The continued rise of the SME: A very real alternative

The year has started positively in terms of the number of new vacancies on the market as confidence within the economy continues to grow. The re-emergence of investment in new positions within L&D, Talent and Resourcing has been particularly pleasing.

With that said, whilst employers have still approached the HR market with a degree of caution, the demand for stand-alone HR Managers or HR Managers within start-up organisations has continued to be strong. Smaller businesses (many in the technology space) are approaching the market with people and culture at the top of the agenda.

As headcount has continued to grow within these businesses more CEOs and MDs are beginning to see the benefits of bringing HR to the fore. For growing businesses the benefit of HR as a cost-saving (through efficiency improvement) and risk reduction tool (ensuring the retention of key talent and HR legal compliance) has encouraged many senior stakeholders to give a great deal of autonomy to their new HR professionals to implement what they see fit in the business. So with the demand for these positions so high, why are some HR professionals afraid to stand-alone and step up to this level of autonomy and leadership?

Whilst many HR professionals will have their own justifiable reasons to avoid such positions, many of these concerns stem from a perceived lack of progression opportunities and lower compensation levels. Here are the reasons:

Progression - With only a non-HR business leader above them and rarely a team below (especially in early stages of the business) some HR professionals are put off by the apparent lack of clear and obvious progression within the business combined with the lack of a mentor or HR peers to collaborate with.

Salaries – Some HR professionals do express concerns over the salary and benefits packages in smaller organisations versus their blue-chip counterparts. At mid-management level blue-chip companies do traditionally out-do their smaller counterpart in terms of benefits, including bonuses and the longer term incentives on offer. However to caveat this, other benefits such as flexible working and discounts can often be better.

Complexity – For some HR Professionals the attraction of a blue-chip type organisation comes with the complexity and depth of the company. This is something not so obtainable from smaller headcount businesses.

So with these concerns keeping some HR professionals from dipping their toes in the water, why are small businesses so attractive to other HR professionals? There are four key reasons;

Accountability - Joining a business for a sustained period of growth often offers the opportunity to implement a wide range of new policies and processes. The freedom and lack of bureaucracy in doing so with the support of senior management is also key.

Development – What better opportunity than reporting to the CFO and/or CEO to sharpen the commercial edge of any HR professional and fully understand the language of business. Personal impact also excitingly becomes easier to measure and evaluate.

Building a team around you/Growing with the business – The growth of these companies does not tend to stop with the appointment of their first HR professional and the opportunity to grow a team often follows. If HR can demonstrate true value for the business the opportunity to grow the function will inevitably come.

Adaptability - A combination of blue-chip and SME experience shows a strong adaptability to new environments, change and the ability to deal with ambiguity.

With new businesses popping up daily and the technology bubble showing little sign of bursting, there is no doubt that these positions are here to stay and SMEs continue to grow at a rate of knots. For those who dare to take the leap there are many more opportunities for HR professionals to develop themselves and their careers in these environments to become HR top talent for the future.