After a bottle of red wine, I remember thinking “it’s time”. It’s time to create something which will help companies grow. Not typical HR. Growth-based HR. So I left my very well paid HR Director role, bought a Macbook and set up business in the spare room. I only knew oil and gas and that would be a good place to start.
Fast forward three years later (2014) and we have a team of 90 consultants working across 20 sectors.
As business owners will know there are highs and lows. Operating in a volatile oil and gas market we’ve experienced crazy growth and rapid decline. Having a business is a bit like a game. You tweak, you change it and you make it work. Fast forward to 2021, our 10th birthday and we are a strong, leaner one UK team. We’ve diversified beyond recognition. We’ve worked with over 800 clients and are the HR department for over 350 SMEs in the UK. We’ve supported many a start-up and scale-up and are trusted advisors to so many HR Directors, business leaders and owners. As an employee-owned business (since 2016) we know it is the quality of work our team does that makes us successful. No question about that whatsoever.
Many leaders cannot link culture to growth and bottom line profitability in pounds and pence. Once you can, you see culture, HR and people management in a different light. Yes, there is lots of bad HR out there. Lots of bad IT too. But when you really understand engagement and profit the combination is super powerful.
So my top 10 lessons from the past 10 years.
- Be clear about your purpose
This took time. We knew we wanted to bring commercial HR alive. It was with the help of David Reid at Because Brands Matter that we understood our purpose was “we help clients grow and focus on increasing their bottom line profitability.”
This purpose will steer us through good times and bad. Our clients need us in every business cycle and probably more in downturn.
- As HR people we must talk the businesses language
Understand how to grow the business and how the business makes profit. Stop talking about making it a lovely place to work and doing what we think in HR is important. Understand where the business is going and prepare yourself to drive the team towards that. Being HR trained, we learn our own language which, let’s be honest, disengages people. We are here to help businesses grow or deliver – whatever is set out as the end goal.
- Empower your people
I get major enjoyment from helping to step people up and in turn progress in their careers. Even if the time comes for them to move on to maximise their career opportunities – it’s great to see them fly. High-flyers don’t need spoon fed they need trust and support. Every day work to develop your people and work towards a place where there are knocking on the door to do your job – now that is leadership!
- Live by your values
This may sound a bit HR’y to many. As we can calculate the drain from the bottom line in terms of “the cost of disengagement” – there is a direct financial link between values and profitability. Live by your values because it is the right thing to do. If you can’t understand the link – your people need to know what you stand for, otherwise they assume only profit and they switch off. Let them know you care about them in terms of their wellbeing, their workload and their development. Be genuine or they will see through it.
- Have a plan
Business growth, great cultures etc. – all of these things need planning. Take it out of your head, put it on paper and talk about it A LOT. A few managers cannot succeed alone so we need everyone helping to deliver. If the market changes you change. Stop selling what you have and ask people what they want and need. Don’t be afraid to change direction and strategy.
- Business owners – use the experts for the task
For a long time we struggled with IT, we struggled with financials – give up the need to have to control everything, as when we are focused on that we really are not focused on what we should be – i.e. our clients, our people and our growth.
- Be kind to yourself
This resonates in the corporate world and the owner manager world. I know this as I have burned myself out in both and you get no award for that. Empower others, say no, prioritise, ask for resource, ask for budget or agree what can be delivered. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.
- Understand your fear
We all operate with fear – typically from our childhoods. Mine personally was failure and returning to a life that I didn’t want to go back to – having worked so hard. Most fears are irrational. If we recognise our fears, which can translate into poor behaviours towards other and ourselves, we can see the triggers and prevent fear taking over.
- Look after your people
Too many companies out there flying the ‘best place to work’ slogans, big award winners who milk their people for everything they have. Causing the burn out of an employee or letting them do this to themselves in pretty terrible leadership regardless of their seniority. Be kind, be reasonable and check in.
- Don’t focus on this month
This is a key one for SMEs. Your income will go up and down and a bad month should not kill your dreams. Assess performance over time, against last year and if anything after the past few years. Realise that there is very little you can do about external market forces so it is all about how you face into that and move forward.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Just want to say thank you so much for the loyalty, commitment and support, on behalf of our amazing team we have received from our clients, suppliers and network. It’s been a really interesting 10 years and thank you for being part of it.