People power: Advice from an HR helpline


Sue Tumelty of The HR Dept on interviewing, training and listening.

By Sue Tumelty

As budgets tighten staff training can suffer, but cutting back in this area would be a mistake according to Sue Tumelty of The HR Dept. She shares her tips for building a strong, motivated and well trained workforce that will help your business weather any storm.

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As British businesses struggle to survive the recession, strategic recruitment, investment in training and motivation of employees are being considered luxuries of the past and ambitions for the future by many employers.

Yet these have to remain key priorities in the present if businesses want to reach the other side as painlessly as possible and with their teams intact.

Currently employers tend to want to recruit people with experience rather than running the risk of taking on raw talent – an understandable decision in these difficult times, although not necessarily helpful to the government as it desperately tries to reduce unemployment, especially among the under 25s.

It is still essential, however, that businesses continue to use good recruitment practices to identify those potential members of staff with the knowledge, skills – and above all – attitude to provide the right people within the team.

If we are all being honest we, as employers, often make up our minds about candidates in the first minute and spend the rest of the interview justifying our decision. This is particularly true when Christmas is coming and we are desperately short of staff ahead of this crucial trading period.  

However urgent the need for fast recruitment seems, however, a carefully-constructed interview with well-considered and planned competency-based questions is a far better way of ensuring successful long-term recruitment.

Especially at a time of high unemployment it is likely that you will receive a large volume of applications, of which many may be totally unsuitable. Using a well-defined person specification you can screen many of these out early in the process. Short telephone interviews can eliminate another batch. A good question is “What do you know about our company?”. If they cannot answer that one, they are not for you. This means you save time by only interviewing the best.

Whilst a well-planned approach demands a small investment of time, it will pay dividends in terms of saving money longer term, as poor recruiting in the first place results in higher and more costly recruitment further down the line when you’re trying to rectify the situation. Meanwhile, of course, you’ve also put pressure on good loyal employees, that is until they get fed up and go too.

Another important mistake that we hear often at The HR Dept is that of trusting employers wishing they had taken up references. However successfully the interview went it is essential practice to always follow-up by obtaining references. Candidates can behave beautifully, answer questions fluently and have all the right qualifications – but can they get out of bed in the morning?

Training staff should start from day one. Every business does things differently and the induction process gets the new recruit to understand the way you do things at your business. Introducing them to the rest of the team and monitoring their progress over the first few weeks will pay dividends.

Remember though that this is the starting point, not the end. Thinking back to the Olympics, the medal winners were the ones who were out there training daily to ensure they remained at the top of their game. If employees are given no training or development and if they are not adequately encouraged to aim high then inevitably their skill base will slide. They will probably still be competent, but not highly motivated or stretched.

Every industry sector faces change in terms of technology, legislation, fashion, cultural styles; the list of areas in which we all need to keep pace goes on and on and can be seemingly endless.
Building a culture that embraces change and constantly looks for new ways of improving is the way forward. If you invest in your staff they will feel valued and, in turn, more motivated. Building a high performing team is crucial if you are going to achieve your targets.

Many employers we meet worry that they may invest in all this training only for the member of staff to go to a competitor. However this concern can be easily addressed by adopting a simple study assistance agreement whereby the employee agrees to repay the cost of their training if they leave within a certain period, usually one or two years.

There are a variety of ways to identify individual training needs, ranging from carrying out a full training needs analysis to simply preparing a personal development plan as part of annual appraisals.

“Oh no! Not appraisals.” I hear some of you cry. But be reassured that this does not have to be the complicated or overly-time consuming process many turn it into. Surely you can spend 45 minutes a year to discuss an employee’s performance, hear their hopes and aspirations and together set objectives that will help your business grow? If not, do you really deserve the team you hope to build?

Inevitably some staff will leave and if they have been with you for a considerable length of time then a great deal of knowledge walks out of the door with them. If they were in a supervisory position how much easier it will be if you already have a well-trained employee ready to step into their shoes.

So many businesses ignore this forward-thinking approach but no-one lives forever and the day may well come when you, as the employer, want to hang up your gold-plated boots and hand over. However even if you sell your business the buyer will seek reassurance that the level of business you have built up will continue and that the investment they make will not be in jeopardy when you leave.

For all the reasons above training at every stage of the employment cycle is essential. And be imaginative. Training is not just about going on expensive courses, it can be sharing interesting articles, attending webinars, practical workshops, mentoring and coaching, shadowing and a host of other areas. Why not ask your employees for their ideas? Perhaps even during their appraisals.


Sue Tumelty is founder and managing director of The HR Dept, which has 45 offices around the UK and supports small and medium-sized businesses and organisations with everything employment related. This article was taken from the December 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue online, click here.



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