Greg Guilford of HR Solutions tells us about building a positive, productive, and protected workplace during the pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Greg Guilford: We’re good, thank you. Like many people, we have children, which has been a challenge doing work and home school, but we’ve made it work like everybody else.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined HR Solutions.
Greg Guilford: HR Solutions was created by my mother, Carol Ann Guilford, in 2001. I joined in 2008. As an experienced HR practitioner, I took up the role of Operations Director, introducing additional services to complement the growing HR support side of the business.
The company grew rapidly, and my position continued to evolve until, in April 2014, I was appointed Managing Director. Following our merger with BusinessHR in 2015, my title changed once again to Chief Executive Officer. I previously worked in the Middle East and at FTSE 100 companies before joining HR Solutions. There was only two of us when I joined, and now there’s 26.
Over the years, the firm has expanded its services to include third party employment, performance and development review and employee assistance programme packages. Our Retained HR Services Package includes employment protection cover to give clients complete peace of mind. In recent years, the firm has expanded its presence in Milton Keynes, having acquired HR Services (UK) Limited in 2017 and Crispin Rhodes last year. Carol Ann retired in 2020.
How does HR Solutions innovate?
Greg Guilford: We try to use technology to our advantage to see how we can improve processes for our clients. That might be led by understanding what’s going on in the world, as well as using customer surveys asking what our clients want.
We use a sophisticated CRM system, and everything we innovate around is about the client and their experience – helping them make their lives better.
A lot of what we do has a personal service. We are not an automated response line, but we use technology to help us manage that interaction better.
In the last year, we’ve helped clients with Covid risk assessments, helped them prepare for Brexit and return to work.
Our innovation is technology, but it is also being ready to adapt to ensure our clients get what they need quickly. It’s about understanding the problem and finding the solution quickly.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Greg Guilford: Like everybody else, we’ve been affected by Covid and the pandemic. Most of our business is retained clients, and that’s an unlimited service. A lot of what we used to do pre-pandemic was on-site stuff like training and employee meetings, and that all stopped. We’ve been affected by turnover throughout the last year, like everyone else, but at the same time, we’ve been busier than we’ve ever been.
Outside of a pandemic, a client might call 5 times a month. During a pandemic, they call every day.
We’ve concentrated solely on supporting clients over the last 12 months. Our clients needed us, and we provided that service.
We furloughed staff at the beginning, but we’ve taken on more staff recently as our demands have grown.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Greg Guilford: Early on, we made the decision to furlough three members of our team. One was sales as we weren’t expecting any sales and two administrators who weren’t being used.
We were conscious that we didn’t want our people just sitting at home, so we sponsored them to do online courses to gain additional qualifications.
Employee communication is hard. An email can read out of context, so we tried to avoid just emails. Where there were important things to be said, we used to have quarterly company meetings, and now we have those monthly, as things can change quite quickly, and it allows employees to ask questions.
Everyone was nervous, so we reassured and asked our employees what they needed from us. We wanted to keep our staff motivated. I’ve got a very dedicated team, and if there was more work that needed doing, they would do it. But they were dealing with a lot of negativity daily with furlough and redundancies, so we ran a mental health session to encourage them to look after themselves and talk to us if they needed help.
We also gave them all three additional days of lockdown leave to ensure they were getting breaks.
We have learned that communication is key. People sitting at home not talking to anyone else will affect their motivation, and they will feel disengaged, so we must maintain regular contact with our employees.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Greg Guilford: Every client would have had a touchpoint with us over the last 12 months at least. Each of my consultants looks after a bank of clients, and they are their main point of contact.
We reached out to every client to explain furlough, and we offered a session to make sure they understood what it really was, providing more detail than the headline news articles. We encouraged them to have a rationale behind any decisions they were making, and we provided so much content to make sure they understood it.
In addition, we normally run webinars once a month, but we were running them once a week to make sure they understood the ever-changing landscape with furlough, return to work, how to manage long term absences, etc.
We ran an SME Business Survey with Deloitte asking SME Businesses about their pain points and the challenges they see in the coming months. Now we are running a webinar series on business support covering topics such as cash flow forecasting, marketing and lead generation.
We use Feefo as a customer feedback tool, and I’m delighted to say that’s been consistently high over the last 12 months, which might explain why we recently won the Professional Services Award at the Northamptonshire Business Excellence Awards.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Greg Guilford: We didn’t receive any grants from the government, but we did use the furlough scheme for three months and then the flexible furlough scheme for a further three months.
Your final thoughts?
Greg Guilford: It has been a challenging year, not just for us but for most businesses. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think everyone has had to take a hard look at themselves over the last year to see what works and doesn’t work, and many people have changed their models of working because they’ve had to.
I’ve got an excellent team around me, and we are able to adapt quickly. Normally we get a year to work out new legislation, but we had a day with furlough. It makes you value the team around you more. Ours went above and beyond this year to support our clients. In turn, we’ve tried to recognise that and provide support to them as well.
Everyone is evaluating hybrid working when things do return to normal. The reality is that a lot of people will want to continue working from home at least a couple of days a week, but we need to make sure we don’t lose that human connection.
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