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People equal progress – how Fastest 50 businesses are harnessing the power of their people

Over the years we’ve spoken to many of the region’s fastest growing, privately owned business leaders as part of our Fastest 50 Awards. It’s fair to say they know a thing or two about how to develop successful teams.

Ward Hadaway Employment Partner, Roisin Patton

Here we feature the collective wisdom we have reported on from some of our Fastest 50 alumni, alongside Ward Hadaway employment team partner, Roisin Patton. We share their unique approach to harnessing the power of an engaged workforce and building a strong culture that drives customer satisfaction, and ultimately, growth.

Creating and developing a happy, healthy and productive workforce is today’s holy grail. People are an organisation’s most important asset. There’s no getting away from that and business leaders need to create a workplace that meets their employee needs and inspires them to achieve while respecting their personal circumstances too.

Roisin believes one of the fundamental challenges facing businesses looking to build an engaged, connected workforce is diversity. She explains: “For years, equality and diversity have been considered by some as a tick box exercise, but now the playing field is changing. Businesses are waking up to the fact that without prioritising diversity, they risk being left behind. We’re experiencing a new dawn – the rise of the employee – and businesses need to respond to attract the best talent.

“Increasing diversity in a business requires long term investment, sensitive leadership and clear communication. If a business is genuinely committed to providing an inclusive, supportive environment for any employee, its talent pool will be strong. It can attract those who wish to become a part of a progressive, positive and inspiring workplace that the business not only promotes but genuinely provides.”

And an inspiring workplace is certainly what Darlington’s The Almit Group has created and continues to foster over its 40-year history.

“Our very first employee, who joined in 1982, is still with us now – she’s our health and safety manager,” explains Mark Mitchell, customer liaison manager at industrial metal finishing company, The Almit Group. “Many of our employees have been here for 15 to 20 years – a reflection of the ethos Almit was built upon. We treat everyone – whether that’s our people, customers, supply partners or competitors – how we wish to be treated. We respect them. We always try to help them. It’s about being genuine and being fair – and that’s exactly how we run the business.”

Another key driver in developing and maintaining an engaged and motivated workforce is empathy in leadership and being able to understand the business from an employee’s perspective. Mark Rutherford, managing director at international battery maker and exporter Alexander Technologies Europe, agrees. “It’s about fostering a strong relationship with every single employee. People ask; What about the ‘Great Resignation’ with people leaving their jobs in droves. Aren’t you anxious? The answer is always the same: No, because we have the right relationships with our people that I have total confidence in and trust.”

Creating a nurturing and inclusive environment to develop your workforce is key to growth, explains Ryder Architecture’s managing partner, Mark Thompson. Part of Ryder’s ongoing success is its emphasis on investing in and developing people. “We expect our team to take ownership of their decisions and their work and to be leaders within their area of expertise,” explains Mark. “But that relies on having the right culture and infrastructure in place to support them – from learning and development to openly communicating our expectations. Ryder has always been a place where there are opportunities, but we expect ownership of challenges and solutions in return.”

It’s clear that the route to growth, and continued success, centres around people at an organisation no matter its size or sector. An engaged workforce only results from genuine support, positive development and an all-inclusive approach from an employer.

Roisin adds: “As a business leader, you need to be honest with yourself. Do you treat every employee like you want to be treated? Do you support their personal lives as much as their professional development? Is there truly an equal opportunity for every member of your team to progress and succeed within your business? Your workforce has everything to do with the success of your organisation. How you engage, support and empathise with your employees plays a hugely influential role in achieving sustainable growth – there is truly no greater asset than an engaged, productive and loyal team.”