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Learning On A Shoestring: How To Develop Your People Without Breaking The Bank

As a business leader, you’ll be well aware that the success of your enterprise largely depends on the skills and motivation of the people who work for you.  So it’s crucial to keep your employees’ knowledge and skills sufficiently updated. And also to motivate them over the longer term, by helping them develop and grow their capabilities and careers.  If learning and development is disregarded, skills get stale, knowledge becomes out of date, motivation levels stagnate and careers begin to drift – and these factors have an obvious impact on hard measures like productivity and staff turnover.  Too often though, training comes last on the To Do list – with a common reason being “we just don’t have the budget for it”.

But the good news is, effective training and development needn’t cost the earth.  If you’re prepared to think creatively and invest a little time, you can easily organise all sorts of focused and robust learning activities without breaking the bank.  Here are some ideas to kick you off:

Ask Your Staff What They Think They Need

To help you identify what your staff need to learn in order to perform even better in their current roles (or perhaps for future roles you may have in mind for them) talk to them.  Ask them what they think their training needs are, and what new skills or knowledge they would like to learn.  This may not give you the whole picture of course, as some employees have better self awareness than others, while others might need to have their expectations managed. But it’s still a good idea to involve them in conversations about their needs so they can take some ownership of their development.

Explore E-Learning

Training courses are no longer just about hotel conference suites and flip charts. These days there’s a whole new world of virtual training on offer, with courses available on almost any topic imaginable.  Online training means staff can learn at their own convenience and pace, with costs generally low and many even free.   Check out websites like,,,, to find out more.

Join And Use Your Relevant Industry Body Or Trade Association

These often provide easy access to relevant and cost effective training, seminars, workshops and networking events, so take full advantage of what’s available in your industry or trade body.    

Capitalise On The Abilities You Already Have In-House

There are loads of ways you can do this, depending on the circumstances.  For example:

  • Ask team members with specific areas of expertise to deliver short training programmes or presentations for other staff, focussing on their specialist areas. In addition to building competence in the trainees, this approach will build presentation and training skills in your experts, gets them involved in knowledge sharing and helps create a culture of learning.
  • Promote inter-departmental sessions, for example by organising ‘brown bag’ lunches, with each hosted and run by a different department in turn.  It’s not unusual for staff members to know very little about what different departments do, the contexts in which they operate and the challenges they face.  Brown bag lunches are a really effective way to help departments educate each other about their activities and at the same time encourage network-building and a ‘one team’ culture across your business.

Encourage Work Shadowing /Job Shadowing

This is used a lot in organisations to boost on-the-job learning by giving people the chance to observe and/or work alongside current job holders.  Some of the ways work shadowing will help your people include:

  • Induction training – for new starters, or existing employees moving to a different role in the company, job shadowing for a few days is a great way to give them an understanding of the key aspects of the job, and what ‘good’ performance looks like. As a result they’re more likely to feel confident and prepared in advance, and it’s likely to reduce the time needed for them to become effective in-role once they’ve started.
  • Skill development – work shadowing is fundamentally about transferring knowledge and expertise from one staff member to another. And you can use it to help build specific skills for people to apply back in their own day jobs.  I have seen work shadowing used brilliantly as a way to help people learn specific areas of technical knowledge from colleagues who are experts in the field. Done well, the technical expert can follow up the shadowing stage by setting relevant tasks or mini- project work to help the trainee consolidate and use what they’ve learned, and finish off with a feedback and review stage.  I have also seen work shadowing used to build professional skills – a recent example being a manager skilled in facilitating large multi-discipline meetings shadowed by another manager who needed to learn this skill fast.  

Mentor For Success

Another effective way to leverage the expertise you already have in-house is to ask experienced staff members to mentor more junior colleagues.  Research shows mentoring to be a powerful way of passing on knowledge and experience, and it can help build a range of skills in mentees such as decision making, commercial awareness, market understanding and people management.  Meanwhile your mentors get to hone their skills in development coaching and feedback.  The best mentoring programmes I have known go on to develop the mentees themselves as mentors for less experienced colleagues, further down the line.

Make Smart Use Of External Conferences And Training

Sometimes it’s going to be necessary to fund employees’ attendance at external events.  So to maximise your investment in doing this, make it a condition that staff report back on their return to the workplace, ask them to:

  • present and discuss key learning points with colleagues
  • explain how they will use what they have just learned in their roles, and agree some goals around this

So in summary – good quality, relevant learning and development really doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.  If you’re prepared to invest a little planning and time, this is likely to pay big dividends in terms of improved employee skills, knowledge and motivation. 

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Photo Credit: Shoestring Budget by AV Dezign |

HR Surgery: What Should I Be Doing As a Startup Every Month For HR?

HR Surgery: What Should I Be Doing As a Startup Every Month For HR?

Time flies when you’re running your own business. One minute it’s January and you’re hiring your first few team members, telling yourself you’ll align their progress with the rest of the business, and then the next, you find it’s Summer already and all your good intentions have never not quite translated into any sort of strategy ….

Very Few Startups & SMEs Allocate Time Once A Month To Focus On HR

And whilst it’s likely that you’ve kept a regular eye on your sales and finance tasks in a structured way every month, when it comes to your people, chances are that any structure has been left to happen ‘naturally’. If you’re close to the team, check in regularly as a matter of course and have spent time building relationships with them from the word ‘go’, then this is all good news as you’ve built some really strong foundations already despite no mention of the words ‘HR’. However if you’ve left all checkups and communications aside as you have your head down, there not only may there be a risk that the next “have you got a quick minute?” directed your way, might just be a complaint or – worse still – the dreaded resignation letter, you will also be missing a trick in planning and investing in your biggest asset: your team.

Our Monthly HR Checklist For Startups & SMEs

To help you structure what can sometimes seem a daunting task, we’ve created a monthly HR checklist for you, designed to make sure you keep your business and your people on track. Nothing heavy. And nothing daunting. But a few things that – if you review on a regular monthly basis – will significantly help boost your team’s productivity and your overall leadership, saving you oodles of time and hassle in the long run.

1. Step back and do a quick people overview (as you would your sales or finances): What are its strengths and weaknesses? What does your team look like this year in size, shape, roles and productivity? More importantly, what do you want them to be doing differently in the next 6 – 12 months to meet your own overall goals?

2. With 1) in mind… how you want to develop the team and what are the 1, 2 and 3 priorities you will be looking at for the coming 6 months with them?

3. Set up some simple KPIs to track in relation to your team. Basics ordinarily will include things such as headcount, salary bill, absence rates etc (which track directly to your finances), right through to those which might tell you a little bit more in the long run & will take a bit of time to start yielding the insight you’re after. In this latter category, you need to put your thinking cap on about what you want to measure (employee satisfaction, time you spend with each employee, number of new ideas/ initiatives generated by the team etc) and why it’s important.

4. Clarify to the team what the company goals are and what progress is being made towards them. Too busy for an All Hands/ Town Hall/ Company Meeting? Whilst face to face is often best in this regard, we find that the ‘little and often’ approach works best to get the message across and make people feel involved, so just make sure that there is some communication on this each month, even if via Email/ slack/ video etc

5. Get feedback from the team on how they are finding each project/ progress against the goals. Whilst there are now many different software programmes which can help do this for you in a regular and structured way, at the very least, add on a question to all at the bottom of any team wide communications that make clear that you want to hear from people or walk around the office and ask people face to face.

6. Put together a simple action plan to address any queries which arise. And forecast for the team over how their roles might change, what their risk profile is and how you can support and motivate them

7. Make the team see you as human: take them out to lunch to chat away from the office and stay connected. One former CEO I worked with liked to take afternoon tea with his team & another took each person out for lunch in their first week to find out more about them, both delightful traditions appreciated by all.

8. Review the behaviours of your current team. Look at what the qualities of the team are displaying are and what channel they joined you via. When it comes to recruiting, referrals can be a really good channel & work wonders on those KPIs. Share recognition about great performance: your team will love you for it (even if they’re a bit embarrassed initially…)

9. Take stock of what learning may be needed for individuals/ teams to support your goals. This doesn’t need to be expensive (we have heaps of ideas in a previous blog ‘Learning on a Shoestring’) but as a no.1 area for motivation as well as often being needed to adapt to a changing business, getting a clear idea on where people can develop is key.

10. Talk to the team and bounce ideas off people who don’t have a direct interest in your business to get some objective advice and open your mind to trying out new ways of doing things. But whether you’re are start up with just a couple of employees or hitting the big time and your headcount is getting into triple figures, it’s never the wrong time to focus on getting the most from your team and providing a great environment for them to thrive.

If you’re struggling however with getting the full benefits from your team and finding the time to develop your ideas, help from a switched-on HR professional could be what you need.

For help in getting (and keeping!) your business on track with it’s team please email or call 0203 627 7048  and speak to our team. We’re always happy to help and offer a free initial review to help you understand how to make valuable changes to support your business.

TheHRhub: helping restless business owners create and manage good working relationships with their staff in a direct and pragmatic way. #employeemagic


HR Horrors: Managing The Underperformance Of A Longstanding Employee

When we think about underperformance we predominantly relate it to new or nearly new employees, when issues can be put down to recruiting the wrong person or mismanagement in those precious first few months . After all, the process of finding the right member of staff can be tricky, and there are many things that you need to do to ensure that you’re giving individuals everything they need to hit the ground running.

But what if you have a member of staff who has been with you for quite a while, someone who previously has always made a solid contribution, and you suddenly start to notice that their performance is slipping?

These circumstances present a unique set of challenges. And if you find yourself in this situation, it’s really important that you know exactly what to do to address the problems and get things back on the right track.

It’s essential that you don’t panic. Read on – we’re going to walk you through absolutely everything that you need to know:

Don’t Pretend That It’s Not Happening

If your member of staff has previously met their goals and made a strong contribution to the company, then you might think that the best approach is to just wait and see what happens. After all, doesn’t everyone go through patches when they’re feeling a little unmotivated?

Take this approach and you may well find that things fix themselves. But this is absolutely NOT the thing to do though if you’re serious about growing a strong and engaged workforce. The wider team will soon notice if you start treating certain individuals differently and you’ll run into problems sooner rather than later. Perception and trust are important. You need to act with integrity and in a timely manner.

Nobody wants to have difficult conversations, especially when it’s with valued members of staff who have been with the business for a long time. As a leader though, it’s your duty.

If you’re struggling to bite the bullet and take action on the situation, take a step back and think about things objectively. Emotions can overtake your common sense, and no one’s expecting you to be a machine. How is this person not meeting your standards exactly? What impact is this having on productivity, profits, and relations within the team? Often, you’ll quickly realise that you have no other option.

Get Together For An Informal Chat About The Situation

You don’t need to blow things out of proportion. The beauty of being proactive is that you can often nip problems in the bud and get things back on the right track without any hassle or fuss.

As a first port of call, arrange an informal meeting with the individual in question. Raise your concerns about the problems you’ve become aware of. Speak to them about what they feel is going wrong, and find out if there’s anything that you can do to support them.

There’s a whole host of issues that could be at play. Pinpointing precisely what is going wrong is the first step in getting things back on course. It could be the case that they’ve been working on the same projects for a very long time, and they’re struggling to stay engaged. They may have problems outside of the workplace that are having an impact on their performance.

Don’t jump to any assumptions before you’ve got all the information, and be sure to act on the details that you take away from the meeting. Almost all leaders and managers will say that they listen to their members of staff, but all too often, they’re just going through the motions. Make sure that you don’t make this mistake.

Put An Improvement Plan In Place

Once you’ve spoken with your employee and you’ve agreed that changes need to be made, it’s absolutely vital that you create a structured and detailed improvement plan. Simply telling the member of staff that they need to make changes is not enough. It’s ambiguous, it’s open to interpretation, and it’s not going to help anyone.

Instead, set objective goals for the individual to meet. Make sure that your employee agrees to them, and get them down in writing. From here, you can arrange to have follow-up discussions to assess the progress that is being made.

It’s important that the plan will help you to get things back on track, but don’t expect miracles overnight. Consistent, small changes are often more sustainable, and will be easier to manage.

Provide The Necessary Support

It’s not enough to agree to the necessary changes and then assume that everything will fall into place. You need to ensure that your employee has the support that they need. Of course, what this will look like in practical terms will depend on the individual and the specific circumstances in hand.

It may be the case that extra training is required. It’s worth noting though that going down the more formal route is not the only option, and there are many things that you can do within the workplace on a day-to-day basis that will ensure your staff feel supported.

For example, you could allocate mentors and coaches, arrange regular catch-up meetings, and invite plenty of feedback around what you could do to help staff to reach their goals. Again, listening is essential. Remember that your workers are individuals, with differing needs and preferences, and a one-size-fits-all approach will rarely create the results that you’re looking for. For more on this check out our article Learning On A Shoestring: How To Develop Your People Without Breaking The Bank.

Act In Accordance With Your Policies And Procedures

Your policies and procedures exist to uphold standards. They ensure that you act in accordance with the law, that your staff are treated fairly and equally, and that everyone is working towards wider goals and objectives. So make sure that you’re using them! 

Sometimes though, you can find that your policies are no longer fit for purpose. They may be outdated, or you may realise that you haven’t been implementing them in the way that you initially intended. You may find our article HR Policies: Everything SME Leaders Need To Know  a helpful read here. 

If you have concerns about how equipped you are to manage underperformance, then we can help. Get in touch today at or by calling 0203 627 7048 to arrange an initial, no-obligation consultation. We’ll pinpoint any potential issues that are at play in your workplace, and give you practical advice around what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: The ultimate HR support for startups and SMEs.

Photocredit: Flickr Spadge6868

Brainfood: Smart Ways To Grow Your Tech Team

A recent study from CultureAmp found that the no.1 reason for staying with a technology business was the opportunity to grow. But when you’re short on levels of ‘management’ and don’t have the funds to invest heavily in this area, how do you carve out the kind of opportunities a technologist might stay for? And compete with the likes of Google/ Facebook/ ANother Startup-Down-The-Road to get employees’ development on track?

Here are our top tips for growing tech talent:


Yes, I appreciate that this word ranks up there with ‘low hanging fruit’ and ‘reach out’ in terms of business terminology that’s had it’s day – and is therefore tempting to ignore – but the literal meaning of working together to achieve results is something we should all be doing. And collaboration is something that is truly valued by most developers I’ve ever worked with. The chance to get stuck into something, to share the problems and even to out-do each other with solutions, is motivating in itself.

Pair Up

Pair Programming has proved popular in many tech businesses, mainly because of it’s ability to increase the quality of code as the output of such exercise. In this type of work, two developers are set to work side by side on a project, playing different roles (writing or observing) and switching them frequently. Although increasing the (wo)man-hours needed to deliver on a project using this style of work, the benefits of increased motivation & quality may be worth it.

Perform (and help others do the same)

I’ve been told in the past (by managers mainly) that developers don’t ‘do’ performance reviews: that they don’t believe in these kind of structured process; that they have no value. Hmmm, that’s interesting. As whatever collective behaviours may be exhibited from one employee group to another, I’ve yet to meet an individual or group which didn’t want feedback….. So if someone’s saying that to you, maybe it’s because they don’t ‘doyour performance review. So shake it up a bit. Try to to do them little and often and for gods’ sake, include some sort of peer review.

The speed of technological change makes it very difficult for tech companies to keep employees’ skills up to date – but a recent Upwork survey found that 89% of IT professionals would consider leaving their job for better training somewhere else, so it’s worth making the investment. Their development needn’t cost an arm and a leg – so for more ideas on how to inject some growth to the team, check out Fleur Winter’s great article ‘L&D On A Shoestring’ for some other cost-effective ideas.

For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

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Photo credit: Scott, Jell-O-Brains