The Value of Values

Originally posted December 2013

My daughter’s primary school had its OFSTED inspection a few months ago and came out of it very well. What was particularly heartening from my perspective was not only that it was hitting good academic standards but that it achieved “outstanding” comments for issues such as pupil behaviour, cooperation and respect for others. There’s nothing particularly special about the school – it’s in what could be described as “working class” district of Liverpool and draws a significant number of pupils from socially deprived inner city areas.

But what is interesting, reading the OFSTED report, is the way it’s run.

  • Its whole ethos is based on a set of values (faith based ones in this particular case, but the important point is that it has values)
  • The school is led by a headteacher who ensures that targets and objectives are based in the context of those values
  • Teachers work within the values, set stretching but achievable targets and lead by example
  • Consequently pupils enjoy school, are interested in what’s going on and promote the culture themselves
  • And finally, as a relatively small school, communication is easier and there is less chance of individuals being “missed” or isolated.

So let’s try a bit of substitution. Change the words headteacher, teachers and pupils to Managing Director (or business owner), managers and employees. Sounds to me that it’s a successful recipe for building a sustainable and profitable business, with engaged and motivated employees. And it seems that smaller businesses may be more able to do this than larger ones – something which is also the subject of my contribution to the recent book of HR blogs “Humane, Resourced”.

If you want your business to be successful, then the question isn’t “why should we bother with values” – it’s “why don’t we have – and act on them – already?”


Edit: You might also enjoy this blog from HR blogger Helen Tracey on the same theme:

Are Values Valuable?

The £15000 question

Originally posted October 2013

Here’s an interesting fact for those running a small business. The current adult minimum wage (£6.31ph) equates to an annual salary of roughly £13125 for a full time employee. When employment “on-costs” are added (National Insurance, Employers Liability Insurance etc.) this takes the figure closer to £15000.

Is there anything else you spend £15000 on in your business?

Whether the answer is yes or no, spending that level of money would normally be classed as a significant capital investment. You would spend time deciding exactly what was needed, compare the market for the best deal, and maybe seek specialist advice. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a return immediately, though you would over the longer term; and you’d spend time and money ensuring your piece of equipment was well maintained. What you almost certainly wouldn’t do is throw it away after 6 months and go and buy another at the same price.

Yet when it comes to staff, too many small organisations do the opposite. They recruit quickly, based on “gut feel”; expect the new employee to hit the ground running and produce the goods from day one; don’t bother with looking after the person (which can be as simple as giving constructive performance feedback); and if the person doesn’t seem to be working out they’ll terminate during the probationary period and go out and recruit someone else.

Is frittering away £15000 good business sense? Is it likely to lead to long term success for your business? And is a reputation for “hiring and firing” going to make you attractive to customers and clients, let alone potential recruits?

So stop thinking of employees as a cost. Start treating them as an investment decision, and you’ll suddenly find that hard headed business decisions and “touchy-feely” people stuff go hand in hand for business success. And if you think you need help doing this, why not check out our services page and get in touch?

3 More Tips for Taking on a new Employee

Originally posted October 2012

In my last blog, I looked at 5 key things to take into account when deciding to take on your first employee.

Having put all the effort into recruiting the right person for your business, you may think that you’ve done all the hard work. In fact, to make sure that you get the best from your new team member requires you to spend just as much time on their first few weeks in the job.

Here are 3 key things to remember:

  • Set out what standards you expect from the first day. It’s a lot easier to get things right from the off than try and change people’s behaviour later.
  • You and your staff member need time to get used to each other’s way of working. If you’ve been working on your own you need to understand how to delegate and also to take constructive criticism. Don’t be precious!
  • Everyone makes mistakes – even you!  If your new team member makes a mess of something, don’t automatically treat it as an opportunity to get rid of them. You’ve invested a lot of time and money recruiting them; unless the mistake threatens the business’s survival or reputation, review what you both can learn from it.

If you want to know more about the most effective way you can manage the people in your business, click here

5 Top Tips when Taking on Your First Employee

Originally posted in September 2012

So, you’ve launched your own business, it’s going well and now you need to take on your first person. It’s a big step – one which a lot of microbusinesses never take – so you need to make sure you do it right.  Following the steps below can help you avoid an expensive mistake

  1. Be clear and specific about what you want in an employee – what skills do they actually need, and what are just “nice to have”?  Wanting a super-hero who can do everything is likely to lead to disappointment
  2. Remember that as an entrepreneur you have a huge personal stake in the success of your business. An employee, no matter how enthusiastic, will never have that same level of commitment as you. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a fact, but it means that you can’t expect them to devote as much of their life to the business as you.
  3. Make sure that you have all the basics in place – employer’s liability insurance, a payroll provider to ensure you deduct tax and NI correctly, and proper contracts – before you decide to recruit.
  4. Take professional advice if you need to. You use an accountant or a marketing consultant for specialist advice – do the same for people management.
  5. Don’t believe anything you read about employment matters in the media (especially if it’s in the Mail or the Telegraph). They are interested in selling papers and promoting a political agenda, not giving you accurate business information.


Remember what you are making is a business decision – and in cash terms possibly one of your most significant ones. Evaluate it against the same criteria as you would any other investment, but remember also that you will be dealing with another human being, not a “thing”.

If you want to know more about the most effective way you can manage the people in your business, or have heard various tales about employment law and want to separate the fact from the myth, more information is available here

Who are the “Firewall” Employees in your business?

Originally published May 2012

Many small businesses today have disaster recovery plans – a contingency if their server went down or their business premises were flooded. But one area that they rarely plan for is how they would deal with the loss of a key employee.

Consider these examples.

You’re running a regulated business which requires a nominated individual with particular qualifications to hold the licence to operate (there are many small businesses that this applies to – transport, childcare, waste management etc).  That individual – who will usually be a senior person in your organisation – has a heart attack and is off for several months. Your entire business is threatened because your key member of staff is unavailable. What do you do?

Even if your business isn’t regulated, losing a key person can be disastrous. If you employ someone with specialist skills and knowledge and they resign at short notice – worse if they go to work for a competitor – then it could well be goodbye to that major contract.

And even the loss of an administrator could cause significant problems if your business relies on their knowledge of your systems and procedures. The fact that they know a call from Ms X is important and Mr Y is less so, or that it is essential to be at a particular trade conference, would be lost if they suddenly went out of the picture.

So next time you’re analysing what you would do if your buildings were burnt down, identify as well who your “firewall employees” are and consider how you would manage if they disappeared.