It has always been widely accepted that small businesses are nimbler and more entrepreneurial than their big business counterparts. Indeed, much of the competitive advantage for SMEs come from the fact that, with smaller headcounts and less bureaucracy, they can get work done in less time. But being nimble also means that employees, as ‘generalists’ rather than ‘specialists,’ often have to juggle multiple roles within the business, and that can slow them down and may impact quality.
It is against that background that human capital solutions provider ADP recently carried out a round of research into how employees will be expected to upskill in the future. It found that 90% of larger companies in Asia Pacific will probably or definitely require people to learn new skills rapidly to adapt with constantly shifting roles.
In addition, the research demonstrated that 93% of large companies will either probably or definitely allow people to use technology to learn anything, anytime, anywhere. This suggests larger companies with greater resources are likely to invest in helping ‘specialist’ employees access people, tools, and information they need to get more work done in less time.
Competitive advantage: wrestle it back
For SMEs, then, the message appears clear. One of your main competitive advantages has been exposed, and your larger peers may catch up to you. With that in mind, what can you do to wrestle it back before it starts to affect your bottom line?
The solution for SMEs may be counter-intuitive. Small business employees may have a naturally wide skill set necessitated by working in a small team, but more often than not that skill set is static and predictable (think invoicing, report drafting and client communications) and sometimes a wide range of responsibilities can lead employees to feeling overwhelmed. But what if a manager could afford them the time to learn other skills by taking away some of the more mundane tasks?
Big businesses upskill workers through dedicated HR teams that organise training days and seminars but SMEs can get in on the act too by making full use of the many publically available digital platforms and resources available to grow your employees skills and reassigning tasks that they don’t necessarily need to do.
For example, if a manager takes admin heavy tasks such as compliance, payroll and time sheet management off an employee’s hands, that time can be usefully reassigned to learning a new skill or deepening an existing customer relationship.
However, if finding a time in the work-day that is suitable for all employees in a busy small business proves difficult, a webinar series or internet short course that can be engaged with at any time could prove a more suitable option.
ADP’s research shows that the notion of using technology to learn new skills wherever and whenever possible is welcomed by 74 % of Australian workers, who believe this is a trend already taking place today. This seems to suggest that workers of today are open to learning new skills, so take the leap and put some options out there to your teams.
Analyse how your employees are spending their time
Best of all, a small head count allows SME operators to consult all of their employees on what they feel would be most valuable – an option not available to most larger corporations.
It can be difficult to find time to invest in these tasks in any small business as there is always so much to do. But a neutral analysis of how your employees are spending their time, and whether this time could more usefully be deployed elsewhere, is always a useful thing to do. You may just find that, with small adjustments to who does what, and some shrewd outsourcing, small business can keep ahead of the pack by investing in skills of their people today which will be vital to your business tomorrow.
About the author
Susan Heron is the Managing Director of ADP Australia and New Zealand.
 Defined as a business of less than 250 employees