Although the road ahead is still looking decidedly bumpy, there’s increased optimism that the UK’s economy is on course for recovery and… whisper it… renewed growth.
For example, the CBI has recently upgraded its own economic outlook and believes that the British economy will grow by 0.4% in the remainder of 2023, increasing further to 1.8% in 2024. It also believes business growth and investment are also set to rise, reaching pre-cost-of-living crisis and COVID-19 pandemic levels by end of 2024. Throw in the fact that inflation is also showing signs of falling too, and everyone can perhaps feel a little more optimistic about the future of the British economy.
With the outlook not looking so gloomy, many business leaders will likely be turning their attentions to growth. But, herein lies a problem.
In order to grow a business, you need to be able to attract the best and brightest candidates from the jobs market to drive that growth. Unfortunately, not only is the UK’s labour market rapidly cooling, it’s also shrinking: with key skills in high demand, but short in supply.
There’s also the issue that business growth can be relatively easy to achieve, but incredibly difficult to sustain over the longer term. For example, the McKinsey journal Insights warns whatever the size of your business, sustaining growth is really hard – particularly if expansion has been rapid. In its survey of high growth companies, 85% turned out to be unable to maintain their growth rates for sustained periods of time.
So, with those factors in mind, just what can businesses and HR teams do to ensure rapid growth burns brightly for longer, and isn’t just a flash in the pan?
Business growth: focus on core values
One aspect HR teams can do to support business growth is a continued focus on the core values and culture of a business, and ensuring they permeate every part of the employee experience. This is because a well-defined and strong company culture fosters employee engagement, alignment with organisational values and a sense of belonging – ultimately enhancing teamwork and productivity… all vital when it comes to supporting sustained growth.
That statement can be backed up by prominent research. For instance, research by the CIPD suggests having a clear purpose and values plays a critical role in the continued success of a business. They guide how work gets done, influence the way people feel about their jobs and make it more likely the organisation will achieve its objectives.
There’s a danger, however, that as companies expand and grow, these values can become diluted and may even disappear altogether over time. This is where having that continued focus, mentioned earlier, becomes critical for sustained growth, and something HR teams must be proactive in maintaining.
So how can companies communicate their values clearly and make sure they stay solid through growth? Here’s what HR teams can do…
Look for subtle signs
Be alert to small but significant signals that employees are becoming less engaged with the business as it grows. People may lack the passion they once had or are less willing than previously to go the extra mile. A clear indication of this is an increase in absenteeism, or a higher rate of turnover among your workforce.
In addition, there may be also more subtler signs of something going awry. You may learn there’s a lot of gossiping and grumbling within teams and a general feeling that things are ‘not quite right.’ In this scenario, keeping the lines of communication open is key.
Consider running regular pulse surveys to track levels of engagement and sentiment throughout the year. These can offer crucial signposts to as to the health of your company’s culture, and provide an opportunity for you to investigate issues before they become more serious.
Lastly, talking to people individually is important – via 1-1 check ins for example – but internal social portals, which allow people to share information and discuss ideas, can also play an important role. Used well, they help to maintain the ‘community’ atmosphere employers want to engender, keep people up-to-speed with what’s happening in the business and create a sense of excitement about the challenges ahead.
Articulate values clearly
How often have you walked into an organisation and seen their corporate values displayed proudly on the wall in reception? ‘Inspiring’ statements like ‘we put customers first!’ Or ‘our people are our greatest asset!’… well, it’s on a wall… it must be true! However, the trouble is this doesn’t really tell people how you want them to go about their job and what you might want them to do differently on Monday morning.
Organisations need to find ways to make it clear what their values really mean in practice in terms of attitudes and behaviours. Employee focus groups, where people talk about ‘how we do things around here’ can help to reinforce the behaviours the business want to encourage. Sharing examples on a company intranet, HR portal or in an internal publication about how people have delighted customers or taken an ethical approach to a difficult situation can also be an effective way of keeping the message alive.
Tell your story
People often hanker after the ‘early days’ of a business when there was a ‘family’ atmosphere, everyone knew what was going on and the chief executive had time to pass the time of day in the corridor. This inevitably disappears as a business grows; but helping employees understand the ‘back story’ of your business – as well as their role in building its future – can help to increase their engagement and sense of ownership.
Include information about the company’s journey in your onboarding programme for new starters so they understand where you are coming from and what has gone before. Making stories an integral part of the way you communicate can also help people make sense of change and understand the reasons you might want them to do things differently to the way they have in the past.
Don’t let formal processes stifle your culture
As a business grows, official processes and procedures tend to multiply and get more complex. Cumbersome forms and lengthy sign-off procedures can, however, get in the way of efficiency and make people feel disempowered.
HR processes such as managing holidays are a prime example of how companies can make a mountain out of a molehill by insisting on laborious, often manual processes that make people irritated and frustrated. The latest HRIS platforms can do much to simplify and streamline processes. They help to build trust and engagement and free time up for people to concentrate on their day job.
HR software, for example, allows people to check how much annual leave they’ve got left and submit a request on-line. Their manager can access an up-to-date calendar of who’s off when in the team and can OK the request at the click of a mouse or tap of an app.
Embed values in your people processes
The CIPD suggests making your values the ‘golden thread’ that runs through all your people processes. So, when hiring new staff, think beyond technical capabilities and look for people whose personal values and ways of working match those of the organisation.
If maximising the potential of your people is one of your values, make sure this is reflected in your company’s performance management processes. It’s no good telling people you want to invest in their development, if the annual appraisal is constantly getting put off and promised training never happens. It’s about the business walking its own talk. If people see that HR and senior management are living out the values they espouse – they will follow suit.