Why building a solid people foundation for your business is key

HR should be at the centre of helping companies achieve their long-term business goals, while also taking care of their people.

Your business starts with your employees – if they thrive, your business will thrive, it’s as simple as that. 

You may intuitively sense to move from surviving to thriving, you need to invest in the people aspects of your business but are unclear where or how to start.

In this blog, we are sharing 5 key areas to focus on, to improve your employee experience and therefore elevate the service they are providing to your customers.

‘You don’t need to be a genius or even a college graduate to be successful, you just need a framework and a dream’ – Michael Dell

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Setting up for Success – Introduction

As a leader, you probably know or recognise there will be legal compliance issues from the very first day you employ someone. Often, as a leader you take on these responsibilities, even though it may be something you’ve never done before. While this can be good for broadening your personal experience and skill set, it may be distracting you from your core focus and using too much of your valuable time.

‘Focus is key. Spreading your resources and attention across too many fronts can affect your business growth’ – John Colman

You may intuitively sense that to move from surviving to thriving, you’ll need to invest in the people aspects, but you may be unclear what that looks like and are too busy to spend time figuring it out.

In this blog, we are sharing our thoughts on how having a solid people foundation in place will not only protect you and your business from unnecessary risk but also create a more engaged and productive team, which in turn makes (and saves) your business money.

What do we mean when we say strong people foundations?

Your business starts with your employees – if they thrive, your business will thrive, it’s as simple as that.

Making your business somewhere your employees and future talent want to work is key. Your people foundations are the HR policies and procedures that determine how people experience your business.

Therefore, establishing solid people foundations (or an HR framework), will ensure your business can attract and retain the right people you need, into the right roles, at the right time to enable your business to flourish. Without it, you’ll find yourself reacting to people issues on a rolling basis, putting you on the back foot and detracting from your ability to meet your business goals.

Having appropriate people management support makes good business sense. However, if your business is small, say fewer than 500 employees, you may not be able to afford or have a requirement for a permanent HR specialist, so buying in the expertise you need as and when you need it may be a perfect peace of mind option.

As business owners and leaders of teams, we recognise the need to juggle a range of priorities to fit everything in, so if there is an opportunity to put in place measures to run things more efficiently, that isn’t overly time-consuming or complex, isn’t this something worth considering? A review of your people infrastructure and a focused action plan to address the key gaps can do this for you.

Here is a summary of what we believe are the 5 fundamental elements needed to provide a solid foundation from which to build. Getting these right when your business is small, means it will just be a matter of making minor adjustments as you grow and your needs start to change.

The Fundamentals

1. Legal Stuff

Let’s start with the basics – the importance of getting your legal compliance in place is your number one priority.

Ensuring compliance with employment law is an absolute pre-requisite for running a business. In the same way you need to ensure you meet health and safety requirements, getting this aspect wrong could have devastating consequences for you.

Ensuring your people practices are not only aligned to the legal requirements but are set up in the spirit of the law, will save you time and expense down the road investigating and responding to audit findings or mitigating against an employee issue that could become more serious.

Some good examples of what we mean by this can be summarised as follows:

  • Protecting your business and the rights of your employees through the provision of robust people policies and procedures
  • Role descriptions clearly describing the accountabilities, skills and behaviours associated with each role
  • Employment contracts outlining the expectations of the employee and the ‘deal’ with the employer
  • Ensuring any people decisions you make are done on grounds of merit and without any bias (unconscious or otherwise)

An employee handbook is a good starting place for any business seeking to formalise its employment practices and ensure consistency of treatment. Another top tip is to have standard HR operating procedures to document processes that occur infrequently, making it easier to be consistent over time.

2. Recruitment

Recruiting people well-suited to the role and the company culture, is key to the success of any business.  It’s essential you find new recruits who buy into what you are trying to achieve and therefore bring their energy and passion for the product or service to bear for the good of the business and your customers.

‘Bringing great people onto your team is about demonstrating that size really doesn’t matter – people do’ – Jess Campbell

If one or two key roles are vacant for any length of time, the temptation may be to compromise on what you are looking for and to just fill the position. However, taking the time to find the right person will save you a bigger headache further down the line. 

Creating a good hiring process is an essential part of your people framework, alongside coaching and guidance for anyone involved in the hiring process. The ability to make well rounded decisions quickly is key in the current climate, and as any candidate will tell you, the hiring process tells you a lot about the company you are thinking about joining.

Remember it’s as much about the candidate forming an opinion about you and your business, as it is about you finding the right person, so a process designed around the experience for the individual will set you apart from the competition.

3. Organisation

A well thought out and organised people structure enabling employees to work efficiently and effectively, will pay dividends.  This is just as important in a small business as it is in a large multinational, since it is the people that provide the service that differentiates you from your competitors.

‘Spend time upfront to invest in systems and processes to make long-term growth sustainable’ – Jeff Platt

Organisation charts visually represent the internal structure of a business, by detailing the roles, responsibilities and relationships between individuals.  Role descriptions help employees to understand their responsibilities and how their work contributes to the overall goals of your business. They are also useful for recruitment decisions, ensuring you find the individual best suited to each role.  Without role descriptions it is usually difficult for a person to properly commit to or be held accountable for a role.

A tip if you are on a budget, is to use the tools available to you to optimise and maintain your people structure, for example, using a spreadsheet to track employee information, create checklists and store employee data.

4. Performance Management and Reward

‘High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation’ – Charles Kettering 

Performance management is a mechanism your business can incorporate to ensure employees feel connected to and can contribute towards business goals.  Tailoring an approach and framework for your business, supported by the provision of training for people managers is a good investment.

Done effectively, performance management is about having great conversations as regularly as you can, with a structure that enables you to hold employees to account for their performance and contribution, as well as identifying individual development needs, and linking performance to reward and progression.

The ability to create and communicate a salary and benefits package to attract and retain the people you need is critical.  A review of what others are paying, e.g. some benchmarking for equivalent roles in the area and beyond, will ensure your rates are competitive, plus if your overall package has some flexibility to be tailored to meet individual’s needs, then all the better.

Roles are often advertised without mentioning salary as it can be a contentious area, particularly if you are not able to offer premium salaries. However, we would recommend being up front and sharing what you can offer to potential applicants, as this will help manage expectations and ensure only those applicants genuinely interested in your role will apply.

Having in place a simple pay structure that recognises the skills, experience and attributes you are looking for in candidates, should help make negotiating offers a breeze and ensures that you are compensating existing employees equitably. 

5. Communications

Retaining great people is dependent upon having strong employee engagement.  If your employees feel connected to the business and understand how their role links to the overarching goals of the business, then they are far more likely to stay.  

Creating a strong narrative about your business and what you are trying to achieve will help attract the right candidates. Coupled with a well thought out induction process, will reap the benefit of new joiners feeling engaged, informed, supported and able to start contributing straight away.  

With day-to-day demands hitting you at work, it is all too easy to neglect communicating with your employees. Having a regular drumbeat for your people updates doesn’t take long to set up and will ensure your employees are in the loop and have a clear understanding of business performance and expectations of them. In our experience, even the most difficult news is easier for employees to accept when they feel their employer has been transparent and they have a good grasp of the business rationale for the decision.

Employee Experience

‘You don’t build a business, you build people, then people build the business.  Your people are the builders of your business’ – Zig Ziglar

The design of your people foundations or framework should reflect the culture, employee and customer experience you would like to create.  If you feel your current people policies or processes are not aligned to this purpose, then perhaps a review of your existing practices may be helpful in identifying what you need to redesign and do differently for maximum impact.  A review could also identify opportunities to better align your people practices to support your business priorities.  

A useful lens for completing a review of your people framework is to measure your employee engagement level at different stages throughout the employment lifecycle.  Some examples of the sort questions we may ask and why, as part of our health check service are shared below:

  • Does your business have a stated purpose, mission or values?  If yes, are your employees clear on what they are and how their role contributes to them?  Giving employees a real sense of purpose in their role and an understanding of how they can make a difference, can be very motivational and impactful for your business.
  • Do you recognise your employees for hard work and sharing ideas, as well as results?  Recognition of behaviours aligned to your goals will boost motivation by letting employees know they are appreciated.
  • How do you avoid new employees joining your business from feeling overwhelmed?  By assigning a ‘buddy’ to show a new joiner the ropes, answer any questions they may have and introduce them to others, is an effective way of boosting their confidence and productivity early on in their employment with you.
  • Do you invest in your employees? Supporting your employees to learn and develop new skills, not only demonstrates your commitment to them it will also enable them to work more effectively and boosts their loyalty towards your business.
  • Have you put any mechanisms in place to gather employee feedback and ideas?  Focus groups, suggestion schemes or an employee survey will enable employees to get involved in creative problem solving and make a difference by sharing their ideas.

How we can help and next steps

With an understanding of the importance of having a solid HR framework (people foundations) and an outline of the essentials, what will you put in place this year? Please leave your thoughts below.  By openly sharing your intention, it creates higher accountability and increases the likelihood you’ll get it done!

Ensuring your business is built on strong foundations is our purpose. We’re passionate about working with leaders like you to optimise your business. If you think your business would benefit from having a health check, please get in touch.

How To Move Beyond Board Room Business Planning

People are critical to the success of any organisation, but it would be all too easy to focus our blog on the HR and performance frameworks needed to enable employees to perform at their best. Instead, we are taking a couple of steps back to reflect on the business and strategic planning process more broadly; since thinking holistically is at the heart of our approach here at partnering2excel.

Whilst there are many ways to do strategic business planning, in our 3rd blog, we are offering up some simple techniques to improve your existing processes (irrespective of the size of your organisation) and therefore the likelihood of successfully achieving your vision.

Board Room Business Planning pointing hand

Goals, outcomes, objectives – what’s it all about?…

For many organisations, it’s getting to the time of the year when leaders will be busy planning in performance discussions with their teams – reviewing the extent to which individual performance objectives for the past year have been achieved and agreeing new objectives for the year ahead.  For some this is still an annual process, linked to reward, whilst for others there has been a move away from formal performance management processes towards a more iterative, outcome-based approach.  

Alongside individual performance conversations, you may also be spending a significant amount of your time reviewing last year’s strategy, reflecting on what’s been delivered, what hasn’t and how to shape plans for the next year.

First some definitions – when we say goals, outcomes and objectives, what do we actually mean?  Often, these terms are used interchangeably.  Generally, a ‘goal’ refers to an achievable outcome which is broad and long term in nature.  Examples could include – increase market share of product ‘a’ from x% to y% or reduce cost to income ratio to 50%.  ‘Objectives’ on the other hand take these goals to a more practical level by describing the tangible and measurable actions needed to achieve the goal. Examples here could include – increase customer retention month on month by x% or reduce instances of incorrect products being delivered to customers by x%.

In terms of techniques to support the goal setting process, it’s fair to say we have seen many approaches come, go, and then return (often under a different name!).  Some of the commonly used techniques include Management by Objectives; Setting SMART goals; KPIs and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).  Irrespective of what it is called or whichever method you choose to use, it’s key it aligns to your other processes and supports the culture you are trying to create in your organisation.

Here are our helpful hints for simple changes you can make to your goal setting to ensure clarity on your business’s direction of travel, and more crucially, to get your people behind it. 

7 techniques to improve your business planning process

1. Start With Purpose

For those organisations who want to create a genuine connection with their customers, Simon Sinek argues that purpose is key. Through his research he found, whilst business leaders were very good at knowing ‘what’ they were doing and ‘how’, the purpose of ‘why’ they were doing it was often overlooked. Putting purpose at the top of the agenda and then building out the narrative with goals provides an opportunity to foster real connections with employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. By doing so ‘purpose’ makes a business sustainable in the long term and a go-to for customers.

Branding can help foster these connections. Just as an external brand builds a connection between your business and your customers; your internal brand (sometimes known as employer branding) does something similar by enabling employees to better understand what your business is really about and how goals are going to be achieved. When people care about the work they are doing, the people they work with and where they work, they are not only more productive, but they are happier.

2. Be Visionary

As you reflect and reset post pandemic, create the space to understand the context your business is now operating in, immerse yourself in internal and external insight and take in broader perspectives (perhaps from other industries or your suppliers) to expand your awareness. By doing so, you will gain invaluable insight from which to drive out a clear set of goals for your business.

Insight will provide clarity on what you are going to do, and perhaps more importantly what you’re not going to do or stop doing, because it no longer aligns to your purpose. Your goals are your north star vision – targets that are long term in nature and big enough to be just out of reach. Well defined business goals are vital to help your team translate the overall vision into reality. Your goals should act as your compass, giving direction and keeping your team moving together towards success.

3. Optimise Your Business Design

Due to the complexity and ambiguity of the external environment, it’s likely you will need to regularly review your goals and strategy accordingly – agility, experimentation, learning and iteration are key. If the context you are operating in means you need to take your business in a new direction, it is important to understand what needs to be true to make it happen.

Just like people, businesses have capabilities – the ability to ‘do something’. Sometimes these capabilities may need to mature, such as improving existing customer facing channels or operations capacity to deal with increased volumes, or you may need a completely new capability, such as creating a new on-line presence for customer ordering. Through understanding the knock-on consequences to your customer channels, operational processes, technology, roles and structures you can build a solid roadmap for the changes needed to set your strategy up for success.

Our recommended approach is to consider what changes to your business design are required at the same time as you are thinking through your goals and strategy. Not only will this ensure plans are aligned, it will provide you with a degree of comfort knowing what needs to be done to make your goals achievable.

4. Create Tangible Objectives

Enabling employees to better understand what your business goals are and how they are going to be achieved is key. So, once you have clarity on your end goals and roadmap, you’ll need to break these down into measurable objectives, otherwise it will seem unachievable.

Clear measures of success should be in place for each of your objectives. Not only will these enable you to regularly monitor progress of how your business is performing and the extent to which you are achieving your objectives and end goals, but also whether objectives need to be dialled up or down.

Our recommendation is to ensure goals and objectives are written in terms of outcomes (what you ‘have/get’ at the end) rather than what you ‘do’. For example, rather than having an objective which reads ‘implement a new CRM’ (Customer Relationship Management system), an outcome focussed objective would talk about the measurable improvements you are seeking to make, for example, to retain or grow particular customer segments.

5. Engage Your Audience

Writing down your overall goals and objectives, cascading them to your teams and expecting everyone to be on the same page doesn’t always work. Effective engagement requires two-way communication, more like having a conversation rather than a cascade. Getting your people on board so they know the direction of travel and understand their contribution, will help to create a golden thread that links smaller objectives back to your overall goals.

When you’re ready to communicate your business plan, describe what will be different in the future – what the organisation will look like and how will it ‘feel’ from different perspectives. This will help to create a narrative that will resonate with employees, customers, suppliers and stakeholders and bring them on the journey with you.

Finally, don’t forget communication and engagement isn’t a one-and-done activity. Seeking input and feedback from different groups of employees, will benefit the business by having more diversity of thought, plus it’s clear that where employees feel they have been able to directly influence and shape the future they are more engaged and motivated. So, after your initial engagement activity it’s important to keep the conversation going, use surveys (such as pulse checks) to identify how plans are landing and celebrate successes (no matter how small) to move you towards your goals, learning as you go.

Business Planning Golden Thread png

6. Align Your People Levers

Your people strategy is a key enabler of your business goals, therefore, involving HR at the outset to assess feasibility of options and shape your goals and objectives from a people perspective is vital. A people strategy can then be developed, which focuses on the key levers within your people offering, to align employee behaviours, skills and performance to support the achievement of your business goals and objectives.

For example, if you want to drive greater collaboration, you may need to consider your structure, e.g. remove layers and reduce hierarchy; plus you may find it helpful to introduce a performance management measure that requires people to collaborate, supported by appropriate reward and recognition for doing so. Celebrating early wins and sharing examples of what good looks like, will help to cement this as a new way of working and start longer-term behavioural shifts.

One of the key trends we are starting to see are businesses ditching their annual performance management process, in favour of a more outcome focused, iterative review approach. This approach delivers more frequent feedback and individual objective setting, plus it identifies learning and growth opportunities, which for some businesses is proving to be more beneficial than an annual review.

7. Align Culture

Your business culture can be seen in how your employees interact and work with each other. It’s the vibe of what it feels like to work somewhere. Culture is not something you can simply implement; it evolves over time based on the things you say and do.

Culture is the foundation of every organisation. A strong, supportive culture acknowledges your people are your most critical asset, and when this is aligned to your purpose, employees will thrive, giving you a competitive edge.

It was Peter Drucker who famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, yet focussing exclusively on either strategy or culture would be a mistake. On the one hand, a strategy describing the big picture vision, without understanding what is required from an organisation’s culture, could be destined to fail; especially if it doesn’t build from existing strengths. On the other, trying to evolve a culture without having a clear direction of travel risks wasting effort. Connection and alignment are, therefore, vital.

Time to wrap up…

By following these simple techniques, you will be able to create an authentic and compelling narrative for your business – with the golden thread connecting where you are going, how you will get there and what your employees contribution needs to be.

Above all, keep it simple and be guided by what works for your organisation.

We love working in partnership with organisations and teams to support them to get from where they are to where they want to be. To find out more about our experience and how we could help you, get in touch.