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Tue, Jul

Power to the people

So what exactly does Simpson Group hope to achieve by becoming Silver Investors in People accredited?

How often do you hear company chiefs say “our people are our best asset”? No doubt many really mean it, but it’s become something of a cliché. So perhaps you’re ready to turn the page when you see Tyne-and-Wear based POS specialist Simpson Group saying the same thing and being lauded for doing so. But then again, this is one of very few companies to have achieved the Silver Investors in People accreditation. So why has it bothered to take the issue so far?

It’s about attracting and retaining the right talent in short. As chairman Mark Simpson highlights: “Due to technical advances, the print industry is changing and becoming more data led. We need to attract and train employees to cope with these changes, ensuring we have a high performance team in every department across the business.

“IIP is great as it encourages you to keep raising the bar on skills and lifetime learning, which is very important in print where most machines are similar and it’s the people that make the difference.”

The Investors in People (IIP) standard is now pretty well recognised as a benchmark of good people management practice. It defines what it takes to lead, support and manage people well for sustainable results. It explores practices and outcomes within an organisation under three performance headings: leading, supporting and improving. From the thousands that seek Investors in People accreditation, only six percent achieve the Silver status. Now that proves Simpson Group is paying much more than mere lip service to the people issue.

“We believe that your people make the difference, and that by investing in them you are looking to create sustainable success. IIP is designed to help organisations and their people to realise potential, providing a simple road map for excellence. With its Silver accreditation success, Simpson Group is certainly working to realise its people potential,” says Steve Burrows, managing director of Investors in People, North of England. “This is a fantastic achievement.”

It’s an achievement that has required a not insignificant amount of dedicated effort. In 2015 Simpson Group made the decision to go for the Silver rating, having already achieved the basic level accreditation. To make the jump the company required an additional 76 evidence points - a key target for Sarah Tishler, who took up the role of training and development director last year following a new core strategic objective introduced by the board - to attract, recruit and retain top quality people.

“We were due for our IIP assessment in April of this year [2016] and had to make a decision whether we would pursue Silver in the existing standard, or try to transition straight across to the new Standard VI,” outlines Tishler.

To be clear, the new VI standard puts management excellence at the heart of the business; it has a simplified structure and includes updated content to reflect the modern workplace whilst measuring successes against nine new indicators. Simpson Group plans on making the transition across to Standard VI within the next three years. To do so successfully the company will need to continue with its current efforts, provide staff with further training and development opportunities and implement a clear vision on what targets it wants to hit by 2020 in order to measure successfully against the nine new indicators.

Tishler says of the decision to go the Silver standard route initially: “At the time, we as a company, and the assessors, were unsure how much work would need to be done to achieve the new standard and so we opted to aim for the Silver Standard V – still a significant leap from the standard we currently held.”

For the Silver award Simpson Group underwent a rigorous assessment whereby the IIP assessors looked at integrated and cultural behaviour as well as for effective structures required to outperform in any industry. The assessment was carried out using surveys, interviews, meetings and observations with a broad selection of employees who were chosen at random across different departments.

As part of this Simpson Group was also assessed on its understanding of the external environments and the positive impact the business has on the communities and markets it serves.

The PSP has for a long time worked in partnership with local universities (see http://www.imagereportsmag.co.uk/features/business/4503-the-university-challenge) - this year the group has already supported two students from Teesside University, both of whom have completed internships within the IT department.

“As previously mentioned, the industry is becoming much more data led, and by bringing high quality individuals and recent graduates into our IT department we are able to develop our systems and processes in order to offer more add-on benefits to our customers,” says Mark Simpson. “Investing in high quality people within this department also enables us to further develop the functionality of our websites creating a stronger customer journey - this is crucial in regards to our e-commerce platform Shop4pop.com for instance.”

As part of making an impact externally the group has doubled its charity fundraising effort this year, supporting the Alzheimer’s Society and The Motor Neurone Disease Association alongside its longstanding partnership with The Great North Air Ambulance charity. This year it has so far raised over £7,000 by taking part in the All Out Extreme 10k Mud Run and the Lake District Climb of Skiddaw as well as The Great North Run.

Internally, as part of the IIP initiative and associated performance targets, Simpson Group has introduced lean manufacturing training for all employees, with the view of increasing efficiency throughout the site by improving delivery performance and reducing costs of operation.

The lean manufacturing training is providing employees with the tools to review their workplace and identify areas for improvement; acknowledging that small incremental changes can lead to great savings in both time and money.

The idea is that cross-functional groups working across a range of departments gives employees with ‘fresh eyes’ the opportunity to identify some of the issues that their colleagues may no longer question in their day to day roles.

Employees across the group are being encouraged to come forward with business improvement suggestions and to make processes more efficient. Suggestion boxes are placed around the site and those who make suggestions that are successfully implemented receive a reward.

“We believe that by ensuring our employees possess the appropriate skills and knowledge they require to succeed in their job roles, it will enhance the relationships and contact experience between them and their internal and external customers alike,” says Tishler, explaining that the company is keen for departments to treat each other as internal customers and take the utmost care in their part of the process before passing it onto to the next department in the production chain. The belief is that such a mentality will improve internal communication, reduce errors and ensure the end product the customer receives is of the highest possible standard.

“By investing in our people and implementing this new methodology we are equipping our management team with the tools they need to reduce waste and costs whilst increasing efficiency. Such benefits can then be passed onto our customer-base, allowing us to become more flexible and competitive,” stresses Mark Simpson.