Saturday, 6 March 2010

A response to The Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work for 2010

Do you remember that Christmas Eve feeling when you were a kid? The anticipation and excitement of knowing what was going to come tomorrow? I can’t say it was quite as exhilarating as listening out for sleigh bells in the snow, but I did have a definite sense of anticipation last Saturday, knowing that The Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work for 2010 was to hit news stands the next day.

Up with the lark, off to the newsagents and, with coffee and croissant (and dog), the supplement was taken out and poured over (usually it’s Business, Property, Style and Review in that order).

What a let down.

Yes there are 55 new names here and a few interesting movements in ranking, but I am distinctly underwhelmed. Maybe it is a sign of 2009’s economic troubles but I didn’t really find much Innovation happening on the list. I did find some fun perks (hypnosis to lose weight anyone?) and some great investment in training and development - particularly of note is the peer coaching model at Fairbarin Private Bank and the financial investment made by Savile Group of £3000 per employee. Elsewhere, however, whilst sushi making may be a laugh, it does seem a bit gimmicky and over engineered.

I was also struck by how many consultancies there are in the top 100. Over 50 of the winners work in communications, HR or PR. Now I would not ever accuse them of using The Sunday Times for their own purposes, but there does seem to be an overcrowding of companies that don’t make anything and spend their time telling others how to make stuff or finding people who will do it for them (I know this is pot and kettle black stuff).

Employee Engagement is vital for Innovation – who is going to bother improving your offering if they don’t really want to be behind that till or answering that phone? And that is why this list is so important. It is a snap shot of engagement levels, and therefore potential to innovate, in the lifeblood of the UK economy – the SME.

At a CIPD conference last year I heard one HRD remark:

“I’ve spent a fortune on employee engagement programmes over the last few years. That’s all going to stop now. They are lucky to have a job”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that encourages presenteeism and celebrates an historic rate of low staff turnover. I would like to see her share price in 12 months time.

All that said, there are some great examples of Innovation in HR on this year’s list.

We love Peter Kelly, the founder of Best Place Winner, Softcat with his utopian dream of “just caring that people are happy”. The company is run like a democracy and people decide what team they want to work in.

Qedis has taken an Innovative approach to employee engagement and set up employee action groups. The use of language is interesting here – they call these groups “Families”. Lexicon also plays a part at Practicus Recruitment Consultancy where employee of the month is call a “player” and overall employee of the year is called “the player’s player”. Language can have such an influence on an organisation’s culture, I was glad to see this level of attention played to it.

Little mention was made of technology, but worthy of merit is Red Gate Software’s joint CEO Neil Davidson who is likened to Stephen Fry for his Twitter updates to staff. Also interesting is Bite Communications who encourages staff blogging and has live Twitter feeds on their website. Apart from that, the IT revolution seems to have passed most HR Departments by.

Perhaps it is telling that Savile Group, who specialise in providing support to those who have recently been made redundant, are the least stressed employees in this year’s survey. I am sure they saw profits rise in 2009.

With signs that the UK economy is in recovery I look forward to some real Innovations on next year’s list. Let’s hope, like my dreams of Santa Claus, I don’t end up disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting comment and I too am struck by the lack of inventiveness coming through here.