Food importer Sleaford Quality Foods needed strategic HR to help power a highly ambitious growth plan. People Puzzles’ Jim Verity worked with the company to develop a transformational people strategy and get the right people in place to drive that plan.
The Client, Sleaford Quality Foods
Sleaford Quality Foods’ core business is supplying herbs, spices, dried fruits and vegetables to food manufacturers and the catering trade. There are just over 150 employees working for the family business that is run by Managing Director James Arnold, whose parents founded the business 50 years ago.
The company had developed an ambitious five-year business growth plan to more than double its revenue and significantly improve margins. James knew that the employees of SQF would be vital to achieving this plan but that the company’s current set up would not take it to where it needed to go.
SQF already had an HR department, but to address the challenges that it was facing, it needed a transformational HR strategy.
A better culture was also needed – employees were tending to ‘turn the wheels’ rather than fire up the business. Changes needed to be made – but where, and how?
‘You can’t double your revenue by doing things the way you’ve always done them,’ says Jim Verity of People Puzzles. ‘You have to be confident you have the right people in key positions who will take you forward, empower and develop all levels of management so they can raise their game, and continuously work to enhance staff engagement and communication.’
Jim was brought into SQF’s senior management team in March last year (2017) for two days a week. After conducting a ‘fact find’ – interviewing around 20 people in the business – Jim developed a detailed people plan that addressed common barriers to growth faced by many businesses: getting the staff on board with the business objectives and building the right skills and effectiveness of the senior team.
‘There wasn’t really a deep understanding of how all employees could play their part to deliver the company’s strategy,’ Jim comments. ‘But you won’t deliver such growth unless your employees are fully behind it and prepared to give more effort.’
Jim’s plan involved building stronger leadership and much better employee engagement with an ambition to be a place where people would desire to work. ‘I set a target to be in the top 100 of the Sunday Times top companies,’ he says. ‘If you set yourself truly ambitious targets, you change how you do things.’
Jim also helped to implement stronger performance management, better communication tools and a new approach to recruitment and selection. A bonus scheme for the executive team was developed to reward company-wide achievement as well as in their own areas. ‘Senior managers have their own functional accountabilities to deliver but they also have a collective accountability which they have to work as a tight team to achieve,’ he explains.
Getting the senior team firing on all cylinders was a priority and involved some difficult conversations which resulted in some members of the team leaving or stepping down. New skills and mindsets were needed. New senior people were recruited (internally and externally) to strengthen the team. With five new people, including Jim, in the senior team, it can now focus on delivering the strategy.
‘It’s a fairly typical family business scenario; everyone goes to James to get decisions,’ says Jim. ‘By strengthening the quality of our managers, we’re now moving away from that so he can be less involved in the day-to-day running of the business to focus on what he needs to be doing.’
When MD James Arnold saw Jim’s people strategy he says he was ‘blown away’. ‘It wasn’t just the people strategy,’ he continues, ‘there was an over-arching plan with detailed action planning about how we would achieve it. It’s given us a different way of thinking.’
Jim’s presence on the senior team meant that there was someone at the top level to drive the people agenda forward. ‘It means you can stand up for your corner, sell your vision and challenge others,’ says Jim. ‘You have to continuously work with the team, accept challenge and move forward’
Buy-in from the MD was essential for the plan to be successful. ‘It’s really helped that James is absolutely on board,’ Jim says. ‘There are a lot of fundamentals that need to be in place for a business to grow so much. We are in a much better place now structurally – which means the leadership team can now step up.’
Jim Verity, HR Director.