We recently interviewed Jason Stockwood, CEO of 2x ‘The Sunday Times UK best company to work for’ Simply Business, at seminars in London and Manchester. Jason discussed human resources (HR) and his award-winning book, Reboot: A Blueprint for Happy, Human Business in the Digital Age. This article will run through some of the key points Jason raised.

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What is human resources to you and your business?

I see HR as the processes, the legal requirements to make sure your business is well run and that can be health & safety, it can be your hiring process, some of your policies, its kind of the nuts and bolts of making your business work. What we have in all businesses, is people operations and people teams, and that’s really about your culture. How you hire people, how you look at what makes people successful, that’s about the coaching environment, like your values. It used to be that HR was just that, but now I see HR as being a more data analytical role, which doesn’t happen in a lot of businesses.

My experience has been that HR people generally haven’t come through a technical or data science background and I think that’s a challenge to us today. I do think if you’re in an e-commerce business, you measure absolutely everything on how your customer is behaving so that you can create great products and services, so you have to do the same with your internal culture.

And that was the moment for me about 6 years ago. Get your processes, legal requirements together and make sure your business is well run and then focus on your culture, your values, coaching and the environment, all those things that are slightly more intangible. The interesting stuff is either over one side with developing culture or being a great technical HR person – no one wants to be an admin, because quite frankly that can be done by automation. But if you can, take the data and get insights into your culture and your business, then you can create better ways of working.

At Simply Business, we hired a Behavioural Scientist a few years ago so we are constantly doing experiments inside our business on how we optimise performance. That’s not just about making more money, but how we make people happier. We took away all bonuses, because data said bonuses were counterproductive, as when a role requires cognitive ability bonuses actually decrease performance. And instead of that being just a theory, we were able to prove it through tracking and measurements.

What excites you about Technology in HR?

The ability to work with technology has changed massively. Anyone can go log in and work with Google’s Tensorflow algorithms now, which historically was science fiction! You might not believe it, but even if you’re not a technologist, with a bit of coaching any of us could go out and build a facial recognition tool with the latest technology. It’s not that hard. Now, that’s mind-blowing!

Tell us about the experiments of a 4-day working week at Simply Business…

Creative people have the freedom to choose their work, choose their projects and who they work with. Our 4 day week is really more about people that don’t have those freedoms, so people on lower salaries or jobs that are at risk of automation. So at Simply Business, we performed a 2-year experiment to implement advanced technologies, for example, telephony systems, resource planning, predictive analytics, and then the benefits of that were measured. This has allowed us to forecast our productivity lift, and if the results are as expected, we will share half of the benefit with the employees to fund a 4 day week.

So the motivation is we share the wealth – if automation is going to do away with those jobs let’s give people a day per week to retrain, look after their kids or parents, or do whatever it is that they want to do. We can solve problems through technology, so we should think about sharing the gains and the dividends, so long as what we do is rigorous, testable and replicable.

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