We’re a Finalist in the Wales HR Awards 2022

We are thrilled to be shortlisted as Finalists in the Wales HR Awards 2022

With a range of categories including ‘HR Director of the Year’, ‘Outstanding HR Professional’ and ‘HR Team of the Year’, the Welsh HR Awards 2022 recognises and celebrates excellence across the HR profession in Wales. It’s a real honour to be nominated and make it through to the finals.

The awards will celebrate the unsung HR heroes working behind the scenes to support businesses and organisations of all sizes over the past twelve months.

We can’t wait to meet the other outstanding nominees and to hear about the incredible achievements of these individuals and teams.

 

We’re proud to be shortlisted for the Consultancy of The Year 2022 Award

 

Organisations looking for transactional, one-off advice to deal with employment issues are well-served by the market. However, leaders that want to make commercial, customer-focused HR or people changes often struggle to find quality strategic consultants that don’t force them to be tied into subscriptions, memberships, or retainers. That’s where we come in.


We aim to work with clients on long term strategic projects and deliverables. People love working with us because they’re continually pleased with the high-quality work and advice they are getting, rather than because they are tied in.

  

“I’m thrilled that The Spark Company has been shortlisted and feel privileged to be considered alongside so many other awesome finalists.

This wouldn’t be possible without the generous feedback of our amazing clients and the incredible video testimonials they’ve shared.”

Andrew Knight, Principal Consultant and Founder

  

About the judges

The Welsh HR Awards 2022 judges include:

 

We’ll find out if we’ve won at an awards ceremony in Cardiff on the 8th July 2022.

Darwin Gray’s Head of Employment Law and HR, Fflur Jones said: “We were delighted with the quality and number of entries for this year’s HR awards. The fact so many companies and organisations decided to enter the awards demonstrate in what high esteem these businesses hold their HR managers and teams. They will have played an instrumental role in steering their organisations during the COVID 19 pandemic. We look forward to celebrating all their achievements on the night.

 

About the Wales HR Awards

The Welsh HR Awards are made possible by Acorn and Darwin Gray LLP. The Wales HR Awards recognises and celebrates excellence across the HR profession in Wales.

 

About The Spark Company

The Spark Company specialises in Human Resource Development and Organisational Transformation. Founded by Andrew Knight with the guiding philosophy that putting people first always leads to better business results.


The Spark Company gives clients access to high quality consultancy services to transform productivity and performance across the whole organisation.

We can help with human side of organisational change, mergers and acquisitions, restructures and those thorny HR issues that crop-up from time to time.

  

Choosing the right HR Consultancy

If your organisation needs to transform your productivity and performance, I’d love to hear from you. I love working with companies who want to make meaningful and sustainable change.

Get in touch for a friendly chat about how I can help.

  

 

We’re a Finalist in the British HR Awards 2022

We are delighted to announce that we’ve been named a Finalist in the British HR Awards 2022

With a range of categories including ‘Best Overall People Experience,’ ‘Wellness Initiative of the Year’ and ‘Rising Star of the Year’ the British HR Awards 2022 sets out to discover and celebrate the organisations and individuals that are truly passionate about delivering a world-class people experience.

This year, just over 100 entries were received from organisations across the UK, and so competition to be named a Finalist proved to be very tough.

Firms taking part range from innovative start-ups to tech unicorns, global giants, not for profits and everything in between.

 

We’ve been shortlisted for not one, but two awards…

Start-Up of The Year 2022

Consultancy of The Year 2022

 

Organisations looking for transactional, one-off advice to deal with employment issues are well-served by the market. However, leaders that want to make commercial, customer-focused HR or people changes often struggle to find quality strategic consultants that don’t force them to be tied into subscriptions, memberships, or retainers. That’s where we come in.


Andrew Knight reacts to being shortlisted in the British HR Awards 2022 for Consultancy of The Year and StartUp of The Year

We aim to work with clients on long term strategic projects and deliverables. People love working with us because they’re continually pleased with the high-quality work and advice they are getting, rather than because they are tied in.

  

“I’m delighted that The Spark Company has been shortlisted in two categories and feel privileged to be considered alongside so many other awesome finalists.

This wouldn’t be possible without the support of our amazing clients and the incredible testimonials they’ve shared.”

Andrew Knight, Principal Consultant and Founder

  

About the judges

The British HR Awards 2022 judges include:

 

We’ll find out if we’ve won at an awards ceremony in Central London on the 21st April 2022.

Nate Harwood, Founder of New Possible and British HR Awards judge said: “The quality and diversity of entries has made judging a real challenge, but also a great privilege. We’re immensely proud to recognise the organisations and individuals that are working hard to create exceptional people experiences. These leaders are fundamentally reimagining the future of work and helping to showcase British HR leadership on a truly global scale. Congratulations to all the Finalists.”

 

About the British HR Awards

The British HR Awards is powered by New Possible, a next-generation employee insight platform. New Possible helps HR leaders build healthier organisations by providing meaningful insight that can drive real change.

 

About The Spark Company

The Spark Company is an expert HR and change management consultancy. Founded by Andrew Knight with the guiding philosophy that putting people first always leads to better business results.


The Spark Company gives clients access to high quality consultancy services to achieve specific change management and strategic HR projects.

We can help with human side of organisational change, mergers and acquisitions, restructures and those thorny HR issues that crop-up from time to time.

  

Choosing the right HR Consultant

If your organisation needs support from an experienced HR and change consultant, I’d love to hear from you. I love getting stuck into sustainable and meaningful change projects.

Get in touch for a friendly chat about how I can help.

  

 

The Company Culture Blindspot

Before the article, a word or two about Ukraine 🇺🇦

When I drafted the outline for this article a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have imagined that Russia was about to invade Ukraine. At that time the rolling-news agenda was dominated by #partygate, the Sue Gray report, the Met Police and the ‘toxic culture’ at 10 Downing Street. What a difference two weeks makes.

Like many of you, I’ve watched the news in horror, bearing witness to this unfolding catastrophe through the reports of journalists and the messages from the brave people of Ukraine. And let’s be honest; from my position of relative comfort and privilege, ‘thoughts and prayers’ are utterly insufficient.

If you want to do something to help, you can donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. By donating you’ll help DEC charities provide food, water, shelter and healthcare to refugees and displaced families. Also, the DEC Afghanistan Crisis Appeal remains open to respond to what the Head of the World Food Programme previously described as “the worst humanitarian crisis on earth”.

 

I’ve decided to publish this article as planned, because an organisation’s culture and leadership are key to the resilience, productivity and success of its team. This is especially important at times of uncertainty and crisis, whether the cause is close to home and (potentially) controllable, or further afield and out of our control. So, what does your company culture say about you, how you manage uncertainty, and how you support your team?

 

Can you see what your workplace culture says about your business?

Having a strong workplace culture can be a lifeline in times of pressure or stress. Internal strains aside, whatever’s happening in the world will have an impact on your workforce. Whether the pressures and stresses your team are feeling are as a result of Brexit, COVID-19 or a raging war, a working environment that feels psychologically safe is really important.


The black door at 10 Downing Street

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ‘toxic culture’ of both 10 Downing Street and the Met Police dominated the news for what felt like forever. Understanding that culture change is key in transforming an underperforming business is not an alien concept to many leaders.

Most leaders understand the necessity of good workplace culture. The trouble is that even though we know what it means, it can still be hard to recognise what’s happening in our own organisations.

  

Most leaders don’t know how to objectively measure and assess company culture

  

In this article, we discuss a few positive and negative indicators that you might recognise from your own business. Lots of positives means Sue Gray is never going to knock on your door…but more than a handful of negatives is a definite red flag.

Think of your organisation as a complex web of different traits, habits, actions … ways of communicating. Johnson and Scholes mapped this out in their Cultural Web tool into six high-level categories, which we’ve unpicked here.

 

Control Systems

Organisation Structures

Power Structures

Rituals & Routines

Symbols

Stories

  

What are the positive signs that we have a healthy work culture?


Let me be clear here, the perfect culture does not exist (sorry not sorry to the perfectionists out there). Whenever I work with clients on cultural change, I’m always on the lookout for positive signs of a healthy culture.

Some indicators will be subtle, and some are glaringly obvious. You might have a handle on the formal culture across the business but find gauging the informal culture is much harder.

 

Culture can be subjective but you can objectively assess the formal and informal elements in your workplace

  

Formal indications of a healthy work culture

  • Control Systems – colleagues accept responsibility to support and develop others. Balanced decision-making is valued. Information is shared transparently, with no mind games!

  • Organisational Structures – teams work collaboratively. Purpose and strategy are clear to all. Learning from failure is encouraged and there is space to make mistakes without unfair reprisals.

  • Power Structures – clearly delegated authority. Leaders are open to (and seek) challenge. Teams tend to be self-managing. There is a high-trust environment.

 

Informal indications of a healthy work culture

  • Rituals & Routines – culture of learning and nurturing talent. Customers at the heart of all decisions, inclusivity beyond legal requirements.

  • Symbols – success and failure leading to innovation is celebrated. An informal hierarchy. Strong, organised internal communication tools. Leaders shape culture through their actions.

  • Stories – no rumours or gossip (ok, minimal rumours or gossip), all information is shared, listening is valued, clear guidance on how conflict is managed.

  

If you only come across positive indications…you’re not looking hard enough!

  

What are the signs that our culture isn’t doing us any favours?

Reminder: the goal is to check the health of your company culture and it would be weird if you didn’t come across some negative indications, so please try to be open to them.


An employee holds his head in his hands as one colleague points at his work and another colleague points at him directly

If you notice one-offs from the list below that might not mean you’ve got a problem; after all, none of us are perfect, right?

But lots of negatives are a red flag and indicate you’d benefit from digging a little deeper.

So take a deep breath…and dive in…

  

None of us is perfect, but if you notice lots of red flags, it’s time to dig a little deeper

  

Formal indications of an unhealthy work culture

  • Control Systems – areas of the business where ‘management’ is feared. Sales or performance incentives drive inappropriate behaviour. Processes are side-stepped with workarounds.

  • Organisational Structures – business units operate in silos or with minimal collaboration. Diaries are overloaded with meetings. Promotions are decided based on who you know.

  • Power Structures – leaders make unilateral decisions without adequate consultation. Information is managed on a ‘need to know’ basis. Challenge is absent, discouraged or simply ignored.

 

Informal indications of an unhealthy work culture

  • Rituals & Routines – communication is a one-way street. Leaders broadcast messages and employees are told to leave their personal life at the door.

  • Symbols – there are unwritten rules about teams, people, or places to avoid in the business. Some teams are higher in the pecking order than others and burnout is a badge of honour.

  • Stories – whispers of toxic behaviour tolerated from high earners or top performers, managers ‘throwing their weight around,’ gossip about leadership conflicts.

  

If you only come across negative indications…take a step back and check your own blind spots (and biases)!

  

If you recognise some of these points, consider whether your team feel psychologically safe enough to raise them with you themselves? Having a working environment that allows people to feel comfortable speaking truth to power is a vital part of a healthy company culture.

 

10 proactive things leaders can do now to influence company culture


10 proactive things a leader can do now to influence company culture

It is challenging, but possible, to assess your culture from the inside. There are lots of tools available to assess culture and there are simple things you could try and implement straight away to make your place a better place.

Here’s a link to my list of 10 proactive and pragmatic things leaders can do immediately to influence company culture, split into organisation-wide, team and individual actions.

 

10 proactive and pragmatic things leaders can do now to influence company culture

  

Invest in your culture

If you’ve read this far you know it matters! Assess how you can do better – happy, healthy, profitable businesses put aside time and effort into nurturing a positive culture. Assessing your culture needs a coordinated approach and, particularly in a large business with lots of divisions, it may feel like a daunting task.


A HR Consultant talks to a client in their Cardiff office about how to assess and improve their company culture

If it’s too much, an external consultant might be a worthwhile investment. It’s more cost effective to pay an HR expert to do it right first time, than getting an internal team to struggle with it over a longer period.

A fresh pair of eyes will often see more when it comes to diagnosing cultural problems and will be able to help you create a plan of work to implement and manage change.

  

“Andrew at The Spark Company is a great partner for a business to work with. He combines a practical, no-nonsense approach with good technical knowledge and quickly builds a rapport with existing teams to hit the ground running”.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Google Review

   

Choosing the right HR Consultant (and get a return on your investment)

Your organisation’s culture and values are essential to your performance and success, but how do you measure them?

If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to a culture review or diagnostic; or if you’re ready to make a positive change to your organisation’s culture, values and performance, I’d love to hear from you.

Get in touch for a friendly chat about how I can help.

  

 

Image credits

Images sourced from Canva Pro and are photographers are not individually credited. If you see one of your photos above, please let us know so we can credit you here.

 

Help! I need to resolve a complex grievance without bias or prejudice. It’s time to bring in an expert.

 

An independent grievance investigation can help you stop an employment tribunal claim in its tracks. Here’s how:

Most of us know that in the long run, not addressing a problem that’s perceived to be our fault is a bad idea. We may think we’ve done nothing wrong, and may disagree with the accusation but not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. It’s the same in the workplace.

When a problem emerges, failure to act can lead to an employment tribunal (very expensive) decreased staff morale (increased attrition rates) and damaged reputation (decrease in profits). Somewhere between a small problem and full-blown employment tribunal is a formal grievance, that needs to be investigated.

  

To protect everyone involved in a grievance case, the employer must follow a fair procedure

  

Can’t I just sort it out myself?

Initially you may have tried to solve a grievance yourself. Perhaps it started as an informal complaint or discussion which then escalated to something more significant.


Two men are arguing in an office, one is holding a report with data, graphs and pie charts. Both men are gesturing with their hands and it's clear that there is conflict between them

Once a formal grievance has been made then it may become impossible to deal with internally. Sorting it out yourself only works if you can find somebody to conduct a confidential investigation that is totally impartial.

In this blog post what you can expect and why it’s worth avoiding the eye-watering costs of an employment tribunal

 

You cannot be impartial or fair, if you investigate a grievance that you’re involved in

  

However far removed the investigator is from the complainant if they are part of the same business, or closely connected to the business in some way, it’s difficult to see how they can be totally unbiased. Impartiality is one of the most important considerations when conducting a grievance process.

 

What if things have become really awkward?

Let’s be frank; your main objective should be to resolve the situation amicably and acknowledging if you’re at fault. That means dealing with any misunderstandings that might have occurred and definitely saying sorry and putting things right, if you’ve done something wrong.


Two colleague are talking about a grievance in a meeting room. The female colleague is sat on the desk, pouting and looking away with arms folded. The male colleague is looking at a notebook.

Even if you’re 100% sure that you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s good to keep an open mind and focus on a positive resolution.

It might be difficult to continue working with someone who has raised a grievance, but don’t let that stop you from doing business and serving your customers.

  

If you’ve done something wrong, say sorry and put it right as soon as you can

  

It takes resilience and integrity, but you’ll get through this. Raising a complaint and submitting a grievance is a big deal, so despite any misgivings you may have, try to bear in mind that your colleague/employee is probably feeling awkward too.

 

How should I choose an independent investigator?

If you’re tempted to conduct an investigation using internal resources, it’s worth bearing in mind that biases or individual concerns may prevent enquiries from being carried out fairly, particularly in those tricky cases when senior team members are accused of wrongdoing.


Andrew Knight is meeting with a colleague who has raised a grievance. They are both drinking a hot drink and talking whilst Andrew refers to his notes on the desk.

There are a handful of common sense checks that you can carry out before you choose an external and independent investigator.

You’ll need to be able to trust them implicitly because you’re not going to learn what’s been said until the end. You should also take steps to make sure they’re not connected to your business or complainant.

  

You can ask for references or speak to previous clients, without breaching confidentiality (of course)

  

Top tips for choosing and commissioning an independent investigator:

  • Do your research, thoroughly – Check their qualifications, credentials and experience. Ask if they’ve worked in your industry or sector before, and whether they’ve had experience investigating a complex grievance in the past. I often find that out-of-sector experience can be an advantage and gives me an edge when I’m interviewing witnesses and weighing evidence; it gives me a broader range of comparison.

  • Share the full story to date – Give the investigator a summary of the case, including anything that may have gone wrong in the lead-up to the grievance. You’ll be dealing with a complex case by this point, so you may not be able to share everything until you’ve selected an investigator. When I’m being considered for a grievance investigation, I’m happy to sign an NDA or confidentiality agreement if needed.

  • Give clear terms of reference – Once you’ve chosen your investigator, you need to give them a proper brief. The most practical way to do this (and comply with the law) is to issue terms of reference. When I’m working with clients, the terms of reference are invaluable. The terms of reference tell me what I’m looking into and stop me from straying into unrelated areas.

  • Keep your nose out – Once the investigation gets going, the best thing you can do is to keep your nose out of it! Don’t ask for updates about what’s said at each interview, you have to let the investigation run its course. When I’m investigating a case, I always keep the commissioning manager informed of my progress, without discussing the detail. It’s important to keep managers informed, so that the grievance investigation doesn’t interfere with the day-job.

  • Trust the process – Make sure you understand the process and the timescales at the outset. You need to be comfortable with when, where and how will the investigation take place, so that the process is fair and proportionate, but also so that it happens at a reasonable pace. When I’m investigating a grievance, I have a clear plan which complies with ACAS guidance. It’s designed to make the investigation as quick and easy as possible for everyone, and to avoid negative effects on the complaint, manager and the business.

  • Allow access to information and people – Don’t be surprised if your initial witness list and evidence changes during the investigation. If other people are implicated as witnesses or event potential victims, be prepared to allow the investigator to talk to them without asking why. You might find that it’s hard not to be curious and concerns. I always flag if there’s a safeguarding, regulatory or legal concern that might affect the business, so you’ll know if you need to act immediately to prevent harm or reduce risk.

  • Be open minded – By the time we get to an investigation, a lot of bad things have been said and there may be bad feeling. Don’t presume one party is guilty and another is innocent until you have the report. You may be treading on eggshells, so I always advise clients not to do anything that might sway proceedings, but also, not to be afraid of managing their business ‘as normal’.

  

Doing a proper investigation and sticking the process helps to protect you

  

Remember, investigating a grievance properly and sticking the process, helps to protect you should for any reason the grievance end up in legal proceedings. You will have to demonstrate that you followed all the rules, including your own internal policy, and that you carried-out a fair and impartial investigation.

  

“I can’t recommend Andrew and The Spark Company highly enough. He helped me to resolve a tricky and confidential employment issue; gave me pragmatic advice and supported me all the way.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Google Review

  

What will a good impartial investigator do?


Several bundles of evidence in a grievance case are piled-up on the table. They are in sections and held together with bulldog clips.

There are some situations in the workplace that are best approached confidentially and objectively. Grievances are top of this list.

You might feel nervous about the prospect of a stranger coming into your team and asking lots of questions. As with any relationship, don’t be afraid to set ground rules and agree clear expectations. This will reassure you and give you confidence.

  

An external investigator should reassure you, remain objective, and carry-out a thorough investigation

  

8 ground rules for an independent investigator:

  1. Conduct an unbiased, expert investigation – Hiring the help of an independent specialist gives you reassurance that the investigation is being carried out without bias or prejudice. This might seem like something straight from the Ministry of the Obvious, but independence brings scrutiny and credibility.

  2. Gather all the facts at the outset – Most investigations begin with a scoping call to outline the nature of the investigation and other details about the assignment, such as duration. This is followed by confirming the terms of reference and reviewing any documents and evidence that may be required.

  3. Stick to the brief – If it looks like the scope of the investigation needs to be widened, this shouldn’t be done without consulting the commissioning manager.

  4. Interview the complainant and review evidence – The next step involves meeting with the complainant and relevant witnesses, taking notes of meetings and reviewing any additional documents or evidence. This can be done face-to-face, virtually, or both. As new evidence comes to light, it may be necessary to re-interview some individuals. Decent investigators consider both the context and the facts being presented. It’s important to understand what was going on at the time that an action was taken, or something was said.

  5. Share progress about the process not the person – They should keep everything confidential. They may uncover lots of thorny issues which need to be properly untangled. Staying connected with the commissioning manager is important, but don’t expect the investigator to breach confidentiality or give you hints about what is said whilst the investigation is ongoing.

  6. Understand what’s illegal vs what’s bad practice – The only time that an investigator should share something mid-way through the process, is if they find something serious or illegal that means they have a duty to act. For example, an ongoing safeguarding issue. It’s important that the investigator understands when they have a duty to act.

  7. Protect employees that may be vulnerable – In some cases, the complainant may be frightened. The consultant should be experienced enough to instigate a process that is appropriate. For example, a meeting with a complainant about a manager who they’ve accused of bullying them, might need to take place off-site. A good investigator anticipates these issues and should support you to look after the wellbeing of those involved … grievances are incredibly stressful.

  8. Give a comprehensive report at the end – When the investigation has concluded, you’ll receive an investigation report that includes a list of all evidence considered, witnesses interviewed, findings, recommendations and suggested next steps. If follow-up meetings are required, these can also be arranged.

  

A thorough investigation is also an opportunity to identify what’s going well and how you can improve

  

Most employers appreciate it when an investigator identifies lessons learned and ways for the organisation to improve. It’s easy to be critical with hindsight; the best investigators will prepare a considered report, offering constructive criticism and highlighting where things went right, as well as missed opportunities to get things ‘back on track’.

A de-brief including lessons learned is something that I offer as standard; after all it makes good business sense to use your investment in an external investigation as a catalyst for improvements in the workplace.

 

Why is it worth getting right?


A gavel sits on the table whilst a judge (not pictured) writes notes in evidence, we can see his/her fountain pen.

Failure to investigate competently could lead to further complaints or even an employment tribunal claim, it makes better sense to hire an external confidential investigator – someone who can carry out the process in a balanced, objective, and efficient manner.

When you take a look at the numbers, the potential costs to a business of defending a tribunal claim are eye-watering.

  

Compensation awarded in employment tribunals can be huge. Just look at these pre-pandemic numbers:

 

Average compensation of £10,812 and a maximum of £118,842 for Unfair Dismissal

Sex Discrimination cases paid out £17,420 on average with a maximum of £73,619 in one case

Pay attention to age-related bias; £38,794 average and £243,636 maximum for Age Discrimination

The maximum pay-out in Disability Discrimination case in 2019/20 was a whopping £265,719

 

But wait, these figures don’t include legal fees, lost productivity, management time, or the cost of time away from your customers

Source: Ministry of Justice 2019/20 Tribunal Data

  

Many business leaders worry about the possibility of an employment tribunal…and with good reason. But when it comes down to it, as a leader you are expected to do what’s right, fair and within the law, every day. This means balancing the needs of your business, your team, your customers and external pressures on a daily basis. Not everyone will like what you do and it takes courage to make tough calls.

An open and positive workplace culture ultimately pays for itself; creating psychological safety and enabling your team to raise concerns quickly, informally, and without fear of repercussions. The result? Issues don’t fester and the risk of employment tribunal claims is reduced.

  

Remember, there are alternatives to formal grievances, including informal resolution and mediation

  

If a colleague submits a formal grievance, I always encourage managers to seek an informal resolution if at all possible. It’s better for the health and wellbeing of everyone involved, it helps you get back on track more quickly, and let’s be frank…it’s a better use of your time and resources. (In fact, I’ve worked with several organisations where a mutually agreed resolution has transformed a disgruntled colleague into an advocate.)

But when those tricky cases crop-up and you need to formally investigate a grievance, it pays to make sure that your process is fair, objective and thorough. Given the legal costs, potential compensation, and risk of reputational damage, it’s well worth the investment in a top-notch independent investigator.

  

“Andrew’s support and advice has undoubtedly saved us tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees, let alone the amount of time and energy we would have wasted on a legal battle. Bringing him in was definitely the right decision”

Source: Confidential HR Investigation client (2020)

   

Choosing the right HR consultant for confidential HR investigation

If you’re looking for an experienced and knowledgeable HR Consultant to conduct a confidential investigation or have any other concerns relating to the people and culture of your organisation, I’m here to help.

As a police-trained investigator with many years’ experience carrying out investigations on behalf of clients, I’m well-equipped to support you.

Get in touch for a friendly chat about how I can help.

  

 

Image credits

Images sourced from Canva Pro and are photographers are not individually credited. If you see one of your photos above, please let us know so we can credit you here.

 

HR myths busted: “You can ‘Lift and Shift’ an organisational structure from one business to another”

HR myths busted: “You can ‘Lift and Shift’ an organisational structure from one business to another”

Thinking about copying an organisation structure? Please don’t do that!

If you’re looking to make a change, it can be tempting to try and transplant or improve upon an example that has worked brilliantly for another organisation. Amazing examples that get a mention on a podcast, or in a book can be thought-provoking and provide ideas but ‘lifting and shifting’ a design from one organisation to another rarely works, because just like you, your organisation is unique.

Having said that, there are four broad ‘types’ of organisational structure that you may have heard of, which are useful to understand.

‘Lifting and shifting’ an organisation structure rarely works, because your organisation is unique

The Four Organisational Structures

There are four types of organisational structures that can be seen across most organisations: Function, Product, Geography and Customer.

These four archetypes are the building blocks that organisations typically use when they’re (re)designing and (re)structuring their teams.

There are pros and cons to all four structure types and in reality, you’ll probably see a blend of the different types of organisation structure in use in your workplace today.

There are four types (or archetypes) of organisational structure seen in most companies today

  • So you’re probably wondering how are the most successful organisations structured?
  • What’s the ‘secret sauce’ for a great organisation design?
  • Where should I start if I’m thinking about restructuring my teams and my business?
  • Which of the four archetypes is most effective?
  • Well, that depends on what you’re trying to achieve…

Functional

Functional structures organise and group work together by common activity.

In a functional structure, each function within the organisation is a separate ‘entity’ that is managed vertically by a Head of Function or Chief Officer.

Functional areas are sometimes referred to as “silos”. Communication generally follows the reporting lines (or hierarchy) of each function cross-departmental communication is usually handled by the department heads.

Functional structures organise and group work, and therefore teams, by common activity

  • Functional structures work well when you’ve got a single line of business but can be challenging when you grow your product/service portfolio as nobody has end-to-end responsibility for product/service.
  • When the work teams do is sufficiently specialised, functional structures can create efficiency and allow teams to focus right in on what they’re great at.
  • When communication between departments can only be achieved by sending messages up the ‘chain of command’ to be passed at a senior level and cascaded down in another function, this can create blockages, duplication and barriers to productivity.

Product

Product organisation structures will group work by division, category, sector, or business unit.

In a product or divisional structure, it’s unusual to find any overlap between divisions. Typically, divisional leaders have high levels of autonomy and do not need to coordinate activity with other teams.

This usually means that each division is ‘self-contained’ and has its own resources to support that product line, e.g. its own marketing or product development teams.

Product structures are often organised as ‘self-contained’ and autonomous teams

  • Many large corporations and multinationals have a multidivisional format, trading through subsidiaries and using the parent company’s brand name and/or intellectual property.
  • Whilst subsidiaries or divisions benefit from the investment in branding by the parent company, it can be challenging to maintain consistency across each ‘self-contained’ or autonomous team.
  • Sub-cultures can also be an advantage when well-managed, allowing for inclusion and expression, but can cause damage when allowed to diverge from an organisations core values, purpose, vision and mission.

Geography

Geographic organisation structures will group work by, well, geography!

In a saturated market this might look like an area or regional structure. In new markets, teams may be grouped together by country or territory.

Core products/services may be standardised but geographic teams are empowered to make decisions based on local culture, politics and tastes.

Geographic teams are, well, organised by geography, and usually empowered to make localised decisions

Geographic structures take many forms including satellite offices, websites and offerings tailored to local markets, and area/regional/country/global headquarters. In short, anything to stay close to customers.

Geographically dispersed teams can react more quickly to local events, cultural shits, political changes and the evolving tastes of their customers. Ever noticed that some soft drinks taste sweeter or more bitter in other countries? That’s a great example of a geographic team making a local decision to suit the market, whilst maintaining the core product offering.

Sometimes a geographically distributed team can duplicate resources and effort; I’ve even heard of three teams at one company all working on the same project without anyone realising. Without really top-notch employee engagement and internal communications, the business can end up competing against itself. This has the potential to mix messages for clients, and possibly create waste and inefficiency.

Customer

Customer structures will group work by prioritising the customers’ need for a single point of contact.

It’s fairly common to see customer structures when organisations group activity towards customers with similar buying behaviours.

If you ever meet a sales representative, account manager or customer relationship manager, the chances are that organisation is using a customer structure. It’s nice to know that they’re organised around your needs, eh?

  • But a customer structure isn’t just for organisations with a product or service to sell. Many not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises offer services for clients with similar needs
  • Having a single point of contact (often through a caseworker, community officer or advice service) means that customers have consistent contact with someone who can help them with everything. It’s a one-stop-shop built around the needs of the client.
  • There are drawbacks to customer structures, particularly if the relationship deals with sensitive issues, such as social support services or relationships with vulnerable clients. The customer often sees the person delivering services as ‘the company’ and any changing of the guard can often have a negative impact on clients.

Customer structures organise teams by the need for a ‘single point of contact’ or common buying behaviours

  • Many healthcare professionals also operate within a customer structure, e.g. your local GP. When you see a make an appointment at your local health clinic, you’re getting access to a range of general healthcare options via a single point of contact. Specialist care is provided elsewhere and referrals are based on ‘customer’ need.
  • On one hand the customer structure enables a necessary triage and diagnostic service, on the other hand it creates a blockage and potential ‘gatekeeper’ for patients to ‘satisfy’ before accessing other services.
  • Human nature being what it is, if you can’t get to your GP or indeed if you don’t want to wait for an appointment, it’s tempting to work around the triage system and use another access point (in this case, A&E).
  • Perceived inflexibilities for service delivery and issues with capacity, ultimately result in pressure elsewhere in the organisation. Great communication and prudent capacity management are key.

Don’t know where to start when it comes to supporting your team through the Cost of Living Crisis?

We are passionate about finding ways to help bosses do the best they can to look after their people.

Some of what we’ve outlined here is simple, but implementing activity that’s targeted to help those that need it most often gets businesses in a pickle. Primarily because they get bogged down about treating all employees the same.

If you need help to work how to support those that need it in a way that’s fair and legal, then please drop us a line. We’d be happy to talk to you.

Mergers and Acquisitions: How to Spot and Avoid Culture Clashes

Mergers and Acquisitions: How to Spot and Avoid Culture Clashes

What is company culture and why does it matter if the old and new are not aligned?

There are rules for all the legal bits of a merger or acquisition process, yet there is no bible or handy instruction manual for the successful transfer or integration of company culture.

What is workplace culture?

There is no magic formula, but regular and meaningful is a good rule of thumb.

Workplace culture is your way of doing things, your approach and style of business. It’s the difference between ‘my door’s always open’ and ‘make an appointment with my PA’. It’s often tricky to explain but culture manifests itself through leadership style, how you treat your customers and colleagues, and the diversity of your workforce.

Culture can be seen in your people, personality, structure, purpose and values.

How can culture impact M&A?

An unforeseen culture clash creates an uncomfortable, disengaged work force.

If people don’t understand the values and objectives of the newly merged business they will quickly retreat into the familiarity of the old. This can slow down the integration of departments and operational systems. It also compromises customer service and sales if frontline colleagues don’t understand what kind of messages they should be communicating.

Every successful merger and acquisition has a plan to retain key talent and avoid an exodus

  • Everyone’s talking about the great resignation at the moment, so it’s more important then ever before to have a plan for engagement, talent and culture. Especially if your acquiring a business or merging two organisations together.

How can I assess the culture of my acquisition?

It might be tricky to really get under the bonnet of your acquisition in advance of the legal transfer date. Certain information around TUPE, finances, compliance and commercial integration, are accessible. But when it comes to engagement and culture, you’re not going to be able to hover around the water cooler or join a team meeting to gather intel!

If you’re using an independent HR consultant to help you navigate the legal aspects of your merger or acquisition this can also be a great way to assess potential pain points and plan for the challenges ahead. An independent person may gain more access to the company being acquired and can help you learn more about the people you’re bringing in.

What clients say about our approach to M&A

“He did all the detail but he was also great at creating relationships. So whilst we were getting all the paperwork and legal stuff in place, he worked really closely with the individuals that were going to come into the business to build trust with them.”

Heyley Selway
Chief Executive, CCHA

“Studies from the Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organization showed that organizations with low employee engagement scores experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.”

Emma Seppälä & Kim Cameron

Harvard Business Review

Why does culture matter?

Clearly defined culture is a sign of a positive, engaged workforce, which means exceptional customer service, confident sales and marketing, increased productivity, reduced staff turnover and a better share price. Why? Because when everyone is working towards a shared vision your people are an amazing asset. When they don’t feel part of the bigger picture they switch off, and can do some serious damage.

Try to understand what the cultural differences are between the old and new company. Nip any opportunity for a ‘them and us’ dialogue to take hold with a clear communication plan that’s put into action pronto!

An engaged workforce is more profitable – can you afford not to think about culture?

Do leaders know how to promote positive culture?

If people are used to being managed in a certain way it can be deeply unsettling when a new regime comes along. One of the best ways to establish your organisation’s culture and ethos early on, is for management to get out on the shop floor and talk to people.

As a minimum, you should plan on hosting a Welcome Meeting where you can meet your new colleagues and tell them a bit about you and the new company. You can do more. Whether it’s a staff conference, video message, virtual event or just chatting informally to teams or individuals, nothing reassures people more than a boss that takes the time to listen.

As well giving people practical, operational information about how the business will look in the future it’s a great opportunity to gain insight into how people are feeling about the change.

A Welcome Meeting is a ‘must do’ when it comes to mergers and acquisitions

  • Working out a change management plan in advance can give leaders structure and focus as they communicate their vision to employees old and new.
  • This doesn’t come instinctively to everyone. You might be a sector-leading professional, with a multi-million pound business but actually have no idea how to inspire your workforce. Or you might just be shy! Use leadership coaching to help you articulate why the business matters and what your aspirations for the future are.
  • It will help your team understand the right way of doing things and in times of pressure and stress they will feel confident about what you and the organisation stand for and which behaviours are unacceptable.

How can I take people with me?

As you plan for the future, consider the composition of your workforce.

If your organisation is office-based and you’re acquiring a business that works out in the field, how will you make those people feel welcome and avoid a two-tier workforce? Your ways of working and communicating historically may not suit your new colleagues. Sending an internal newsletter once a week via email is no good if half the business don’t sit at a desk (or have a smartphone).

As you move forward, find communication channels that work, so you can keep people informed, feeling part of the same team and contributing to your business goals.

Communicate in new ways to reach colleagues at all levels during and following an acquisition

  • Ultimately it’s people that make the organisation tick, so make sure your people soak up the right information, so they’re able to perform in the way you want them to.

Don’t know where to start when it comes to supporting your team through the Cost of Living Crisis?

We are passionate about finding ways to help bosses do the best they can to look after their people.

Some of what we’ve outlined here is simple, but implementing activity that’s targeted to help those that need it most often gets businesses in a pickle. Primarily because they get bogged down about treating all employees the same.

If you need help to work how to support those that need it in a way that’s fair and legal, then please drop us a line. We’d be happy to talk to you.

Laser Clinics UK | Response to COVID-19

HR ADVICE, GUIDANCE AND SUPPORT DURING COVID-19 CRISIS

Enabled a multinational team to rapidly close, manage furlough and safely reopen their businesses

The Spark Company (Human Resources) Ltd Logo

You can count on us in a crisis

“Andrew provided timely, calm and well-informed HR advice and consultancy to us at a very challenging time for our business.

I would highly recommend his steady, professional and authoritative guidance.”

Bridget Healey
Acting General Manager

Client

Laser Clinics UK, part of Laser Clinics, a global leader in aesthetics treatments

  • Laser Clinics operates over 200 clinics globally; the largest cosmetic clinic in the world, with more than 2,500 staff performing over 4.2 million treatments a year.
  • Laser Clinics United Kingdom (LCUK) opened its first UK location in September 2019.
  • LCUK operates a shared ownership model, working with franchisees and independent owners.

Challenge

Immediate closure of all UK locations and furlough all UK-based staff

  • In line with UK Government restrictions from March 2020, all clinics in the UK were closed overnight.
  • The Corporate Leadership Team was based in Australia, where different lockdown rules applied.
  • The UK General Manager needed support and guidance to safeguard UK employees and jobs.

Calm under pressure

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, Andrew’s support was invaluable.

Giving practical advice to a group of independent business owners is no small task; somehow Andrew found a way to give each of us what we needed.”

Sue Molloy
General Manager

Solution

Practical and pragmatic HR advice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Virtual leadership team briefings to franchisees and employees.
  • Support to furlough teams and gradually return teams from furlough and reopen businesses safely.
  • Support client to setup a UK-based HR Service to provide clinic owners with HR advice.
  • Partnered with Australian Corporate Team as their UK-based Strategic HR Consultant.

Impact

Service and employees transferred; no disruption to service delivery

  • Franchisees and corporate teams felt supported and reassured.
  • Several managers described our service as “invaluable”.
  • No grievances were received by clinics.
  • All clinics were temporarily closed and later reopened safely, in line with UK Government advice.

Do you need help to retain talent through challenging circumstances?

Is uncertainty or volatility making you re-think your business plans? Do you need to make some changes to your structure and wondering where to start? 

If you are looking for a HR Consultancy to help you a difficult period, then you need to speak to us. We can work effectively as a dedicated project leader, as part of your in-house team, or as an advisor to your executives, board and senior management.

We're ready to help you achieve your business goals through your people, and to overcome the challenging circumstances you face.