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The best of HR: How OneFile clawed back its culture to win best SME team management initiative at the CIPD People Management Awards

24 Oct 2019 By Elizabeth Howlett

The family-owned business underwent a dramatic transformation, turning round its fortunes in just six months with the help of an organisational psychologist

It’s a conundrum that will be familiar to any small business owner. Having grown from nine employees to 70 in less than a decade, learning and development software provider OneFile should have felt euphoric. Instead, sales had plateaued and husband-and-wife founders Chris and Susannah Lawson could see cracks forming in their successful company.

OneFile began life in the couple’s bedroom in Manchester. But now, Chris had nine leaders reporting to him. Roles, salaries and hierarchies were inconsistent and feedback sessions were leading to conflict, while sickness absences were far too high. 

“We could see we were losing control of the culture. Productivity and staff engagement were declining,” says Susannah. “Our kneejerk reaction was to hire more staff, but we quickly realised that was adding to the problem rather than solving it.” 

Find out more about the 2019 People Management Award winners and register your interest for 2020

OneFile took a more diagnostic route, engaging organisational psychologist Sarah Clarke, who helped initiate a focus on culture and who used psychometric testing to help people better understand their strengths and areas for improvement.

The outcome was a new behavioural framework for staff (part of a OneFamily initiative), training for managers on how to give effective feedback and a surprising but effective reorganisation – Susannah became CEO, Chris reverted to his preferred position of product director and Clarke signed up as people director.

The results are there for all to see – sickness absence dropped 35 per cent in six months, net promoter scores have skyrocketed as customers report increased happiness and the culture has improved as OneFamily, in the words of the judges, “gave people the why and worked together to develop the how”. Best of all, the financial situation is rosier, and OneFile is looking forward to its next decade with confidence.

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