Sarah Dowzell answered the mournful cries of many SMEs when she founded an HR company providing cloud-based software, especially for the likes of them. As the co-founder of Natural HR, Dowzell is looking to humanise the industry, from its cloud-based insides – and out.
Tell me about Natural HR
We provide cloud-based HR software to mid-sized companies. It’s targeted at those who have a need to manage their people-related data and business processes through the employee life-cycle in a more efficient way than spreadsheets and disparate systems.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for small businesses?
Finding the right people for a small business. Startups seem to have a real appeal at the moment and people seem to think they’d prefer them to ‘corporate life’. In reality, there’s lots of exciting opportunity in more established small businesses too and startups aren’t always the ‘Silicon Valley dream’.
The fit is important, so making sure prospective employees understand the nature of the business they are entering into.
How can they tackle this challenge?
Be really clear in the early stages of the recruitment process. It’s important to remember interviews are two way, so small businesses should take this as an opportunity for candidates to come on-site, meet and speak with the wider team. This helps both parties make an informed decision.
What do you think is the biggest advantage small businesses have in the HR department?
HR departments are sometimes criticised for not understanding the business. Within a small business, there are fewer layers and bureaucracy, so it’s much easier for HR teams or individuals to really understand the business you’re in, as well as having a deep knowledge of both the challenges and future plans of that small business.
This means HR within small businesses can also be instrumental in supporting the wider business plan.
What personality traits should small businesses look out for when recruiting?
Adaptability – people who aren’t adverse to change. In the early days, your roles are probably going to be quite broad, as you grow this will narrow and people will naturally progress into other roles with you. Whereas with large companies, strict organisational structures already exist so job roles tend to be more specific.
The benefit of broader job roles in small business environments is that employees can develop a broad range of skills, whilst also identifying key areas in which they excel and want to progress in. Professionally, both the business and employee grow together.
How important is a cultural fit for new employees?
Very! I’ll probably upset some fellow HR professionals on this one, but unless you’ve built a startup from scratch (I.e. just yourself) to a team, you won’t be able to appreciate the impact on the team and business of employing someone where the cultural fit just isn’t right.
It all goes back to the recruitment process and a focus not just on skills but on the person and their ethos and values. This is again, why I think meeting with the existing team is so important in that process.
What is your number one piece of advice for businesses that are not large enough to have a dedicated HR department?
Paperwork from day one! At the very least work with someone (e.g. an employment solicitor) as a one-off to get the basics right from the outset, such as terms and conditions of employment. It’s not uncommon to start off without getting the basics right and before you know it you’ve got a team who are used to minimal HR processes.
When the business does then have a need for a formal HR person/team, their emphasis will be on getting the house in order from a compliance perspective. This will create a lot of change, and possibly some resentment, which probably doesn’t help the “fun police” view of HR.
The best interview question you’ve ever been asked?
I actually believe questions that you have to prepare for in advance are the best interview questions. In my opinion, these really show who you are, your skills and your personality. When I was first interviewed for an HR Intern role, I was asked to prepare for the following: What is it about HR that gives you the drive, passion and desire to succeed?
I prepared a presentation and could demonstrate the sort of person I was in real life, even down to taking paper handouts for the interview panel to take notes on. This highlighted forethought, organisation and that as an individual I was always prepared.
Plus, should technology fail I’d still be presenting! I use this in my own business now, as it gives a lot more insight into individuals than the “describe a time when you…” type on the spot interview questions.
If you were offered a free training course for anything you wanted, what would you choose?
Training courses have their place and value but for me right now, I would prefer real life insight much more. Many HR teams or businesses receive awards for initiatives they’ve put in place but I would love to see those real case studies in action – understanding what they did, how, what they learnt and what would they do differently.
I think what I’m looking for is ‘a day in the life of some superstar business and/or HR team’. I wonder if anyone would be willing to let me shadow them for the day?