How fashionable is HR?

Roksanda Ilincic
Roksanda Ilincic

Monday I was delighted to be invited to the Roksanda SS16 show. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited before and it is such a privilege. Well once you have got past the what should I wear question (neutral and black). I can’t image there were many other HR professionals in the audience and it made me reflect on how the skills of HR are so important in every type of fast growing business.

Amelore have been working with Roksanda and her business for a few years now and seen it change in that time growing from strength to strength.

The key thing for every ambitious business is to ensure that everything you are introducing, including the people you hire, is scalable and relevant for your business. If it works for you now be mindful that you may be quickly outgrow it. Don’t be afraid to be different or bold. Remember that behavior was what got you to where you are now.

In the time we have been working with fast growing businesses we have come up with these key areas to focus on.

  1. Never stop recruiting – if you are a founder you will learn about what skills and roles you need in your business by meeting candidates. You will also unearth critical talent that could be goal changing for your company. It’s OK to completely redesign your structure to accommodate someone amazing. Trust me on that one. Recruitment is not an area to delegate or get glib about. Personally sign off every hire until you get to 3 tiers.
  1. Constantly review your structure – (see above). For a while, depending on the nature and projected growth of your business, you will have everyone reporting to you. This will enable you to keep a birds eye view on everything and then suddenly you won’t need to – you will hire a COO or a CEO to run the operational side and focus on critical growing areas – like Product development, sales, marketing, finance, brand and people. Don’t lose sight of your people even if they don’t all report to you. Stay connected. Stay informed.
  1. Reward and retention is key – As you grow constantly think about your team and how to keep them with you. This might be a share of the profits or a Christmas bonus or a guaranteed sabbatical or something they tell you they really really want. Listen and stay open minded.
  1. Don’t introduce things just because you are told to. Investors or advisors don’t always know what is best for your business. Avoid making your growing organisation too corporate or clunky. Keep it agile and fleet of foot. Processes like appraisals (which many large companies are taking out) may be wrong for you – take advice and consider alternatives. Pare your HR practices down to critical tools only.
  1. Take time out to learn new things yourself – Creating space for yourself to think and be creative and reflective, be it facilitated by a coach or alone, is really key. Arranging development is all part of you investing in your most valuable asset. You. In the second book by Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish of notonthehighstreet.com called “Shape up your business” I write about coaching yourself. Both books are a good read (the first one is called ‘Build Your Business From Your Kitchen Table’).
  1. Take care of your alumini. This is something Roksanda is very very good at. She stays in touch with people and is genuinely interested in how they are doing. Her interest in people and abilty to read and understand them is significant, I am sure, to her great success as a fashion designer. She understands and cares about people and because of that can design things that make them feel amazing.

So getting the right HR advice in your business is important whether its fashionable or not. Do it and stay ahead of the competition.

Sickness absence – what do your team mates think?


It’s almost the end of the season here in France. Talking to colleagues the other evening we all commented how fit and healthy we were feeling, despite having a busy few months. Looking at our team as a whole, it was interesting to see how healthy we really have been over the last 4 ½ months.

Now to put this into perspective, we are a team of 11 people, 45% of whom are aged over 40 years, with the two oldest people being in their mid 50s. Gender wise we split 45% male and 55% female. Typically if we were like the average UK workforce as a team we would have lost somewhere around 15 to 30 days through sickness absence over the season, depending what industry sector you choose to benchmark us against. Would you be surprised to hear that between all 11 of us, we have only lost 2 ½ days due to sickness absence?

Some of you will know doubt point out that there is bound to be some seasonal variation to consider, as after all we are in sunny France. That could be true but then the first two weeks of the season were cold and wet, but none of us took time off with colds / flu / respiratory infections.

So what do we put our low sickness rate down to? Having discussed it with colleagues, their views were:

• We are getting plenty of exercise, vitamin D and fresh air, so are generally keeping healthier than back in the UK.
• If someone is ill the rest of the team have to pick up the work. It makes you think twice before deciding that you are too sick to work that day.
• The work still needs doing, so a day’s sick today means extra work tomorrow – perhaps it’s not worth it?
• We only get statutory sick pay, so it’s not worth being sick – we might as well soldier on and do a bit of work rather than none at all.

Certainly a case in point is how others in the team respond to their colleagues being ill. Early in the season, one of the younger team members, L, took a day off with a terrible hangover. L didn’t tell his manager he was off work due to a hangover but everyone in the team knew the reason why. Without prompting various colleagues let L know how disappointed they were with him and how they weren’t prepared to pick up his work again if he made a habit of this. A rather shame faced L came back to work the next day and has not taken a day off sick since (despite a few other heavy drinking nights).

Perhaps something to think about the next time you identify that your sickness rates are higher than you would like them to be. Maybe your team can help, rather than it being a management issue?

Sophie Cornish to speak at Amelore Charity Event

Online retail entrepreneur and best-selling author Sophie Cornish will speak at an exclusive business event in aid of Maggie’s Centres.

The event – being held in Cheltenham on 3 November – is part of a fundraising drive by Ruth Cornish, owner of Amelore HR, to raise money for Maggie’s after they supported her during her treatment for cancer in 2011/12.

Businesses across Gloucestershire are being invited to attend the event, which will see Sophie, a founder of notonthehighstreet.com, sharing her tips and insights into building a growth business. She’ll be joined on stage by Ruth Cornish, whose expertise includes supporting ambitious companies during rapid periods of growth.

Hosted by BBC Points West’s Steve Knibbs, the night will also include a question and answer session, a grand raffle and a live auction. The auction will include the chance to bid for a business review with Sophie Cornish and lunch with City Superwoman Nicola Horlick.

All money raised on the night will go to support Maggie’s Centres.

Ruth Cornish, MD of Amelore said: “I am delighted that Sophie Cornish is giving up her time to share her insight and advice with the business community here in Gloucestershire. This promises to be a lively night, with lots of opportunity for questions and discussion and the chance to bid for a personal session with Sophie. I have committed to raising £5,000 for Maggie’s this year so I hope people will support this event.”

Jane Fide, Centre Head at Maggie’s Cheltenham said: ““We are very grateful for Sophie Cornish giving up her time for what will be a very interesting evening.  For those that don’t know, Sophie began her very successful business from her kitchen table and anyone who has visited Maggie’s knows the kitchen table is the heart in all Maggie’s Centres”

Sophie Cornish MBE founded notonthehighstreet.com in 2006 with her business partner Holly Tucker. From its initial network of 95 of Britain’s most creative small businesses, the company now works with 5,000 small business partners selling over 100,000 products. They have secured five rounds of Venture Capital funding and have published two best-selling books, Build A Business From Your Kitchen Table (2012) and Shape Up Your Business (2014).

Ruth Cornish is Managing Director of Amelore, a Gloucestershire based company providing integrated HR to fast growing businesses, as well as coaching and career strategy to senior, high-profile individuals. She has been a regular columnist for Moneywise magazine and is the HR expert in ‘Shape up your business’ the latest book by notonthehighstreet.com

‘Building a Growth Business – An evening with Sophie Cornish’ takes place on Tuesday 3 November 2015 from 6.30pm until 8.00pm. Tickets are available on Eventbrite or from www.amelore.com at £15 per ticket or £110 per table of 8.

On the night we will also draw the winners of the Amelore Charitable Society’s Grand Autumn Raffle.

The future of work – HR implications

Last week it was a pleasure to speak at an event organised by YunoJuno (a freelance resourcing company) about the future of work and HR implications.

It’s a hugely exciting topic and the audience which was predominantly start ups and fast growth businesses were great.

Here are some of the key messages from the night together with a few things I didn’t get time to say.

Conventional HR doesn’t work for dynamic tech companies.

Amelore worked with notonthehighstreet.com in the early days when it was just an amazing idea and later when it was an amazing profitable company and later still as it became a household name. People were a huge issue. Who to hire and occasionally who to fire. What structure, what skill sets were needed as the product range and services grew. When they moved over the rubyonrails that had significant implications for recruitment and how you managed tech folk along side everyone else (answer – you don’t manage them you guide them).

HR had a huge role to play in supporting the founders grow and develop with their business. Everything happened very fast and working in a pacey agile way was key. And always saying yes we can do that.

Workforce is changing, people are working in different ways and value work-life balance. More working longer.

We know that people entering the workforce or at different stages of their careers, want more choice about what they do and when. The removal of statutory retirement means some individuals are thinking actively about careers that they can continue with into their 60’s and beyond. Consultancy and coaching are good examples.

Flexible working is no longer just an option for those with caring responsibilities. More and more people are going freelance.

Technology being used more and more (though not in HR)

Technology is here to stay and is everywhere you look. But most HR departments will focus any effort and budget on HR databases that require lots of feeding. Much documentation is still hard copy and not automated. Identifying and investing in the right systems is important.

Organisations are increasingly using flexible labour

Freelancers are increasingly being used by companies that want to hire specialist skills for a period of time or for a particular project. Peopleperhour estimate that by 2020 upto 50/% of the workforce could be freelance.

Many organisations are paring down or closing their HR departments to use skilled innovative external support when they need it. Many HR professionals traditionally just focus on employees, employment legislation and contractual terms whereas they should be creating an environment and culture that means that is easy for everyone to settle in.

The 5 key things ALL workers need are similar to anyone playing a game.

  1. clear goals
  2. obvious rules
  3. room to manoeuvre
  4. information transparency
  5. real-time feedbackCompany structures are getting flatter

Start ups and growing business tend to have a team with a leader or a few partners and then a workforce. Introducing conventional HR tools like appraisals can create a burden for the 1 or 2 people leading having to appraise everyone.

Our education system is not producing the skills employers need or giving good careers advice

Employers are delighted about the IT skills of those entering the workforce but less so the appitude and attitude of some employees who lack initative. Whilst careers advice can be quite progressive at university level it is severely lacking much earlier on (aged 13/14 yrs) when young people are making important choices and almost exclusively led by educators and not employers.

 Implications for the HR profession

As the world of work changes so must HR.

A venture capitalist shared recently that when she invested in a company, she always advised the CEO that they must spend about 90% of their focus in the first year on people issues. But she said she would never advise them to hire an HR Director because rather than giving them competitive advantage by helping them make quick decisions, she feared they would slow everything down and cripple the business with policies and processes and rules and regulations.

Reward

In a flat structure with a mixture of employees and freelancers, how do you ensure your reward strategy retains all your valuable workers? What else will you offer and will this be available to everyone that works for you or just those with employment contracts? Many companies are still talking about employee engagement which immediately excludes your flexible workforce.

Career progression

In a high tech or fast growing environment flatter structures mean less space for promotion. Even though their remuneration and skill set are progressing, individuals still aspire to that traditional recognition that they are valued. Important to address this with some new and creative thinking unique to your business.

Mindfulness

As we work longer, produce more, expect more – we can burn out. Creating space in your organisation for all your workers to think, to grow, to develop, to innovate and be creative is hugely important for your competitive advantage.

Recruiting & developing the workforce of tomorrow

Careers advice is still led by the educators whose skills set is education. Employers especially smaller ones tend to feel that any activity to guide and develop career choices is wasted however if every employer undertook to influence the careers choice of students in schools or colleges close to them that would have a huge impact on career choices. Corporate career responsibility has a big role to play in inspiring, recruiting and developing the workforce of tomorrow. Who may not all want or need to go to university.

Performance management

At Amelore we have been doing some of our own independent research into the cost and effectiveness of appraisal systems. One organisation with 400 employees is spending approximately 750k on conducting them each year. Hard to quantify the ROI. We think appraisals have had their day for a variety of reasons. They exclude anyone that is not an employee. Most staff don’t value them. Most managers don’t feel they have the times or the skills set to do them properly. If there is an issue people tend not to give honbest feedback or ignore it all together. And most importantly most HR professionals know they don’t work. Many large corporates including Accenture and Deloittes are dropping them in favour of alternatives.

So we firmly recommend you stop appraising and start ameliorating!

And finally

So, be you a business leader or a professional, let me leave you with this thought…

How much of the HR/People related activity in your organisation is focused on things going right rather than things going wrong?

How much of that activity is spent on the majority of your workforce rather than a small minority?

Will that continued focus make you more profitable and competitive? If the answer is no – why are you doing it? Would this focus be acceptable in other departments?

Remember that the definition of madness is continuing the same patterns of behavior but expecting things to turn out differently.