Round Table Debate: Attracting & Retaining Top Talent

Posted on the 18 June 2015

Round Table Debate: Attracting & Retaining Top Talent

Finding and retaining good staff is a challenge for most businesses, and the nature of employees is changing, with employers’ mindsets being forced to shift in response.

The second Entrepreneurs’ Forum Round table of 2015 looked at these issues and how members are facing them, how recruitment is changing and how to handle the situation when a valued employee decides to leave.

Hosted by sales performance specialists durhamlane, at their offices in Jesmond, chairman Gillian Marshall was joined by durhamlane’s director Richard Lane and fellow Forum members:

John Lord, of Rosewood Packaging

Mark Ions, of Exclusive Ltd

Faye Stephenson, of Taopix

Jonathan Moore, of North East Factors

Gill Burgess, of R//evolution

Neil Clark, of EYELEVEL

Alex Hayward, of Phusion IM

Karen Winterhalter, of Onyx Health

What is your current biggest challenge in recruiting or retaining great staff?

Karen Winterhalter, Onyx Health

Our biggest challenge is that we need to employ marketing and PR people with healthcare knowledge and expertise.  As a minimum they have to have interest in health and medicine.  Our team have to understand our client’s products, the diseases it treats, how it fits into the NHS and on top of that we work to strict regulatory codes of practice regarding the promotion of medicines and medical devices.  This is on top of a normal marketing and PR role. There aren’t any other healthcare agencies like us in the North East, so we are starting from scratch.

Richard Lane, durhamlane

We are a sales performance business providing outsourced market intelligence and lead generation services, consulting, training and staffing solutions. My sleepless nights are all about resourcing. We always aim to employ great people with the right attitude and mindset; we provide a lot of training and, since we are representing our clients as if we were them, we need to deliver an amazing service.  We are creating the sales teams of the future and we have to hang on to them.

Alex Hayward, Phusion IM

We give Richard sleepless nights, because we work with Richard and his team on the sales force. We have had some periods of very rapid growth over the last few years and we have literally been recruiting at an astounding pace. Sometimes you can walk into the office on a Monday morning and there might be seven or eight new people, which is quite a challenge to a) recruit and b) keep up with, and we haven’t always got it right; sometimes we do it well and sometimes, unfortunately, it hasn’t always worked out for us. We are fairly comfortable with our recruitment methods. At the moment, what we are really struggling with is finding people, particularly in the engineering sector, in the project management sector and at some point, external selling, with people like Richard’s team, people who can have those technical conversations, face to face with clients. It’s not just in the North East, it’s a national and, in fact, a global challenge.

Jonathan Moore, North East Factors and Diverse Distribution

I took over about seven years ago and, because of the crash, recruitment hasn’t been a big thing for us, but on the horizon, I can see it is going to be important, so my major challenge is going to be that lack of experience.

Gill Burgess, R//evolution

We are a small team of ten people and we moved into Gateshead just under three years ago from Hexham and one of the main reasons for that move was because we knew we needed to recruit the right level of talent into the business. We have a digital team and we need talented young digital people. That’s put us in a very competitive market, of course, so at the moment talent is very scarce. We are recruiting for three members of digital staff and the agencies are saying they are like hens’ teeth at the moment and it’s name your price. It is difficult for us to compete in that market. We also have some people who are coming up through the business, who I really, really want to retain in the business. They joined us at graduate plus a couple of years’ experience level and I want to keep them growing through the business in what is a very small organisation, and stretch them and give them enough challenge in the business as we progress, so, two areas for me. One is understanding whether there are any more successful ways we can find and recruit talent and then retaining people, making sure we are a business that is a great place to be.

John Lord, Rosewood Packaging

Our issue is, without sounding patronising, a little lower down. We employ about 70 people on the shop floor and about 35 indirect operatives. In terms of shop floor people, we find it difficult to recruit the right people in the first place. In terms of apprenticeships, we have tried that three times and failed miserably, each time, so it’s getting the right type of people in at that level, which tends to be fairly unskilled in its nature. For new people coming in, getting the right attitude is sometimes difficult. A lot of them don’t want to work and the attitude is “it’s better at home, I want to leave”. We had one guy last two hours once, he came in and said “I can’t be doing with this, it’s too much like hard work, I’ll see you later”. Another guy lasted a day and came in and said “I’m worried about my high score on Call of Duty with my mates, I’d better leave in case I get behind”, so these are the sorts of things we’ve experienced on the shop floor level. Further up, I find difficulty recruiting sales people. Once they are through the door, often what they say and do are two separate things. Once that little black book is dried up, generally they dry up and also identifying these people is difficult for us as well. We tend to go through an agency, which is expensive, and obviously there are no guarantees on what you are getting.

Mark Ions, Exclusive Ltd

I’m very proud to say the reason we set up is to be different to a lot of the experiences some of you guys may have had in the market. We very much work with businesses that are looking to grow. Once people have recruited the individuals, it’s then about retaining those individuals, ensuring they stay within the business. And for those individuals who have been in the business a long time and shouldn’t be there, then we work with the business to ensure that those individuals are managed out correctly. I see it from both sides, I see it as an SME trying to grow ourselves. Some of the challenge is trying to find the right individuals, I work in a market where I would probably say 80% of my competition I wouldn’t recruit, I wouldn’t touch, so that gives me 20% of the market to bring in on the recruitment side. I obviously see the challenges for recruitment from your perspectives as well, whether it’s real areas that have got skills gaps, like engineering, like IT, some of these areas are really tough areas.

Faye Stephenson, Taopix

Taopix has grown quite a lot in the last few years and we are looking to grow rapidly in the next 12 months. We have had a lot of success with two apprentices we have brought in last July, and both apprentices are being offered full time employment at the end of their apprenticeship. Based on this success we are looking at rolling this scheme out further aiming to recruit 20 new graduates or apprentices within the new 12 months. Being B2B, brand awareness is a big challenge for us as recruits don’t know the name Taopix, we are a white label product that can be rebranded many times, removing the recognition of the name Taopix. This makes it very difficult for young people in the area whether finishing college, or finishing university, to understand Taopix is a great place to work, and that you don’t always have to strive for the likes of Sage and HP. One of the common occurrences is if the candidates have got their sights set on someone who they perceive to be more reputable, they take that job instead, so how do we educated young people to recognise the smaller companies? Once they join Taopix, we don’t have an issue retaining them; we’ve got a good culture, a good team, and values that mean everyone feels part of the Taopix family; we tend not to have people leaving unless we want them to. Secondly, the other challenge we tend to have is finding the right people, we are struggling to get the right skills. We invest a lot of training into our new recruits and we have a training programme that everyone receives. Without the fundamental skills of PHP, ISQL, and CSS3 they are losing before they have even started.

Neil Clark, Eyelevel

We started in 2008, just before the recession. With most of our clients being architects, a lot of people suffered. It was a struggle but we are only two strong, plus one part time. During that period, I have tended to recruit graduates, I’ve had no problems getting good graduates, particularly from Teesside University, we have got a really good one from Leeds University now, who has been with us two years and I think our challenge over the last year, as the economy has picked up, we have got busier but not quite busy enough to take another full time person on and we would like that full time member of staff to be experienced, to take some of the responsible work load off me, we did offer a position to somebody four months ago, which fell through for reasons I don’t think were related to the company, but we are looking for somebody who would be experienced and possibly sales oriented, bringing in work to the business. I think that’s currently the only way we can afford, which is a challenge. Until that happens, we are probably working longer hours than we should, but that’s not unusual to everybody here.

How important is employer brand, in attracting people in through reputation?

Alex Hayward

It’s certainly helped. One of our goals was to make Phusion the employer of choice within the Teesside area. We rebranded the company at the end of 2012 and we have certainly put a lot of effort into making people a part of our website and making it an appealing place to work. We talk about values, we show our offices off and before people have any face to face contact with Phusion we want it to be someone they want to come and work. So, right at the beginning of the recruitment process, Phusion is up there at the top of the list people want to go. It’s certainly important for us. We are not a huge brand globally, but there is a lot you can do, particularly regionally, particularly with local press and PR, so we have done a lot with business awards over the last three or four years and the main driver of that has been for our own team, to keep them engaged and motivated and proud to be working for Phusion, and we try to take them along to the awards if you can. We have also done a lot of PR locally when we have won awards, to get our name out there. People do like to be associated with success. If they are down the pub and the company they work for has won an award, they will tell their friends. The other thing we do is an incentive scheme for our team if they actually refer somebody.


We have had a lot of compliments about the content on our website. When a recruitment agency has pointed people in the direction of us, then the candidate has come in, they have gone on the website, and said great, we love the videos, but it’s about how do you get them on the website in the first place. PR is something you mentioned Alex, how did you find that and did you do much of it?


We engaged a PR agency. We are believers at Phusion of getting experts in. I’m an engineer, not a PR expert, so we get the right skills in when we want to do something outside of our scope of expertise so we engaged a PR agency to do our PR for us and they had to get to know us, to learn about our values, what we do want to shout about and what we don’t want to shout about and they just came on the journey with us when we were doing awards, when we won new contracts, we would put a release out not just locally, but nationally and internationally as well. We certainly put a lot of focus on local PR, the likes of The Journal, the Gazette and the radio stations and local sponsorship of events, sponsoring things with charities and schools,. It was just about getting the Phusion brand out there and connecting it back to what we do.


It depends on the level and the skills set. If somebody is in a sector where they know there are in demand they will go to a recruiter and talk about specific clients. Candidates will come in and say “they are a company we would be really interested in” and we would give them other options as well. We quite often work with companies that have got this wonderful website, with a tab that is interactive, and they are not getting anything from it. It’s because you are getting a very small portion of the market that is looking. Just because somebody is looking at that doesn’t mean they are the right person, it just means they are a person, so it’s utilising lots and lots of different methodologies. We do get people who come in and are looking at the bigger places and say “I’ve heard of that company, they must be a brilliant company”.


One of the things a careers page can do is make your organisation look bigger. As a business we are always looking for great people, so whether or not we need that person right now we still want to talk to them. I think it can work both ways, it helps people to engage with you if they have found you, but secondly your potential customers looking at your website see that you are a vibrant, growing business.  This hints of ‘ambition’ and people want to work with companies who have ambition – it’s contagious.


There is nothing worse than going on a website and the latest thing is from 2013. Straight away you look at the employer branding, what are you telling anybody, clients or people you are trying to attract? Having that website, having that interaction is really key. Just having something out there is important.

When you don’t have vacancies, how do you keep good, interested talent “warm”?


Unfortunately you can’t recruit everyone! The resourcing side of our business is a challenge; have we got enough client contracts, or have we got too many people etc. We always look at ways to get great people into the business although it’s also about keeping the conversation going. You can’t just recruit someone and have them sitting in your business with nothing to do because that’s not good for anyone. We had a great experience recently, where we won a significant data cleansing project. We went out to the market firstly through our staff – asking them who they knew that might be interested.  We pay bonus for recommended hires. We interviewed four great people who we felt would be a great fit for us and we were able to take three of them. They all worked the data project and by the end of the contract were desperate to do what everyone else was doing, so we moved them into new roles.  They are all still here and doing fabulously. So, that was one of those opportunities where you recruit for a different reason and then build into different areas. When you see good people, I think you have got to do your very best to find a space for them, because, as everyone around the table is saying, it’s very difficult to find great people.

Have you tried working with the educators?


We have in the past avoided working with new graduates and looked for people who have at least three years’ commercial experience. It is hard to find such good people, so when we do find them, even if we don’t have a space for them, we take them. We always find something for them to be doing. Going down the education route is something I am now looking at getting a programme mapped out. Then, however, I need to resource that programme and get someone to manage it, because you can’t expect young people to come in and do a job self directed. We need to develop a full programme, rather than jumping in, going to the universities and then not having a programme to manage the young people. To do this, we have to recruit someone to manage graduates, which is then again in the cycle of recruitment  to find someone with the right skills set. When recruiting, we look more on a cultural fit, we want the right person and, as long as they have got some of the skills they can learn the other skills once they join. But getting to this point is challenging and I will be working more with colleges, universities and apprenticeship schemes throughout this year, looking to bring in a lot more people in the next 12 months.


I was talking with Gateshead College recently and they are keen to get people from industry together with educators to see how we can smooth the transition. We have had problems too, with graduates where they have got the technical skills but we are not a training organisation and I think our expectations are too high when people join us, so, we need to understand what’s needed to nurture people through. I thought that was such a great thing to do, to get in a room and say “we have got a skills shortage and you’re churning these people out, if we get together we can make this something that is going to work for people”. We all want to keep talent in the region and people say that we have got the big brands who will soak up a certain tranche of the graduates, so we really need to work hard at retaining them, so I do think we need to something a bit more at the strategic level.


Gill made a very good point, that we are not training organisations. We have our own personal experience and we can train graduates up in marketing, communications and PR, because this is where we have come from.  We can’t take design graduates on without having a senior designer, because I wouldn’t have some of those skills, it’s not something I know how to do. That’s what keeps me awake at night. If you think about the whole Hitachi thing, where they are building a whole engineering college at Hitachi, just to get engineers through, they have recognised that need.

Do you have an induction process and what does it look like?


It depends upon what the role is that they are coming into. If it’s a shop floor, semi-skilled or unskilled role, then the induction tends to be more about what we do in the business, what we do in terms of manufacturing, health and safety, and all that side of things. Whereas, someone in the office side or management, the induction is a lot longer, a lot wider and it goes through each part of the business. We had someone come in in a sales role a few months ago and their induction lasted two weeks. They spent time in all departments, on the shop floor or all three sites and by the end of that process they would have a good feel for our business, who does what, who is responsible for what areas. Then, after that there would be some additional training, such as product training.


When we visited Facebook recently, a lot of what we talked about is topical to this subject. Their philosophy is “recruit slowly and fire quickly”. During their induction period they know if someone fits with Facebook’s culture.  It’s a whole conversation around recruitment being a long and expensive process, so how do you know when someone is going to be the right fit?


I do think sales positions are some of the hardest positions to fill. Other positions are perhaps a little bit more straight forward, where it is more down to qualifications and experience of being in that role. You will know pretty quickly if they will fit in or not, but I think you can usually tell if someone’s going to fit in at interview stage. From there it’s can they actually do the job?


You spend all that time getting the website right, speaking to the colleges, the universities, bringing the people in, interviewing them, going through all these processes and then you stick them in the corner and don’t really pay much attention to the induction process and we will get a phone call and someone will say “I’m not really sure about this”. So, we will go in and sit down and say “talk us through the induction process” and we see a blank expression. It’s almost like trying to get an outsider to be one of the team instantly, without investing any more time. Obviously not doing an induction is the wrong thing.


I’ve always had the preference of recruiting people who have the right fit. They are often newer to the world of work, so they have picked up less bad habits and they are quicker at picking up your ways of working. You have the opportunity to making them your own. Go out and you find people with the right mindset and ambition for your business. Identify people who have something about them and want to get a foot on the career ladder.  This is what we do with our sales graduate programme. Induction is totally key. You can get the most enthusiastic person in the world, but if you sit them in the corner and don’t talk to them, they will quickly become disillusioned and they will probably leave. You can have the best brand in the world, but if you don’t treat people well or have the right culture, they will leave.


I worked in London and came back to the North East a few years ago, and I noticed there is a lot of discussion in the North East about job creation. Everything is about job creation or job retention. We don’t really talk about careers in the same way it is focused on in London.  We cannot retain top-talent in the North East, if all they can see is a job, we need to show them what their career path could look like and aspire them to follow it.  In their appraisals my staff are all asked “where do you they see their  your career in 12, 24 and 36 months and what steps are they going to take to get there?” Wrapped round this is the training and support offer by the company to help them achieve this.


In the recession people were looking at their jobs. I think now, coming out of that, with the economy looking a lot brighter, certainly the conversations we are having with companies and individuals is that they are looking more at a career. It’s not just about the salary they are going to get, it’s about how is my career going to progress with this company?


Is it harder for someone to think about developing a career with an SME than with a large corporate, a Barclays Bank, for example?


I think we need to look at how perhaps we can change our psyche? About three or four years ago, we looked at the generation coming out of college or university and they are not necessarily looking for a job for life with you, , they might want to do two or three years, work really hard and then go travelling for a year. They don’t want to work 50 hours a week, they want to work 37 and a half hours a week and be able to go away at the weekends. So, I think as employers we have to shift what our expectation is. It’s lovely if somebody stays with you for ten years, or you may want to move somebody out of the organisation after ten years, because they are no longer effective, but the way we look at it now, if we get our return on investment back from that individual we are happy. We recently had a very talented team member working with  us and we were so disappointed when he left to take up a really exciting opportunity at another firm. But when we looked at it, we had invested in him, but  he had put so much back into this business and our balance sheet is positive because of having had that person  working for us. Sometimes you can’t cling onto people. It’s just maybe accepting that, even at the recruitment process. They are also interviewing us. This is why you put investment into your website and your image, they have more choice than us.


We have had candidates who have turned up for interview and then been left waiting for 45 minutes sitting in reception, watching, observing, understanding what is going on. They are then taken into a different room, interviewed for 15 minutes and the interviewer is looking at their watch all the time and they say “yeah, we would like to bring them back for the second stage” and the candidate says “it was horrendous, they kept me waiting, the MD couldn’t care less, I’m not interested”. And then the MD says “hang on a second, what have you done?”

The beauty that we have is that in the North East we have lots of SMEs. If grads would look at and target that SME market, there would be lots of great opportunities for them. We don’t have the big head offices. You only need to go down to the PLCs in Leeds, then across to Manchester and Birmingham and obviously London to see the difference.

Do you use social media in your recruitment process?


LinkedIn is the best free business tool available and we use this a lot. We also have a strong presence on Twitter. We don’t really use Facebook so much. We get a lot of people applying through a recruitment portal called Indeed. It’s amazing how many people don’t think about what they are posting on social media. The first thing you do is look at an applicant’s CV, you then look at their social media and you think “that’s a shame”!


We have a tool where we can look at a CV and have all of the social media links next to it. When we are putting a candidate to a great client, you are putting your neck on the line, so you have to be very careful. People use social media so much for sitting at home and communicating with friends from school or university, or what have you, but they actually can be quite lazy when using it for networking and trying to get a job. A lot of the tools are there for people to use, but they don’t, whether it’s looking for a job or going to find an individual.


We don’t have a dedicated resource to manage applications, which is why we now use a recruitment agency.We have certain filters that they know are key when passing someone to us and it saves a lot of time for us and for the candidate. LinkedIn, though, we use when we get a CV looking for where there might be gaps that need explaining.  If they are looking for jobs then they should be on LinkedIn. If they are not, then it raises alarm bells.


We are using Twitter and LinkedIn not for recruiting, but as part of the marketing we do. We have a page on our website which is open for senior staff and we have had some good responses on that. We ask a series of three questions to make it quite difficult and the ones that do think about it and respond are generally quite good, so the people who have responded to that advert are usually qualified in the first place and I would generally speak to those. Other than that it is generally word of mouth, it’s quite a small community.

Do people see work readiness of young talent as an issue?


I think it is an issue. A lot of courses offer placement opportunities now for students. If I had a CV across my desk and it was a graduate who had no relevant work experience, I wouldn’t talk to them. I would expect them to have done some relevant work experience and Tesco’s or a bar isn’t quite it. Even with that, I think there probably is a bit of a gap between reality and work readiness. We had an undergraduate from Newc University and she had done two years with Marks & Spencer in London and she did six weeks with us in the summer and she was fantastic, really polished and great, and then we have had the opposite experience as well, so it is hard to generalise. I think, as a business, we underestimate how much support new graduates need at their first career point.


When we were first starting out, the graduate was sat at the other side of my desk and we had one-to-one every single day. As we grow, I can’t do that anymore. Some of those grads have moved up the career ladder and some of the senior people are not experienced in coaching junior staff, so I am focusing on coaching them to coach. 


I’m trying something at the moment. I’m asking anyone who applies for a job to give me a 60 second video biography of themselves. That’s all I say, no further instruction on what to include. It’s basically looking at presentation skills, communication skills and how they present themselves. It’s easy to do, if they go and Google it, immediately there is an application they can use to do it and they don’t need video editing skills. It comes along with the CV and it takes 60 seconds to read it. Some CVs are eight pages long and very time consuming, whereas, if you’ve got that initial impression you know if they have got the right attitude. You get the personality that you don’t get from a CV.  With a CV now, they haven’t written it themselves, they have written the original and then it’s been through mam and dad, brother and sister, somebody at the careers service, their tutor at university and it’s lost all of their personality. It’s stripped away all of the things that we are looking for.

We are a small company, so we want to make sure people are suited to one another. Maybe in more corporate companies it would be fine if people want to sit in their corner, but we want people to feel welcome. I think it’s something that’s going to become more and more popular, with the way the world’s going and everybody interacting more online and with video.


Taking it on from that we started bringing values into our interview process and we do two interviews. We do an HR interview and if they pass that they come back and do a technical one. They very rarely get into the organisation with less than three interviews. With the HR one it’s a series of questions, which have got nothing to do with the job, and we always have two people doing it and they are skilled in this technique and they are actually looking for things that are key words and energy words and we are trying to work out if they are somebody who is self motivated or whether they have to have somebody driving them, we are trying to work out if they are internal or external referencing and it tells us quite a lot about the individual just with some quite generic questions.


Different organisations want to do it in different ways. One organisation is doing it in a similar way to Faye’s video process, but it’s at the second stage. They have a face-to-face, so they go through the interview, then it’s a video blog, if you like, and it’s a design and marketing type of business, so it fits in quite well. Companies will look at this in different ways; for some the priority is values and principles whereas for others it is more experience led. And this varies from business to business depending on what they are looking for. The value side of things is something I look for a lot when I recruit into my business.

One mistake we see people making is the speed at which they move when recruiting. We will talk to a client, they will say “we need somebody tomorrow, we have a project where it’s dependant on getting somebody in” so we will drop things and get onto it, go through all the process in the background and present them with candidates, or there may only be one other person available or two people who can do it. Three weeks later they will come back and say “I can see them for interview now” and the person they want to interview has already got a job two weeks ago. Some people are putting all this time and effort into recruiting people and then it’s stuck in their internal process. There needs to be more of a realisation of the market. IT is probably the most difficult and engineering has been difficult for a while, but things are moving a bit better. Once you have found the individuals and they are in front of you, move. Don’t think you have the luxury of sitting there, because the market is moving at a pace where you are not the only company that has spent a lot of money on your branding, recruitment process, on awards and attracting the right person, but they let themselves down because they take so long over the interview and giving feedback. It’s a really simple little thing; speed of response is vital if you believe you have found the right candidate, because you are potentially not the only business or person doing that.

How do you ensure to talent stays on and how if the culture changing in respect of people wanting to remain with an employer?


My name is over the door and I used to take people leaving really personally, “what do you mean you want to leave?!” I have coached myself through that now, but I did struggle with it initially. As long as people have given you a positive return on your investment in them and you have helped them to develop, then what goes around comes around. For us it’s all about building a durhamlane culture. It’s about one team, one approach. We operate a team annual bonus, rather than individual commissions, if the company achieves its revenue target. As a stretch performance goal we have an all-expenses paid trip abroad. We are taking the team to Krakow in June, for a long weekend. That’s in recognition of the performance last year. We went to Amsterdam in 2014, and that was amazing. The emotional return we got on that significant investment was huge.

Whilst culture is king, people do sometimes move on and, in a way, I now see that as a compliment. If people move on because they are able to get themselves a much bigger job, or whatever it might be, even though it is disappointing and painful – you have to solve the problem it creates – it is a compliment and hopefully they will go on to become sales directors in the future and come back for training and our other services.


The new generation do want to move on. Most of my friends’ children, who’ve all had good jobs, have hit 25 and gone “I’m going round the world again”, but they have all come back and got another job.


Recently one of our top guys announced that he was going travelling for a year. A great opportunity came up for him to live in New Zealand for a year. We sat there and thought “it’s a fair cop”. I would do it, so you can’t sit there and get all morose about the impact on your business. He does want to come back and work for us again. Our challenge to him was that he will have to earn his way back in because we will have moved on too. We don’t stand still and part of our measure of success will be that we have moved on. We have clients, like Phusion IM with a presence in Australia, and another who has Australia as their main market, so we are now working out how we resource these new geographies, which is very exciting.


That’s like how we opened our office in the US. I had a consultant who helped me open the Aberdeen office and sat me down and said ‘look, in six months’ time we are going to be moving to America’, her partner had a really high profile job, and she said ‘look, I’d love to take the brand out there’. I thought ‘well, it’s worth a punt to try that’. It was worth considering that opportunity. It would have been a different kettle of fish, if she had said she was going to our biggest competitor. I think that’s a very different conversation.

Do employees see appraisals as something to keep them in an organisation? Do you see it as a development tool, and do they see it the same way?


It depends on the individual. When you are talking about retention, you probably have to go back and take a look at the cost of retention and who do you want to retain. It’s perfectly feasible to have people coming in and out of the business and if it’s a relatively easy position to recruit and train up then you don’t want to be spending thousands of pounds every year, with flexi benefits and so on. It’s good to have people in and out of the business as well, it freshens it up. I know we have done a lot in the last four years on staff engagement to really find out what’s really important to people and what they think about the business. The biggest thing that was coming through on ours was person-relevant objectives, to understand how they are doing and for some people it was how they could progress through the business; they just wanted clarity on what they were here to do, what they contribute to the business, what’s expected of them, what they need to do to move on to the next level. Out of that was born our Phusion Academy, which is our in-house academy, which is all about personal development and technical development for team members. They have to apply to it, through a very, very tough application process and it’s quite a thing to get on the Phusion Academy. It’s not right for everybody, but its one of our key  main retention tools for up and coming talent.


In terms of retention, staff reviews only work if the company reacts to what is being said. I’ve worked for companies where you have one once a year and nothing happens in between. It’s just pointless. So, I’m very conscious that you would have to react to what your employee is saying to you. We work on, rather than having one large reward per year, we do a lot of things, regularly, smaller and often, because our projects are two or three weeks long and they are intense, so you need to refresh and have breaks, because the next one’s just around the corner. So, we don’t look 12 months ahead.


I’ve done away with 12 months reviews and broken them down into a meeting, one to one, with every employee every two weeks, and a quarterly review in the same structure as the annual review. It separates pay from the review and then you can monitor the targets and objectives that you’ve got in place. The employee has that opportunity to speak up and it’s more informal. If they change their mind about their path, we move quickly, acting as a start-up company allows us to be flexible. It’s giving them the opportunity to aim for that moving target, the business moves on quickly, so why shouldn’t we develop people in the same way and it’s working really, really well.

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