Being a people business isn’t a selling point

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Alison Taylor, Managing Director:
  • Prioritising people within business
  • Creating positive company cultures 
  • Wellbeing, productivity and growth 

How many times have you heard the claim: ‘ours is a people business’? Well of course it is! 

No matter how hi-tech and automated, every business is reliant on its people for direction, growth and sustainability. In an economy where diversity, equality and inclusion, sustainable development and ESG, mental health and wellbeing, have increasing depth of meaning and measurement, every business has a responsibility to prioritise its people, and this is no longer a ‘selling point’ in itself.

We don’t have to be academics to understand the connection between happiness and wellbeing, and productivity and sustainable growth, but, if you’re in any doubt, science explores and explains the complex relationship between wellbeing, productivity, and productivity growth.

So, the heavy lifting of understanding what makes and keeps people happy and motivated has been done. As business leaders, we don’t need to understand the intricacies of human behaviour to successfully build positive company culture, we can use frameworks like Investors in People (IIP).

Since inception, the individuals in our team have been the most important focus for our business.  Everyone is excited and motivated by different challenges and rewards. For some, a clear career progression is the priority, others are inspired by pro-bono work and volunteering, some are motivated by money, while others want flexibility to embrace family life, or a combination of these and many other factors.

In the 10 years since we started, we have employed over 35 people and we certainly haven’t got it right every time. Sometimes we’ve failed in our initial recruitment – over time IIP has helped us to analyse and strengthen our processes so that we can now be more confident of successful recruitment and retention.  

Other people have joined us and stayed for a few years before moving on to new challenges, or to the bright lights of London; could we or should we have kept these people? When I hear leavers saying that they hadn’t realised how good things were until they moved elsewhere, I think we could have worked smarter and harder to keep them in the team. The cost to the business of losing valued members of the team can be immeasurable but, once someone has made up their mind, the business needs to let them go. The trick is in really understanding what they want and how to accommodate this before they even think about moving on – should we, for example, open a London office, maybe?

Others team members been with us for many years and have helped to shape our processes and build a culture that is continually evolving, vibrant and inclusive.  

As someone who spent much of their early career in largely misogynistic and discriminatory working environments, where a desire for work-life balance was frowned upon and women were outnumbered on boards, but made up the majority of the junior workforce, I have revelled in building a family friendly culture, that celebrates professional achievement and success alongside personal ambition.  

That’s not to say we always get it right though! I have learned:

  • that we can never make assumptions about an individual’s motivations and must remember that those motivations will change over time
  • that we need to listen and be flexible in how we shape roles, responsibilities, and rewards
  • the importance of nurturing a culture where people feel and are safe to communicate openly and honestly – nodding and agreeing to a personal development plan while dreaming of a completely different direction is in no one’s interests
  • that all growth comes with a level of pain and, while we accommodate and embrace diversity, there is never any room for compromise in quality of output and the speed and pressure of agency life is certainly not for everyone
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