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HR for Small Businesses with Jacqui Mann

Jacqui Mann takes us on a trip into organisational culture by talking about HR for small businesses. She has clients all over the country with Inverness being the furthest client!

The Next 100 Days Podcast, Jacqui Mann, HR for Small Businesses, HR for SME

HR for small businesses

Both Kevin and Graham run small businesses – but what are the things that you need to know about HR? Owners of small businesses, after all, aren’t HR managers of a small business. However, they do have HR responsibilities.

Jacqui recommends getting the foundations sorted first. Often it starts as a nice honeymoon-holiday and descends into a bit of a nightmare; people have been hired by friends or connections and a contract hasn’t been put in place, etc. Not having a contract is the worst thing to do.

HR, contracts and small businesses

At the moment, people can be employed for up to eight weeks before a contract must be put in place. However, the government have put together a programme called ‘The Good Work Plan’; supposedly being implemented next year, this will make sure a contract is put in place from day 1 of being employed.

The thing with an employment contract is that it is there to protect you and your employee. It is there so both parties know what they have signed up for. Now there are aspects of a contract that must be made clear – sick pay, wages and working hours for example. But what Jacqui does for her clients is look at the business itself and add additional clauses that protect the business or are things that have not been thought about thoroughly.

The Handbook is best to start on day 1 as well. Normally, you would tie the handbook and the contract together as it shows how you would manage discipline and absence too.

You might think there are behaviours or actions that you wouldn’t need to explain to someone: “it’s just common sense to not do that.” However, as Jacqui suggests, there are a lot of people out there with little to no common sense. It is best to state everything in the handbook so you can direct your employees to what you are specifying.

Creating work culture

We’ve spoken a lot on legislation and legislating to create a certain environment. Gone are the days where you can get a pint in your lunch break or stub out your fourteenth cigarette of the day in the office.

But legislation doesn’t create a work culture. How can you create a culture that is right for your small business?

This is Jacqui’s passion when it comes to small businesses. She wants to make every business a great place to work. After all, most people spend most of their life at work.

Now, having a great place to work doesn’t mean you have free food and bean bags and that sort of thing – this is what a lot of people think of when the think of a good work environment and work culture. For Jacqui things like free food is a perk. It isn’t what the company culture is.

Reflect on your small business, now

Jacqui gets her clients to think about their business:

  • What is the purpose of your business?
  • Do you know what you are trying to achieve?
  • What are the values of the business?

Once those questions are answered, Jacqui helps businesses embed those things into everything that they do.


How do you implement your business values?

First of all, you start with what Jacqui calls ‘The People Foundation‘. This is about how you recruit people, your contracts and all your policies and procedures. It doesn’t matter whether these are heavy manuals with lots of pages or it is one side of an A4 sheet – everyone is different. However, you want to make sure that everything loops round to your core values through these documents.

That way, when you’re making a decision and your values are really clear, it is easy to question whether decisions and actions really fit in with what you’re trying to do as a small business.

You will also recruit people who fit nicely with the values of your small business. If you start recruiting people who do not align with your values then you will create a toxic environment. Jacqui calls this ‘People Disease’. You can also have people who do the work but are not very dynamic because they don’t quite know what makes them VITAL in the work place. As a result, it is so, so important to consider and craft a good work culture.

Work culture for small businesses

Recently, Graham and Kevin had Ken Keis as a guest on the podcast. He offered one of his books as a free pdf to listeners, and on the back of the book he says 90% of employees are either indifferent or actively disengaged with the work place.

Communication is very poor between management and a businesses’ employees; the businesses’ purpose is often assumed to be know by employees. Telepathic ability isn’t an employee requisite folks! Employees can’t read the minds of management!

Tips from Starbucks

Interestingly, Henry Scultz – the founder of Starbucks – has a lot to say on values and business.


He says:

“…anything we do can be copied by anyone else. But you can’t copy the heart and the soul and the conscience of the company.”

With this, he is very true – what gives you that competitive advantage is your business’ values and culture.


Nowadays, we’ve got the younger generation coming into the work space; we have millennials and younger ones coming into work and they want very different things to what Jacqui, Kevin or Graham may have wanted when they started work.

A lot of them are looking for the purposes and the drive of businesses – be them large or small companies. Indeed, a lot of them are looking at what they will be giving and what they will be given back.

The importance of a good work culture

If what you are trying to achieve is communicated well, you will take your employees with you on your vision. Strong values will also help you attract the right people to come and work for you.

In addition, strong values and work culture will also help you attract customers, who also believe what you believe in. That way, you’re not working with people you don’t really want to be working with.

Ultimately, your business values should be clear and they should be lived out. There’s no point in having values if nobody actively seeks to act them out. Jacqui can help you look at your values and plan how you’re going to live them.

Jacqui’s values

For Jacqui, honesty is really important. That means telling the truth and being committed to communicating to one another, honestly and openly.

Another value is doing the right thing – going with your gut instinct and doing the right thing for both the company and the client. This might mean someone might ring up wanting her services, and they talk about their employees in a dismissive way:

“I want them sacked!”

“Get them gone!”

“They’re rubbish!”

Jacqui’s company knows that this prospective client is not right for them; they’re going to create problems down the line, they’re going to be difficult with the help offered, they don’t want change but they want a quick and cheap solution, etc.

Jacqui and her team turn these sort of people down because it is the right thing for the company and, most probably, for the ones seeking Jacqui’s services.

Kevin Appleby set up his values when he started his business. Kevin believes they are still valid and stand up to Jacqui’s challenge. At the time Kevin wrote a blog post explaining why each of the values he had chosen were important. Its worth checking out, as this sort of rationale is the difference between something that is lived and meaningful rather than just words on a page.

How do you live out your values?

One way of making your work values lived, is putting behaviours with your values. Ask yourself,

“what are the behaviours you want to see, that demonstrate those values?”

Often this is where people fail. However, having behaviours makes it easier for employees but also makes it easier for managers to manage people too. When people are underperforming, confrontation is often avoided – the wrong attitude or actions are ignored. Yet, if behaviours and values are well communicated you turn a generic confrontation into a specific question:

“So, Graham (for example)…when you were doing x, y and z, how did you exhibit the behaviours and values of our business?”

What could have been a situation where you were having a go is now a discussion on behaviours and values. This links to Scott Carley’s appearance on the podcast, which you can find here.

What about ‘HR’ in small businesses?

HR needs to be there from the get go…otherwise Jacqui says you’ll be getting yourself into a right pickle!

Culture, on the other hand, is what gives you a competitive edge. It makes you stand out and helps you recruit the right people. The HR underpins that.

HR is something that people often have but don’t want. The misunderstanding is that it is there for sacking people. HR, in fact, can make a real difference to your company. Jacqui seeks to get what is right for the employees but also what is best for the business. HR can do both!

Change to small businesses

Kevin makes a helpful remark about the three components to business change:

  1. Systems
  2. People
  3. Process

Quite often, people and process get completely forgotten. Business change isn’t about new IT systems – it’s about what people do, how people react, getting people to do the right things at the right time, etc.

One of the hardest things to do is getting people to do something different, because it feels uncomfortable. That’s all about getting the right culture and work environment for people to lessen this.

Head of People, therefore, is on Kevin’s ‘love list’ when it comes to different ways to frame HR.

Another thing that can happen in small businesses is that the owner of the company is the culture. This can’t happen – what you need to make of is that the culture is embedded in all the employees. Otherwise, when you leave or decide to sell the business, the culture crumbles because it depended on you.

Ensuring compliance

On Jacqui’s website, she has three bullet points, the first being ‘Ensure compliance’. What does that mean?

Well, it’s making sure that you’re legally compliant. Make sure you have the terms and conditions in place so that your employee knows what they need to do and will get in return; likewise, so do you as the business owner or manager. That’s the compliance bit.

It’s also about treating others fairly. HR isn’t about doing this, that and the other. It’s about dealing with policy with integrity and sensitivity to the situation. Policies aren’t as black and white as we often think – they can often be grey and we need to be flexible.

Essentially, the policy is there to guide you but you are the ones putting it into practice and adapt to real life situations.

Communication is key



Communication is so important when it comes to HR and recruiting for small or medium-sized businesses. Jacqui mentions the lack of communication during induction or after induction…if there is an induction that is.

What is to be stressed is conversation – treat employees as people and deal with the people in front of you, and offer support and guidance.

Getting feedback is a two-way process. Everyone is different; some businesses will chat over coffee, some will drop an email. What is important is communicating because BOTH of you (employee and manager) will learn a lot from that session.

Jacqui’s favourite questions are:

  • What should we stop doing?
  • Is there anything that we should start doing?
  • What should we continue doing?

You get a lot of information from those and can figure out how your employees are doing.

Multiple meanings of culture…

Culture has multiple meanings doesn’t it? You have ethnic culture, national culture, family culture…the list is endless. Sometimes we get too focussed on culture as something that, at point a, isn’t there and, at point b, is there.

The thing is, we all have culture. Everyone has a culture within their business, but is it the culture that you want? THAT is what Jacqui is asking. Culture can be toxic as well as good – in small businesses as well as large companies, it is important we seek out those healthy cultures for a healthy and enjoyable work environment.

If you’re want to know more of what Jacqui has to say, you can go to her website, you can find her on LinkedIn or Facebook, and you can get her book ‘Recruit, Inspire & Retain’. 

Jacqui Mann, The Next 100 Days Podcast

You can get this on amazon or, if you click the image above, you can buy Jacqui’s book for just the postage and packaging costs. Bargain!

The next 100 days podcast is sponsored by Linked Professionally and is brought to you by Kevin Appleby and Graham Arrowsmith