Independent Thinking: Postmark, London

On top of upping its HR processes, Postmark has recently revamped its Dulwich store, one of the four it has in London.
On top of upping its HR processes, Postmark has recently revamped its Dulwich store, one of the four it has in London.

Judging by the amount of stock amassing in the stock rooms at Postmark, Christmas is well and truly on the way. Which also means lots of time organising everyone to be where we need them to be, making sure the shops are looking good and well stocked and customers are filling their baskets. It’s not rocket science, but as we all know any tasks that involve staff, rotas and holidays always takes time and a little (absolutely tiny) bit of swearing!

In my previous life (working in the Mayor of London’s press office, when Boris Johnson was the big cheese) I never had to worry about rotas or managing the needs of more than two or three team members so I had no idea how much time I was about to start spending doing jobs like this when I started at Postmark.

The Postmark team celebrating winning two Retas awards.
The Postmark team celebrating winning two Retas awards.

Now don’t get me wrong I love spending time with the team but any sort of formalised HR seemed a bit OTT for a business of our size and besides as long as the shops were open everything was fine. Right? Well not exactly.

Like lots of other small businesses by being a bit relaxed about how we managed our staff we were in danger of breaking a few laws and harming our business by not having full control over what our employees did and how they did it.

In fact the top five HR pitfalls that business like ours face are:

  1. Employing the wrong people (a costly mistake I’d think we’ve all made).
  2. Not creating clear job definitions or job descriptions.
  3. Ignoring performance issues.
  4. Not understanding basic employment law (shared maternity anyone?).
  5. Owners not acknowledging the need for HR (insert little red face here).
Leona Janson-Smith travels by bike between Postmark’s shops to visit staff.
Leona Janson-Smith travels by bike between Postmark’s shops to visit staff.

I personally would add another, which I think is above and beyond the five mentioned above – time. With so many other things to do you ask yourself why bother and if you do want to bother where do you start? It can really seem daunting but it seems to us, the best thing to do is keep it simple otherwise you’ll never keep it up.

Communication is King. Which is where I started. It helps that we love a chat at Postmark so it didn’t take much to formalise it a little bit. We did this by putting in regular catch-ups with senior staff and encouraging our managers to give feedback as soon as possible – positive and negative – as this nips any staff problems in the bud or praises great work when it is still fresh. Those who felt nervous or unsure about this process I spent time going through various scenarios with them, which was both very funny and eye opening at the same time.

Formalising HR matters has reaped rewards for Postmark.
Formalising HR matters has reaped rewards for Postmark.

We also put in place an appraisal plan and wrote up some proper job descriptions for everyone. It is time consuming, but it really does make a huge difference. Staff now feel looked after, listened to and in return we get a chance to encourage development and think about delegating more responsibility to those who are keen, which can only be a good thing.

We’ve recently also put a performance-related bonus scheme in place to reward great performance and encourage our staff to go that extra mile for our customers. It’s all new and worked out using something that I can only describe as the ‘MJS equation’ (MJS = Mark Janson-Smith), but acknowledging the great work our staff do is something Mark and I feel very strongly about and we hope will have a really positive impact on our business.

The retailer’s Feelgood Friday initiative every month brings unexpected joy to Postmark’s customers (giving away free cards), but takes some explaining by staff.
The retailer’s Feelgood Friday initiative every month brings unexpected joy to Postmark’s customers (giving away free cards), but takes some explaining by staff.

It also helps to get organised. When I first joined Postmark the HR files were… well, they didn’t exist. So, one of the first things I did was spend a bit of time sorting out a very simple contract which everyone now signs that clearly sets out their hours, wages, holiday allowance and notice period and making sure we recorded evidence of right to work. On the training front we worked out a checklist for new starters, which has really helped our managers ensure everyone is given a proper induction and trained to maintain standards.

Of course all this extra HR was all a little bit weird for everyone at first, as it wasn’t something we were used to doing. However it has really taken off. Our managers now feel more confident dealing with any staff issues that come up; everyone has a clear idea of what they are supposed to be doing and to what standard and there is lots of feedback and support.

The MJS (Mark Janson-Smith) Formula for a good start to the day – a cuppa!
The MJS (Mark Janson-Smith) Formula for a good start to the day – a cuppa!

For us it’s meant we now have a clearer line of communication with our staff and some of the things they’ve fed back to us have been really interesting and surprising. Sometimes it can be hard to hear but it’s important that they feel they can tell us when things are going right and more importantly, when they’re not.

The changes we’ve made over the last few years haven’t been revolutionary, but they’ve definitely had a big impact on how we all work. Looking after the team can be frustrating at times but it’s definitely worth it, especially when we get feedback from our customers about how great the service was or how fab the shop looked. It makes us very proud of all the hard work the team put into our businesses and for that we think they deserve the best we can give them.

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