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HR Surgery: How do I manage expectations for pay and progression in an SME?

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer: pay and progression are not the same thing and are not even always linked. One of them (pay) needs to be satisfied at a basic level to make sure we all pay the rent/ mortgage , eat, buy clothes etc ( the ‘hygiene’ factors let’s call them). And the other ( progression) needs to be satisfied in order to motivate us.

As a general rule, people want to see growth and progress in all areas of their lives, but particular in their jobs. And often with this progress comes the expectation of some recognition for this growth. Normally pay of some description springs to mind, but this is often just the most obvious way to show it in absence of anything else.

Structuring progression up the salary ladder within a smaller business can often seem like hit and miss affair, linked to not-so-subtle hints dropped about how many recruiters have called up your team to tell them how much they could get if they jumped ship. But if you listen to most recruiters, it is rarely the salary they push when they are doing their job to go out and find people, but the progression that people want to feel in order to thrive.

The creation of salary bands, job grades and titling conventions might seem a world away to SME business leaders who don’t have the access and expertise on tap (& possibly inclination??) to undertake something like a benchmarking and job evaluation exercises to show the team different levels of role to aspire to. But the principles of showing your team how to progress within your business is one which any sized organisation should pay attention to.

So here are some tips to bear in mind with your team before conversations about pay and progression become a bit icky:

Be transparent over your pay structure

If you don’t have a pay structure (normal for many), then tell the team what your salaries are based on ( e.g based on market rate) and what they can do to progress in the business. Often this is about spelling out your company values and the kind of projects and tasks which will get them recognised internally.

Define your roles

Defining your roles doesn’t mean asking them to sign a job description with the expectation that they never deviate from that, except by written agreement: it means being clear to your team about what you expect them to deliver, what they’re going to be accountable for and then giving them the autonomy to get this done.

Benchmark them

Pay might not be a motivator, but it sure can be a de-motivator if someone thinks (or knows – remember, people talk!) they are being paid less than someone else is for the same role. So benchmark your salaries (you don’t need to be scientific about it but a quick google search is exactly what your team members are going to do….) and try where you can to pay the going rate for a role.

Evolve job titles

I used to get quite precious about this. I mean: why should we be changing someone’s job titles when really we’re not big enough to support several layers of employee type? Plus, don’t you just end up with a team full of Directors and Heads of and no-one actually doing the work on the ground?? Nowadays I am more relaxed as I realise that it really matters little to anyone else but the uptight HR person who is managing your grades. See? I know that you need to show people progression. And job titles are just one way of doing so. Not the fluffy type which are just changed because someone is peeved that their mates have got flashier business cards than them (for a start, who uses business cards anymore FGS ??) . But the ones which are changed to show that someone has progressed and does indeed know more than they did three years ago when they hired them.

Let your team showcase (and even show off) their new found skills in public

I remember how proud I was when the Brown Owl gave me my very own badge to show how great I was at ‘Housework’. Yep seriously. I didn’t know it then but that was my first foray into the world of competencies (although unfortunately for my family, was also my last into demonstrating any skills relating to housework!) and of achieving and completing a number of tasks in order to tick the box to say I could do ‘it’.

So be clear to your team on the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that your team need to do their jobs well (aka. competencies ) and which you want to see demonstrated in each role within the business & at each level and then find a way to recognise this internally to show progress made.

You don’t need of course need to give actual badges for your team to wear on their sleeves (or chest – remember there’ s a reason why one of the most successful companies on this planet uses stars to denote competence…) when they’ve demonstrated something new, but by all means borrow from their principles and nab yourself a few brownie points whilst you’re at it…..

For more tips and tricks on reward and recognition that really works download our free ebook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME

Photo credit: Girl Guides of Canada

Cheers! Calling Last Orders On The Workplace Pint

The tradition of enjoying a cold pint after a hard day at work is one that’s been carried down through generations, and plenty of us are familiar with the comforting feeling of putting the world to rights over a few drinks with colleagues. Indeed in Kate Fox’s hilarious and on-the-money book about observations of social norms in the UK, Watching the English, she talks about the ‘after-work pint’ as a right of passage and the fact that “ after work drink sessions are often where the real decisions get made”.

The world’s changing and we wonder if this will always be the case however, as it definitely seems that the cultural norms of how colleagues bond and socialise are way behind the reality of employee diversity in the modern workplace. New research released recently by healthcare insurance providers Willis PMI Group, revealed that one in 5 of 18-34 year olds admit to going to work so hungover that it has affected their productivity on at least 30 occasions in the past year. Furthermore, their study of 1,197 workers also found that more than a quarter (26 per cent) in the 18 to 34-year-old age group believe their employer actually contributes to unhealthy levels of drinking among staff.

Crikey. Now might be a good time to check how your own workplace culture stacks up in this regard!

A Policy Will Only Take You So Far

Having a Drugs & Alcohol Policy is a start – but it’s how this is  actually demonstrated in practice that counts. Look back at your last team ‘jollies’. Do they all contain a common theme of a certain amount of drinking involved? How many meetings did you hold at the pub in the last month? Do you have a strong after work drinking culture? Is it possible that younger workers feel pressurised to go along in order to ‘fit in’ and/or because it’s where important work discussions/decisions take place? And if so, is this what you want in your own business?

Use Common Sense

Let’s suppose that you’re organising a social event after work, and you know that drinks are likely to be flowing. Be responsible and think about how people are going to get home afterwards as your staff should feel safe when attending a works ‘do’. Sometimes, it’s less about considering your budget and the finer details of whether you can afford to pay for transport home after your get-together, and it’s more about realising that in the grand scheme of things, a few taxis aren’t going to break the bank if it keeps people out of trouble.

Of course though, you don’t have to do this. You can simply offer to organise safe transport home, but ask for a contribution to cover the costs.

The longer-term effects can mean a hangover for your whole business

Alcohol-related problems with your own staff can be tricky to spot, and not also that, but very hard to navigate even if you do. It’s such a complex issue that there can be a lot a more to it than them just not ‘knowing their limits’ and offering a bottle of Lucozade and the key to the aspirin cupboard. Jamie Trentham’s article ‘Dealing With Stress & Depression At Work’ talks through one possible example, but offering a service such as Employee Assistance Programme (EAP’s include confidential counselling service for all sorts of personal issues) is also a way of making sure your team can get the right support if they are having difficulty. 

You could of course argue that your staff are adults, and that making sensible choices ultimately comes down to them. After all, you’re not their carer or their mum or dad. And that’s true. But spend a few minutes thinking about it, and it’s easy to see how friendly traditions can become a problem for your business, not to mention an HR nightmare. 

If you could do with a chat about how you create a culture which includes everyone or are worried that some things are starting to escalate out of control, get in touch at or call 0203 627 7048.

After all, there’s no reason why your HR practices should leave you feeling like you need a stiff drink.

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Photocredit: Gaby Av

“Just Stop Moaning And Get On With It”: Why You Can’t Afford To Be Saying That To Your Team

It’s 9am on a Monday. You’ve got a billion things to do when you get your first email starting with “Apologies if I’m speaking out of turn..” or the physical equivalent, “ Have you got a moment – there’s something I just wanted to make you aware of…”. Like many other mortal beings, your first response to negative noise like this is “Bog off”, or probably something a little stronger.

Negative Feedback Can Be Hard To Swallow When Your The One With Everything At Stake

We all know that feedback can be great: the secret sauce to raising your leadership game. We’ve read about self-awareness and how receiving feedback is a valuable part of raising it. But how come ‘feedback’ when directed at how your run the business largely feels like it’s said between gritted teeth and increasingly just sounds the moans of an employee (who you might add – isn’t exactly pulling their weight…. ). I mean, don’t they know that you’ve already had 3 customer complaints this morning and your inbox of tasks is filling up quicker than you can keep up with?!

The temptation therefore to bat away anything perceived as a complaint with a few choice words or icy stare is strong in most of us. Even stronger in those who are leading (and likely funding) a business. You’d be forgiven for feeling that way occasionally – you’re only human.

But Respect Their Candour And Listen – The Implications Are Wider Than You Think

Before you dismiss any constructive criticism out of hand or do nothing but make a cursory acknowledgement of it, take a deep breath and listen to what they are saying without jumping in. In being considerate and empathetic to your team, you are showing much more positive behaviour to those around you, something which Martyn Newman (2008) found as behaviour more likely to be demonstrating transformational leadership than the ‘average-Joe(Anne)’. And who wants to be average?

And Remember There’s Never A Right Time For Feedback You Don’t Want To Hear

True – there are completely wrong times – client meetings and investor presentations spring to mind here. Not everyone has your gift of self-awareness and tact. But if you can’t address the ‘noise’ right there, then acknowledge that they’ve shared their concerns and explain that you will have to review their comments at a time when you aren’t firefighting. Then tell them when that will be so it’s not left hanging.

Ultimately in lending them an ear rather than giving them your elbow, you’ll be doing yourself a favour by showing interest and consideration to your team, something which will reap the rewards for you in terms of engagement felt by them.

For more details on ‘noise’ outsourcing or any other HR challenges you might have, drop us a line at or call 0203 627 7048.

For more reading on giving your own leadership style a bit of a kickstart , then download our new eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance

Photo Credit: The Gabec

HR Hacks: Tasks To Tick Off Your To-Do List This Week

Managing your team isn’t always about big projects and rolling out transformational change. If you want to get the best out of your greatest asset, then you need to make sure that you’re doing the necessary work on a very regular basis. And that means little and often.

Taking a little time each month to keep on top of things can end up saving you a whole load of hassle in the longer term. So what should you be doing in May to keep your business on the right track? Read on for pointers…

Get the summer holidays sorted

No really. Ad not just yours (although don’t neglect that either – you’re no use to the team if you’re stressed out and tired). At this time of year, everyone is starting to think about jetting off to sunnier climes. If you don’t get yourself prepared, then you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle. You need to allocate leave fairly, and ensure that everyone knows about the arrangements. Now’s a good time to refer to any existing policies that you might have, and update them if necessary.

Consider your cold, hard figures

When some leaders think about HR, they think about fluff without any real substance. But we’re now long gone from the days of it being known as the department of “tea and tampax” (genuinely how the function was described to me when I first joined….) and HR has evolved into something the smart money knows isn’t just a ‘nice to have’. In fact, it’s completely non-negotiable if you’re serious about sustainable growth. So with this in mind, and considering the fact that we’ve just come to the end of another financial year, it’s time to look at your numbers. How much are you spending on staffing? And more importantly what activities are bringing the greatest return on investment? Only once you know where you are, can you create a map to where you want to be.

Book yourself in for an HR health-check

The vast majority of business owners do everything they can to comply with relevant employment legislation and create practices and policies that make their workplace a happy environment. Let’s be honest though – we all have constraints on our time, and it’s not always possible to go the extra mile. If you know that you’ve been putting HR on the backburner, then there’s no time like the present to review how you’re really performing, and what you could do to improve your business.

If you’d like a little ad-hoc assistance without committing to a tying contract, then you’re in luck. Our HR health-check service is just the ticket if you feel like it could be time to step back and take stock, before creating your plans for the future.

Drop us a line at or give us a call today on 0203 627 7048 to book yourself in or find out more.

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Sign up today.

Photo credit: Mufida Kassalis

Company Culture: How Does Yours Measure Up?

We recently had a question in our Members Forum about how to go about measuring company culture: one of our members had read up quite a bit about how having a strong company culture could help him and was keen to take it seriously and show his team that he wanted to focus on it this year, but didn’t really know how he could start to measure it. After three drafts of an answer, I wrote a summary and then arranged a follow up call with him to discuss it further, as I felt there was no easy way to cram into a short post, what is in essence a very complex task.

I have heard numerous answers out of the mouths of SMEs to the question “How would you describe your culture?”, most of which rarely sum up what I would describe the culture of the company to actually be. The reason? Because if the definition of culture is the norms, practices and common held beliefs that are perpetuated within a given group of people and which give them (in these terms),  a competitive advantage), then many business leaders may be loathed to admit the fact that their particular one doesn’t really have something entirely unique or one which many people would willingly sign up to. Or both.

So start by being honest about defining “how we actually do things around here”

It’s a rare leader indeed who will say to their newly hired graduate, “ I value people who give every waking minute to our company and I like nothing better than to see all my team nailed to their desks when I look out on the floor at midnight. We pay you so well because we want you to be available 24*7 and to sacrifice any film/ date/ games night for our greater good. But don’t expect to get much of a soul from working with us…..” , even if that is actually the case. But it might be quite refreshing if this kind of honesty really did play out on the recruitment videos and posters instead of a list of trotting out values which are so far removed from reality that many struggle to verbalise them during an interview whilst keeping a straight face. And if that were the case, the companies in question would probably have less issues with employee turnover or hiring too.

Because the thing about culture is that if you’re honest about your own – whatever it may be – you’ll stand a better chance of finding those who are right for your business and who have a better alignment with it.

But back to the measurement of it. So how do you know when you have a strong Culture, as Culture is often referred to but little measured

Even those companies who in public wax lyrical about their own have a hard job measuring it. That’s because it’s not easy. And there is no one single measure which is universally accepted to show you what your culture is. Let alone how strong it is.

So start by thinking like a marketer when trying to do so

As businesses grow, many start to put more effort and money behind improving their brand. They realise that although the word is invisible on a P&L, it can either add or detract from their company value significantly. Of course, measuring the value of your brand is really quite difficult, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it via all manner of routes. From public perception, external surveys, anonymous focus groups: all these different types are out there.

So the same rationale goes for looking at your culture. Look at what you care about and measure that.

Balance both the internal and external measures

You might care particularly about how you are perceived in the market or when you are recruiting. And if this is the case, look to start tracking measures which can include answers from questions asked from applicants as to what words describe their experience or resonate during the interview process, right through to scoring how many hits you get on your website, your following on your LinkedIn Page, sign ups to your latest career event, ratio of acceptances to job offers, your glassdoor score, % of approaches made via direct channels etc

Or alternatively it might be more important to you that internal perceptions and behaviours are key. In which case you’d be looking at how your own team act: do they recognise, articulate and reinforce your values in the work that they do. These can then be measured by way of anonymous survey, referral rates, peer review scores over demonstration of values and acknowledgement of values.

The truth is that there are tonnes of measures out there which you can use beyond the 10 or so listed above, however if it’s something more qualitative that you were after in terms of measuring your culture, then my advice is this: ask your team to do something which is beyond the scope of their normal role. Will they jump at the chance? Challenge you on the validity of your request? Or merely do it but sulk and moan whilst doing so. That would be your true test of how strong your Culture really is.

For other tips on growing your own skills as an SME leader, download our free eBook here.

TheHRhub: The ultimate online support for startups and SMEs.

Photo Credit: Smenon

SME Recruitment: 15 Tips To Help You Find ‘The One’

Hiring a new team member is one of the most important decisions you will make and hiring the wrong person could cost your company £££’s. Increase your chances of making your next hire a great match for your small business, by following these hiring tips.

1. Write A Great Job Description

Or at the very least an outline of what the job entail and the type of person that you are looking for. How can you know if you’ve found what you’re looking for in a candidate, if you haven’t clearly defined it? A job description doesn’t need to be a 3 page document and don’t fall into the mistake of making your job description too prescriptive as this will only make your search harder in the long run. Write about what skills the successful candidate will need, will they need a degree or qualification? What type of experience should they be able to demonstrate? Write down the main duties and the skills needed, just doing this will clarify your own thinking.  

2. Look At Your Internal Talent

The quickest way to create a demotivated workforce is to not promote from within. Before you look externally you should advertise the role to your current employees to see if there is anybody internally who is interested in applying.  

3. Do Your Benchmarking

Your entire recruitment experience will be a frustrating exercise if you are wildly out of the range on pay as you simply won’t attract the right candidates. An easy way to check you’re in the right salary range when advertising is to check out salary surveys online (some of the larger agencies publish data for free) and to look advertised positions on job boards to get a gauge of what other companies are paying.

4. Be Specific With Your Marketing

When you are keen to attract the best mix of candidates it can be tempting to advertise anywhere and everywhere but quantity doesn’t mean quality. Advertising without direction encourages passive job seekers to apply on a whim, making more work for you and giving you a slimmer chance of finding your ideal candidate. Work out who you are trying to attract and base your advertising around that.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Use Social Media When Recruiting

In today’s world you can find out a lot about a candidate but checking their social media presence and you shouldn’t be afraid to do this. After all you wouldn’t want to discover, belatedly, that your shiny new hire makes snide remarks about customers on Twitter? (Remember that your customers read social media, too!)

6. Don’t Wing The Interview Process

Make sure you have a structure in place when it comes to interviewing. Is there any testing involved? Will you give a tour? Who will do the interviewing and in what order? Will you have second interviews? Prepare by re-reviewing the candidate’s resume just before starting the interview. Jot down interview questions so you don’t forget something important. Having a candidate arrive for interview when you are not fully prepared will only lead to added stress and give the impression that as a business you are unorganised. Petrina Alexander’s excellent post ‘The 10 Interview Questions You Need To Be Asking’ will definitely help you here. 

7. Break The Mould!

How often have you interviewed a candidate and thought ‘that person reminds me of me!’? This, the experts say, is not the right person for your company. You may call yourself your harshest critic, but when he or she is right across from you, you’re more likely to be a little biased. Check out Jamie Trentham’s article ‘Is Cognitive Bias Making You Hire The Wrong Guy?’ for more on this.

8. Don’t Always Trust Your First Impressions

Some potential employees may seem perfect on paper or during the interview, only to turn out to be a complete disaster later on. Employers frequently view candidates in terms of whether or not they like them, as opposed to matching their strengths with the responsibilities of the position. Of course you will never know for sure how a new employee will perform once hired but you can mitigate the risk of a bad hire by not factoring first impressions into your decision and going with your gut feel. Try a different approach: If you like someone off the bat, look for reasons they aren’t right for the job. If you dislike someone, look for reasons why they are right for the job. It will help to give you a more rounded view.

9. Don’t’ Forget To Sell The Advantages Of Being A Small Business

Sometimes it may feel like you can’t compete with larger employers but that’s not the case. Softer benefits like flexible hours or a friendly environment can make a difference to candidates so make sure that you  emphasize every advantage of your business

10. But Whatever You Do Don’t Sugarcoat The Job

Yes you should ‘sell’ your company but don’t exaggerate or be frugal with the truth when discussing the roles and its challenges.For example if you are a company that doesn’t have lots of policies and procedures then don’t say that you do. Some people aren’t comfortable in an unstructured environment and longer term it will just mean that you’re not the right fit for one another.

11. Involve Your Employees

The final hiring decision is yours, but you’d be wise to consider input from key team members. Others may spot things you missed. Besides, existing employees may resist a new hire they feel was forced on them with no input.

12. “Slow To Hire, Quick To Fire” Is A Great Mentality To Have  

As your company grows, there are always going to be holes that you need to fill. Whatever you do don’t rush to hire out of a feeling of desperation. In the long run it’s better to go with temporary help or limp along short-handed until you are confident you’ve found the right person. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to pick someone who may not be the best quality or cultural match because you’re desperate to fill the void.

13. Don’t Ignore Your Previous Hiring Mistakes

We’ve all made them. So, the last employee didn’t work out, they won’t be the first and they certainly won’t be the last but what they do offer you is the opportunity to figure out what went wrong before hiring again. Was the last person not up to the job?  Does the next person you hire need to have more experience? Or was the problem that they couldn’t get along with the rest of the team? If so, you might want to emphasise the need to be team player when you next recruit. Whatever happened, don’t be afraid to identify it and avoid repeating the same hiring mistakes next time around.

14. Ask For Referrals From Employees

Get the team engaged in the company’s future from the get-go. Employees who refer a new hire feel invested in that person’s success. That said don’t always assume that they will be the perfect candidate. It may be tempting to hire family members and friends, especially in a small start-up setting, but, a close relationship with a person doesn’t automatically qualify them as a good employee.  You still need to hold a structured interview process to make sure they are the right fit for you.

15. Make Sure You Induct New Employees Properly

You’ve already spent valuable time and money searching for the right candidate.  Don’t ruin all that hard work by not preparing for your new employees first days in the business. Take the time to induct them properly.  Introduce him or her around and don’t overwhelm them with paperwork the first day.  Recruiting doesn’t end with the offer being made and accepted, it’s vital to plan your new starter’s initial journey so take the time to make sure that you get it right.  First impressions are important after all. Fleur Winter wrote a great piece on this ‘Your New Starter Checklist: How To Ensure Newbies Are Set Up For Success’

P.S. Every day is school day so they say… If you fancy some tips on how to hone your leadership skills do go ahead download our free eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.


Photo Credit: ‘Odd one out’ by Kevin Pack