success that will help:

1. A is for Attitude. Skills are important, but the real driver of results is attitude, so carefully probe and test the person’s attitude to work, to life and to daily challenges. You can do a lot with a person who has a ‘can do attitude’ even if they lack certain skills, but very little with someone that has good skills but is lazy or obstructive.
2. Small business owner/ managers are notorious for being micro-managers, reluctant to release staff to take full responsibility for their work. If this is true in your company, think twice about hiring expensive, ambitious team members who will be frustrated at their inability to really progress, and whose true value will be curtailed through micro-management.
3. Match to company Culture. Experienced recruiters know that a key factor in successful corporate placement is a match of temperament or working style with company culture; in an SME this is even more important. Look for someone who will ‘fit in’ to the workforce and the workplace – for example, if you have a fun-loving, joke-filled and relaxed office culture and team, avoid hiring someone who is uptight, serious and easily offended!
4. Interview on site and more than once. I view recruitment as ‘match-making’ – and would much rather know the true colours of a new staff member in the dating phase than making an alarming discovery after the wedding! For this reason multiple interviews, and by more than one staff member, are a good idea.
5. Have the Labour Law bulldogs go through your staff systems and processes. This means ensuring all the paperwork is in place for contracts and job descriptions, and you have simple but effective processes for induction, performance management and dispute resolution etc.
6. Check the details. The devil is in the details and never more so than in staff recruitment, so make sure that you check references properly. I recently came across a self-confessed murderer who was seeking work with a completely false (and very appealing) CV that gave a glowing account of his work experience as a chef and personal assistant, when in fact he had spent this time behind bars!!
7. Can they do the job? The work environment in an SME often requires people to think fast, act rapidly and work smart. Finding people with these skills at an affordable cost can be really tricky so before you hire, carefully ascertain if the level of work competence the person claims to have, is backed by performance.
8. Test their Skills. I am constantly surprised at the poor applied skills of young South Africans – even University Graduates seem to lack basic computer skills. If this is important in the job why not set them a test, or find one they can do on-line to measure their level of competency.
9. Try before you buy. Our labour laws are very much in favour of the employee, so make the most of all the options to ensure you really have the right person before you hire. Internship is a great way to try out young blood – a 6-month internship (for example through the GAP programme www.gogap.co.za) provides an excellent opportunity to identify skills or try new things in the business before you make a long-term hiring commitment.

The enjoyment and success of running a small business is directly proportional to the quality and cohesion of your team of staff. Whilst few if any business owners are HR specialists, focussing some attention on this area is important if you want to succeed in the long term.