Pushing the case for ‘people stuff’:
A lot of time and energy is invested in business creation, getting companies to export, drive more profit and sort out their cost base. Not so much, it seems, on sorting out what Peter Russian describes as the “people stuff”.
Russian has been working with company staff issues for more than two decades and says there is still a lot to be done if businesses are to get the best from the people they employ.
“There is a still an instinct in business to regard people stuff as not being a fundamental driver of the organisation,” he says.
“Boards still have problems recognising the need to fully engage those who are working for them. Every board will have a finance report. Does every board have a people report? No.”
He points to research showing that only 19% of employees feel fully engaged with their employer.
“It is not changing. In fact it has not changed in 20 years,” he says.
Russian has been at the helm of Investors in People Scotland for nearly a decade and a half and recently managed its re-branding to Re:markable, a change that he says embodies the state-backed organisation’s evolution from accreditation body to a wider approach to developing employees.
“The change was a response to demand from clients who wanted us to look at a wider range of issues,” says Russian who joined IIP in 2003.
The accreditation, with its associated Investors In Young People service, remains a core activity, but Re:markable now tackles boardroom development and broader leadership challenges.
“Over the course of the last five years we have looked at the values of the organisation and we felt we remained as a body dealing with accreditation or we began helping clients achieve their objectives,” says Russian.
It has already helped 600 SMEs and IIYP alone has worked with 400. IIYP recently received additional state funding to help fulfil government objectives on skilling the next generation of workers.
Russian felt the organisation had created a foothold to work on wider issues that would embrace the human resource challenge.
He says employers and employees need to make a distinction between the provision of benefits that are a form of compensation – add-ons such as health care, gym membership, company car – and the benefits to employee and employer alike that come from greater involvement, a sense of worth and shared values.
Once the decision was taken to widen the remit, it was felt the name also had to reflect the change and employed a branding agency to work on a new identity.
“We knew we represented an accreditation mark and that we felt we were making a marked difference to the way companies become more able. The word Re is Latin for ‘about’, so Remarkable seemed to sum it up perfectly.”
The company has trademarked “Re:” in the training context and now uses it to preface its range of activities. Re:search, Re:energise, Re:skill, and so on.
Companies and others in the “people business” have become more active in seeking solutions.
“They can work through the programme or pick and mix from the programmes on offer and I think the themes are effective.
“We were approached by one large client to work with its board and by an American leadership expert to become his partner organisation.”
Russian was born in Scotland but raised in Oxford and spent his early career at Westminster City Council before returning north. He has become a fixture in the human resource sector and has a passion for helping companies get the best from their people.
“A lot is done to re-train people and improve their skills, but that is not much good if they find themselves working a company with a dud culture with no recognition of what they can do and how it values them.
“The UK is good at developing workplaces with lean practices and efficient ways of working, but this is not necessarily conducive to innovation or encouraging engagement.
“Companies have to be encouraged to see that their objectives are tied in with developing those working for them, and that often means how they allow them to take control and more management responsibilities.”
The larger the company the more distant the managers become from the customers, he says, and that should signal a need to give those staff working at the frontline more power and knowledge.
“Too often you find employees afraid to speak up about weaknesses in the system, or to volunteer ideas. Managers must learn to delegate and invest responsibility in those lower down the scale.”
Education: Sheffield Polytechnic (public administration)
Career highlights: Westminster City Council; The Management Charter Institute; IIP UK; IIP Scotland (now Re:markable)
What makes you frustrated?
People who use their rank rather than their ability to influence others. It is a lazy way to achieve an outcome.
I also dislike the way leadership is portrayed on television as ruthless. We are giving young people the wrong idea.
From the past or present, who would you invite to a meeting or dinner?
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, because she has a great perspective on the work place.
Sir Alex Ferguson who is known for the hairdryer incident but really believes in caring for people and supporting them to get the best out of them
Sir Richard Branson because he appears to do things for the right reasons and is committed to enabling people to make better decisions for themselves and the organisation they represent