Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

Apart from working with small businesses, I’m also a CIPD Tutor with one of the UK’s leading HR training providers. Quite often when doing some of the more “theoretical” stuff, I can see learners’ eyes glaze over with a “what has this got to do with the real world and my job as an HR business partner” expression.

But the practical application of some of these theories and models is frequently key to many HR and business decisions.  For example, what we rather grandly like to call “environmental scanning” – with models such as STEEPLE, Five Forces and Blue Ocean – is essential to anticipating likely changes that may affect our organisations.

Take for instance George Osborne’s “National Living Wage”.  Judging by some of the reactions from some business organisations, this is the greatest disaster to hit business for years. Yet businesses have worked within the minimum wage rules for nearly 20 years and the “shock” of this new policy was that – for many – it was an unexpectedly large increase. But any business which had done any kind of serious forward planning would have been aware that all the parties at the last election were committed to significant increases in minimum wage levels – not necessarily for altruistic reasons but as part of the strategy to reduce the deficit. (I’m happy to say that a client I work with in a low pay sector had factored in big increases to their wage costs into their business plans as a result of doing some of this planning, so it hasn’t proved as much of an issue for them).

HR professionals continue to agonise about how they “add value” to businesses. Being aware of what’s going on in the wider world, and anticipating how this might affect the companies we work for, is one easy way in which we can demonstrate that HR is actually a vital part of modern business.

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.