I was delighted to co-host a webinar with Elizabeth Bagger, Executive Director of the Institute for Family Business (IFB) this week discussing how family businesses recruit and retain the right people for the job. We were delighted to be joined by Dickie Donovan, Group People Director at William Jackson Food Group and Karen Willcox, People & Organisation Director, PwC.
There was a wide ranging discussion on how family businesses can make sure they have the right people to deliver their strategic goals. I recommend you listen to the full webinar here reflecting on what we discussed. There were three consistent pieces of advice which I believe will resonate with family businesses which I’ve outlined below:
Thinking about the workforce of tomorrow, Karen suggested being more creative is how family businesses access the right people using a combination of building (their existing workforce), borrowing (external consultants for specialist skills), renting (freelancers and contractors for specific tasks) and buying (skilled teams in niche areas). Dickie agreed, adding that businesses can also learn from what other companies are doing. He also reminded the panel that while in the future different skills are required, there is proven talent already in the business and it is easy to overlook the opportunity to upskill the existing workforce.
Competing on salaries can be a challenge for family businesses especially at more senior levels. Dickie pointed out that whilst family businesses need to be competitive and flexible, talent will also be attracted by their commitment to their values and standards. Karen suggested thinking more broadly about the overall employee value proposition and the non remuneration benefits, for both the established workforce and next generation, as well as pay structures. There are increasing opportunities to be creative with pay structures but it remains critical that they align with the business strategy and incentives needed to drive long term goals. Underpinning employee experience is the need to constantly demonstrate equal opportunities, equal pay and that everyone is treated fairly.
The skills gap is an issue across most industries in the UK and our panelists agreed there is an opportunity for family businesses to be creative, including building alliances with other businesses and colleges as well as inhouse training schemes. Karen highlighted the potential for the apprenticeship levy to be applied more widely to the existing workforce and Dickie shared how they have used it across the businesses at William Jackson Food Group.
There was a lot of discussion around the credibility of family businesses with a track record of looking after their people, flatter structures and commitment to the community including philanthropic and CSR programmes. Karen pointed out how the passion, the family and workforce clearly have for the business will excite potential recruits. As our recent UK family business survey demonstrated, this should not be the family’s best kept secret - be clear about what the business stands for, what makes it different, their role in the community, their record of standing by employees through tough times and the opportunities for individuals to develop and succeed. Dickie recommended always looking to the existing workforce first to fill a gap and using the people in the business to tell the story of the business - their experience demonstrates long term commitment to the purpose and values of the business.
The workforce of the future will be more adaptable, with higher cognitive skills, comfortable with complexity and ambiguity, able to work collaboratively and with strong leadership skills and will expect more say and more autonomy. Elizabeth cited some research undertaken by the IFB Research Foundation which found that employees at family businesses, ‘feel heard more’. Being able to demonstrate the business is living their values through increased transparency around people engagement will build the trust the future business needs with stakeholders including existing employees as well as attracting potential talent.
To close, here are some practical suggestions from our panel to help you attract and retain the right people for the job.
Karen - Start planning now. Assess your current skills,employment model and project forward to identify gaps for future needs, then take action now to train, redeploy and look at alternative models so that you remain fit for the future. Organisations can benchmark themselves against others in their region and industry through our workforce strategy maturity reports which are available to download via the website.
Dickie - If you are looking to fill existing gaps or planning for the future, firstly look internally first before externally and be prepared take a risk on your people. If you have to recruit externally, hire based on attitude and cultural fit.
Elizabeth - To attract senior talent, start as early as you can to give yourself the time to figure out what you need for the business and yourself.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the themes explored, please get in touch.