Be one of them!
As a HR Head, you need to be a thinker and a strategist, with your feet on the ground and your mind reaching for the sky. Your effectiveness as a HR Head, however, will depend upon your ability to identify and understand the ground realities of your business.
If you were asked, as the HR Head of a SME, to identify the one ground reality, the single issue by which your company may grow or fall, you will probably pick staff retention as that issue.
Since a SME is not typically a big brand, employees tend to jump ship into a branded organization at the very first instance. So how can you handle this ground reality?
The answer is : By being ONE of THEM. History has proved over and over again that the most effective leaders were those who intermingled well with their teams.
HR Heads can broadly be classified into two types. One, who creates a culture where other seniors leas by remote control. S/he is confined mostly to his/her room including conducting meetings there, and generally prefers to interact only with his/her direct subordinates. The other type of HR Heads advocate to the other seniors to move out of their office and interact with people across the organization at all levels.
Each approach has its pros and cons and as HR Head you would know which approach works best for your company.
However, I would suggest that if you are heading the HR at a SME, it would be worth your while to follow the latter approach.
Think of yourself as one of THE teaM - in short, one of THEM. So mingle with them. Don't always call them to your room; instead, go and meet people at their work stations. Pat them on the back. Speak their language, and that need not necessarily mean English. Mix with them at lunch and tea sessions. Take a walk after lunch - it's healthy too! Eat in the same hall as they do. Get your own coffee from the same machine as they do. The list can go on and on.
The most practical method to convey to your team that you are ONE OF THEM is to be with them where it matters the most. And what matters most to employees is guidance that helps them succeed at their jobs. Obviously, you can only demonstrate that you are part of the team if you are with them on the job itself.
We had a sales force with some juniors who had been trained by a company identified by the earlier HR Head on how to sell, make a presentation, negotiate and so on, but had never received any guidance after their initial training. The then HR Head believed in a hands-off policy, where he thought that his responsibility ended by just organizing the training programme.
When I took on the responsibility of heading HR in this organization, as part of my effort to get to know the entire team, I met the sales team and spent some time understanding what they had done in the past one year. These interactions made me realize that they had not been mentored, were disgruntled with their work, and were getting discouraged with their jobs. I conducted several intensive discussions with them, sharing some ideas on what could have been done differently. This was the first step towards building a rapport with them and being one of THEM.
The next step, which was a revolutionary one in their eyes, was actually to tell their Sales Head to go out into the field with them, meet clients, and give them real - time feedback on what they did right, and what they could improve upon at each sales call. In some cases, I requested the Sales Head to make the sales pitch so that the sales person accompanying him could see how to pitch in the live environment. The immediate result of these efforts was to significantly improve their performance, but the longer lasting result was that they wanted to stay on in the company and do more - all because they had built a relationship with the seniors as we had worked together.
Essentially, they saw me and the other seniors as ONE of THEM. Being ONE of THEM has two advantages : firstly, as your brain becomes more attuned to your employees, the chemistry triggers off ideas to motivate, develop and retain your team. Secondly, the more YOU are one of THEM, the faster the warmth of the seniors spreads across the company, making employees feel secure and respected. The employee feels 'I am not alone individual, but part of something bigger.'
But do remember that Being ONE of THEM requires sustained effort, and it may be a while before you get the full flavor of success. Also, you must protect against being taken for granted by people of your organization. They must still respect your authority and what you stand for.
So, BEING one of THEM makes the employees feel connected to the organization and want to stay on. Also, they are motivated to give of their best, maximizing productivity and performance.