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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

Leadership: It’s A Head AND A Heart Thing

“We have no need for leadership development”. So said the director in a business I met with recently. “We’ve been in this market for years. We’ve got ambitious goals which everyone in the business knows about and if someone doesn’t share them, then we tell it like it is and part ways”. I was impressed, to be honest with his frankness. There aren’t many people who would stand there and say, “I’ve got nothing to learn”. But maybe their style of high pressure high turnaround yielded results. And they definitely did know what they were doing from a technical standpoint as hundreds of happy customers could attest to this.

However their business had grown five fold in employee terms in under 2 years and – whilst not stratospheric growth – was certainly enough to change the dynamics of their business considerably: no more knowing every interaction the customer had with his team; no more knowing the ins and outs of every employee’s lives. And sadly it seemed, no more static employee numbers.

Because it turns out that whilst this culture of searing honesty sat well with the boss, starters and leavers were going through a revolving door (both leaving of their own free will as well as being ‘ nudged’) and for the last year they were haemorrhaging money through not being able to keep their staff at any level below their management team, not to mention the time it was taking to hire people and the frustrations felt by colleagues as yet another person left and they were there to take the extra work .

And things always started with the best of intentions: from day 1 all team members were given very clear goals which linked to the business ones. They had an ambitious team culture and a thriving service. So where were the issues? Well, here’s the thing: people management is where arts meets science: a place where you can use data and structure to support people achieving your goals, but where you cannot simply follow a template and expect to get the same out put every time or just to impart a goal to someone and expect them to follow it to the letter. Because people just don’t perform as algorithms and they don’t behave as you expect them to all of the time (ask any HR person who’s been behind the scenes in any business for longer than about two weeks!).

We humans are complex creatures and rarely will go about doing something we either don’t understand, don’t believe in or don’t respect. We may not even realise it ourselves, but we need to be ’sold’ to, for someone to engage us in their vision and linking our motivations to achieving the same shared goals.

So when you’re business relies on your team members to get stuff done – make sales, handle your customers – you need to do more to than just ‘direct’ and show them the outputs of a spreadsheet you have just pulled up of their performance: you need to show them ‘the love’.

Today, the world’s best leaders use their head and their hearts.

Emotional intelligence is the term most used to describe the ‘heart’ at work: using your combination of self-awareness, motivation, empathy, social skills and self-regulation to get results.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman studied leadership for the Harvard Review and states in his findings that “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.” It’s not that he – or anyone else – is suggesting that you don’t need to have technical capabilities or a certain level of intelligence to be a leader. It’s just that they’re your entry level ticket to leadership rather than the full blown package.

Our heart is a poor statistician however and definitely needs some support

All of this chat about ‘soft’ skills is not to say that using data, logic and your technical skills in you leadership style are in any way redundant, as both sets of skills come into play best when used together.

If just having and sharing the data to show someone is not performing doesn’t motivate them into changing their behaviour, then neither does just being empathetic about their situation. You need both. Using data and logic can be your ally when it comes to difficult conversations. It’s the ‘proof’ you need to back up your message and make it objective. As a leader, it’s tough to say to someone you respect and like that their performance isn’t cutting it, however armed with some data, it makes your conversation a whole lot easier.

Using your heart means getting to know your team members and their motivations: it means changing your style of communication to suit them and listing to what they have to say about the way you run things.

So next time you are tempted to tear someone off a strip for something they haven’t done (or you think they haven’t done), just challenge yourself to behave differently and see what the results may be.

If you want some extra help on the people front, we can support you through your goals, and ensure that you reach your full potential.

Drop us a line at to find out more or sign up here for free tools and guidance.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs.

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

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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Photo credit: Mufida Kassalis

Captain America And Lessons On Managing Conflict In An SME Boardroom

I love indulging in action movies from time to time: all that kicking a**e, hurling cars and saving the world before breakfast is enough to take anyone away from any day to day mundanity of life and far less hard work than watching one which is critically aclaimed and having to think up anything meaningful to say about it afterwards. And so was thrilled when my kids asked to go and see ‘Captain America: Civil War’, the latest Avengers film, last weekend.

Not only was it highly entertaining and the perfect excuse to sit still for 2 hours, but it also gave me more than a gentle reminder of the various boardroom tussles I’ve witnessed (and dodged) over the years: the ones where external challenges lead to raised tensions in management meetings; where the pressures brought on by not-performing-as-expected lead to perfectly talented people exhibiting mercurial behaviours; and where in the face of mounting stress, the teams turn on, rather than towards, each other.

Checking out the lineup of superheroes, I was saddened to see there was no Wonder Woman included: not only have I been a staunch believer since I was five years old that saving the world is made easier sporting massive hair and even bigger pants, but surely her emotional intelligence and mediation skills could be just the superpowers they all seemed to be missing here??

For those who may not have seen (or ever want to…) the film, the plot is largely as first expected: goodies versus baddies, with goodies up against the clock to stop the largest threat to humankind. However the main deviation from the standard approach in this episode, is that it centres on the chaos which ensues when it turns out that the largest threat to mankind is actually a side-show. And that the baddies sole goal is to incite civil war among the goodies. Cue rapid escalating violence within the team of Avengers themselves….

Of course, in the management and boardrooms across the country, there are no magic shields, laser eyes or webbed fingers to be found deployed across meeting room tables in order to lay into a colleagues’ latest argument for budget cuts (normally in every other team but their own…) or defend a lacklustre sales & marketing campaign. But that doesn’t meant that when things get tough – through competition, market conditions or just plain bad luck – people don’t use every other power they have at their disposal to fight: undercutting, sidelining, lobbying, bullying. You name it, they can all put it to just as strong effect in the business world. And it can feel just as deadly if you’re in the mix.

I’ve heard of one company who were up against it having missed their sales targets by two successive quarters, where an executive used to regularly hold informal meetings with his colleagues prior to the more formal minuted ones, to get them onside with his thoughts and suss out how they were feeling about various plans. So far, so good ( or at least common) you might think. The difference here was that he would then make use of any information gained in trust to verbally destroy others once they were in a more public forum, in the vain hope that this would make him look better to the potential buyers who were circling & save him from the axe if it came to that. Nice.

And in another, a special (extraordinary) two hour meeting had to be held by the senior management team to make the critical decision of which coffee machine to buy for the kitchen. It had got to this point because two parties with opposing views wouldn’t back down and the end result of which was that a vote needed to be called to settle the matter once and for all. Seriously? Over a coffee machine?

Presumably after said vote, this led to one party feeling victorious over the other (whilst the others no doubt stood scratching their heads on the sides wondering why they’d just wasted two hours of their life…), despite the fact that even a conservative estimate would put the cost of their time spent arguing at over £1,000, at a time when what they really needed to do was to use their combined capabilities to fix their sales pipeline.

But then that’s what happens when the collective team falls apart and people begin to care more about destroying other’s points of view and/or defending their own, than keeping perspective over what it is they’re actually trying to achieve.

These are of course, relatively minor examples of what can happen where relations start to break down at the top as the pressures start to mount on teams. Ones which which can be put right by some stern words from the leader and a sharp focus on the real business issues you are facing before they destroy your business. But once in-fighting starts to occur on a regular basis, when collaboration and trust break down between the team and it’s not immediately dealt with, you may as well be handing your very own nuclear switch to your competitors.

This being the first installment in this episode, I’ve no idea how Captain America and Iron Man will resolve their differences in ones to come, but if you feel that people in your own top team are more interested in putting themselves and their pride before the business and spoiling for a civil war, then use your own superpowers of support, clarity of vision, objectivity and coaching in order to help them bond rather than dissolve.

“An enemy can topple an empire from the outside and it can be rebuilt. But one destroyed from the inside will die”. Wise words indeed Mr. Vision.

Now, where did I leave that lasso…..

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Photo credit: The Avengers

6 Ways To Raise Your Leadership Game This Week

Think that becoming a better leader involves attending intensive courses, gaining years and years of experience, or getting your head stuck into a textbook? Well, not necessarily. These things can all have their place, but it’s very possible to raise your game this week, by making just a few manageable changes.

If you’re ready to step up to the challenge, then read on. We’re going to look at six practical game-changers that you can get to work with right away.

Say No

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of chasing every opportunity that comes your way. But it’s impossible to do everything and sustain a successful business. It’s all about carefully constructing what your role will involve. If in doubt, ask yourself what your priorities need to be right now to get you to where you want to be.

Delegate One Task From Your Agenda

Being a business owner involves knowing when you need to hand things over. You just can’t manage everything on your own. Many people struggle with this though, and hesitate when it comes to handing over to someone else. Do yourself a favour this week and pass a task on to your team. It’s vital that you aren’t the only person within your company that can do any one thing.

Forget About Work For One Evening

Taking work home is often a necessity. You can talk about work-life balance all day long, but there’s no denying that sacrifices have to be made on the road to success. If you have absolutely zero distinction between your business and personal lives though, you’re going to reach serious burnout sooner rather than later. Take the evening off. Read a book. Watch TV. Do absolutely nothing. You might be surprised by what this teaches you.

Do That Thing That You’ve Been Putting Off

It’s human nature to avoid the tasks that you dread. In certain situations though, this can seriously hold you back as a leader. Perhaps you know that you need to have a difficult conversation with a team member, but you haven’t quite managed to make yourself just do it. This week, get it out the way.

Turn Your Routine On Its Head

Routine can be a wonderful thing, but it’s worth considering whether you’ve fallen into the trap of just doing certain things because they’re what you’ve always done. Shake things up to avoid getting stuck in a rut. If you can get into the habit of experimenting with this, you’re likely to make big discoveries in terms of your motivation and productivity.

Leave Some Unplanned Time In Your Diary

If you take a look back over your schedule from the past few weeks, you’ll probably notice a trend. Most of your time is earmarked for certain events, such as meetings, networking, and so on. It’s wise to be organised, but don’t forget the value of having some regular unplanned time in your diary, so you can focus on handling issues in the moment.

Being a leader can be massively rewarding, but it can be a tough job all the same. If you want some extra help on the people front, we can support you through your goals, and ensure that you reach your full potential.

Drop us a line at to find out more or sign up here for free tools and guidance.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs.

P.s – 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.

Photo by Jay Malone

“But We’ve Always Done It This Way”: HR Habits Which Could Be Costing You Dearly

We all know that bad habits in our personal lives can lead to issues: from trying to ditch the cigarettes/ chocolate/ alcohol through to taking up a healthier diet, most of us have experienced a time when we recognised that changes had to be made for our greater good.

But have you ever stopped to think about the HR habits that could be having a seriously negative impact on your business? Like many less than favourable behaviours, we sometimes don’t realise that they’re a problem until they’ve spiraled out of control. So here, we identify a few bad HR habits that you might be committing & what to do to .

Carrying Out Annual Reviews On An Annual Basis

Hang on a sec – why exactly is this a bad habit?? Shouldn’t you be making sure that performance discussions do take place?? Of course you should. But if they’re only happening once a year, then you’re missing a trick. Managing and improving performance needs to be built into your everyday working practices. If it’s not, then you can’t realistically expect to improve productivity.

Getting Stuck In The Filing Cabinet

You don’t need us to tell you that the world of business is moving faster than ever before. You’re probably using online tactics when it comes to your sales and marketing, for example, but what about HR? It could be time to ditch the notion that HR lives in the filing cabinet, and bring your business up to speed. Online systems with good security are as secure as any filing cabinets and will often save you time and hassle with your HR Admin.

Thinking That Training And Learning Are One And The Same

There’s no denying that training can be expensive. Send a few employees to a conference, book in some places on an external course, or bring in a professional trainer for a couple of days, and your bill will be hefty. Sometimes, formal training is essential and/or advisable: when you’re rolling out new software, when your team require a recognised qualification etc. But what’s arguably much more important is ongoing learning within the workplace. Nurturing your talent isn’t a one-off event – it’s about what happens in your business on a day-to-day basis. So get to it with those lunch and learn sessions, involve all the team in what they can all learn from each other and challenge your team to show what they’ve learnt on an on-going basis.

Hogging All The Decision Making

As the boss you may be thinking: but that’s what I’m here for! Obviously there are some key decisions that only you and your top team should be making, but imagine how much time you would free up in your life if others around you came up with a range of solutions to the things which had been stopping you from sleeping for most of the previous night, gave you ideas for your next product or sorted out problems they had about the office move between themselves…. Allowing and encouraging your team to make decisions (or at least contribute to them by involving them) inspires trust and confidence which can pay you back massive returns in terms of loyalty and engagement, not to mention the innovation which can come from a varied viewpoint.

Bad habits are often deeply engraved into a business’s culture, but that doesn’t mean that you should just ignore them and hope for the best. Tackling these issues head-on is the only option.

Need a little help for working out your next steps? Get in touch today at

Photo Credit: BadHabit by jadawin42