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INVESTMENT GUARANTEED: Why your firm should go for the Investors in People Award.

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10th Nov 2008
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Peter Kerr is an AccountingWeb member who left practice to end up as financial director for Investors in People Scotland. He explains why, after his initial scepticism, he believes more practices should be aiming for the Investors in People award.

We are all in agreement that we face difficult times ahead and are probably looking at where best we should invest our time and money to generate a safe return. This can be a difficult choice in times of uncertainty.

Initially a depressing thought, but I have a simple solution for those either running a business or providing advice to clients – how about investing in the most important resource, one that will grow in line with your investment and generate valuable returns – I’m talking, of course, about your people.

Positive returns

This investment, through use of the Investors in People (IIP) framework, more of which later, can produce the following positive returns:

  • Additional gross profit per employee of £176 (on average);
  • Reduced costs and wastage through focussing people development where there will be the best return on investment;
  • Link skills and people development to organisation strategy;
  • Produces a competitive edge.

I’m sure you will agree the above, whilst being important at any time, are all the more so currently. IIP has served the test of time and a previous recession, remaining relevant to business today, regardless of size, sector of skills base.

Employees are equally as important as your clients – they work in tandem to help you achieve your business goals. A motivated employee will, amongst other things:

  • Deliver a quality service;
  • Provide good levels of communication (to and from the client);
  • Recognise opportunities (potential cross selling etc)
  • Recognise threats to client retention and take steps to rectify this or feed back as required;
  • Feel valued and wish to do the best for the organisation.

There are times when we can forget that employees are the most important asset a business has. When times are tough (I promise this will be my last reference to the current economic climate) it is easy to cut back on essential employee related costs. This in turn creates a negative impact, when in reality you really want employee commitment and for them to feel valued.

This article aims to provide you with a personal reflection on how employee involvement is created within my own workplace and the value this can add through use of IIP.

I started out a sceptic

When I joined my current employer, Investors in People Scotland, I was aware of IIP. I had been through the process with an organisation previously and had seen the familiar logo that I’m sure you will have noticed on letterheads, websites etc.

I had in my time, in practice, encountered many organisations that had great ideas, but lacked the structure to really take these forward at the pace they wanted. I didn’t consider IIP due to my lack of knowledge and naivety about what it was about. A common misconception is that it relates to training, when the main focus is on providing a business framework through employee involvement, which in turn stimulates improvement. As I say, I wasn’t aware of this then.

I was therefore a bit of a sceptic as to how it worked in practice and if it was any good. Reading the IIP Standard (a list of indicators and evidence requirements) did not really help me appreciate what it all meant. Was it a tick box exercise, a paper based process and was it just a badge for the sake of it? How could it really help a business move forward?

Four years later, having progressed from finance manager to director of finance & operations, are my views of IIP still the same? As you may expect, the answer is a resounding “no”, although I promise you this is not through a fear of my job being on the line if I say anything to the contrary! If you were to ask anyone who knows me, or colleagues at work, they will say I look to challenge constructively when required (or when I see fit) to ensure any actions we take as a business add value to us (and help us achieve our desired outcomes). I would not endorse an approach that didn’t fulfil these aims (and definitely wouldn’t be writing this article!).

This change did not happen overnight, nor did it happen through me now being an expert in IIP and knowing all the requirements of it. Instead I began to realise that IIP is embedded in the culture of our organisation and affects everybody within it, from the top to the bottom.

It benefits everyone

We take employee involvement very seriously, giving staff the opportunity to be an active part in how they are involved within the business. Some examples of how this works in practice:

  • Involvement of all staff in the business planning process;
  • Linking team and individual objectives into the objectives of the business, thus each employee can recognise how they contribute to overall business targets (what they are doing makes a difference);
  • Creating an environment where communication and feedback is free-flowing and challenges can be made to current business thinking – “How can we do this better?” rather than “That’s the way we’ve always done it, so why change?”;
  • Encouraging staff to be all that they can be – developing them in accordance with the business needs and their own (in tandem);
  • Being open and honest about how we are doing as a business;

Leadership and management is an important aspect of ensuring this does work, but not management in the true sense of the word. Instead you need to play a guiding and supporting role. Employees need to be clear in what is expected of them and must also trust managers to act in their best interests and to share success as well as failures – how else can there be continuous business improvement and shared learning?

As a manager, I admit to my mistakes as I would expect my own staff to. The most important thing is to learn from them (together) and make sure they don’t happen again. Relationships are formed and trust is created, which is key to a positive working environment, always bearing in mind that trust is difficult to achieve and very easy to lose.

I feel that too often we feel as leaders or mangers that admitting to mistakes or our fears is shown to be a weakness to others, when instead it has the opposite effect in creating unity within the team. We’re not all perfect, but together we can achieve things and work together to improve and learn.

Employees then feel empowered to take on responsibility and make decisions within their own remit and helps to facilitate the whole people management process. Consistency of management across an organisation can be an issue and create problems, but through sharing of experiences and providing training and development, the inconsistencies can be reduced.

One team, one vision

If you get this right, you can become one team, all functioning together for the common good of the business, whilst employees have different roles to play in achieving goals. We have three teams within our organisation – business development, client services and operations and services. Each team is clear on their objectives and focussed on these, but are also aware of how other teams link into these and are willing to help each other to ensure the company goals are achieved. Clients get the knock on effects of this through engaging and motivated employees who will always try to help, even if it is out with their normal role.

Too often I have seen elsewhere the remarks of “it’s not my job” or “why should I help him/her?” Why is this, when the purpose of each individual role within an organisation is to help achieve, in some way, no matter how little or indirect, the overall business objectives?

I will always look to understand why this view is being taken and more importantly how it can be changed. We are all entitled to our opinion and I welcome free, open dialogue, but this sort of opinion can quickly spread through an organisation if active steps are not taken to resolve an issue.

We have our own IIP review coming up soon, carried out by an independent centre in England. We are confident that the practices and procedures that we have in place to run our business effectively, through using the principals of IIP, will stand us in good stead. The only guidance we provide to the employees is just to be honest with the IIP Specialist. There is no form filling or undue and unnecessary paperwork.

We see the process as a natural progression through our journey of continuous improvement and obviously hope we retain our IIP accreditation at the end of this. We recognise there will be development areas as a result of the review and will share these with all staff members and involve them in how we can create actions to improve on these.

We believe in how we run our organisation and over 30,000 across the UK share the same view, experience positive business benefits of higher profits per employee and greater levels of staff retention.

I would urge you to think about what you are trying to achieve as an organisation and whether using a proven framework such as IIP can help you or take you beyond this. I believe it does.

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