Article: Family businesses can bolster economic growth, but the tight labour market is a big challenge: Sally Craig

Talent Management

Family businesses can bolster economic growth, but the tight labour market is a big challenge: Sally Craig

With more people seeing the benefits and opportunities of working from home and turning their ‘side-hustle’ into a full-time business, family businesses will continue to have an enormous role to play in Australian and New Zealand economies now and well into the future, says Sally Craig, GM People & Culture Kennards Hire.
Family businesses can bolster economic growth, but the tight labour market is a big challenge: Sally Craig

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In Australian and New Zealand economies, family businesses represent 67 per cent of all operating businesses in Australia, whilst in New Zealand, 75 per cent  of consumers trust family businesses more than non-family businesses, according to a recent KPMG report,  

With more ease of doing business and the rise in remote work culture, family businesses have the potential to further grow and expand. However, the tight recruitment market poses a threat to their growth. To battle the war for talent, family businesses need to get the basics right and focus on improving their employees’ experience. But where do they start from? 

‘Focusing on the engagement, retention and talent growth of your current workforce is critical, particularly for family-owned businesses,’ says Sally Craig, GM People & Culture Kennards Hire, in an interview with us. 

Sally Craig has been with Kennards Hire since February 2016. Her experience in human resources and organisational change spans over twenty years, across a wide range of industries, which include telecommunications, travel, government, freight and logistics and, more recently, hire. Prior to joining Kennards Hire, Sally worked at companies such as StarTrack, Lonely Planet and Telstra, taking up leading roles that involve the design, development, and implementation of people and organisational development and change programs.

Sally believes that connecting all aspects of the business, not only results in a more productive and engaging organisation but also ensures people achieve personal satisfaction and growth from their success.

Here’s an excerpt from her interview with us, where she talks about the challenges family businesses face amid the ongoing pandemic and shares how these problems can be dealt with:

For a family business, what unique talent and work challenges has the pandemic brought along?

As a family-owned business, we have been in a fortunate position to be able to be extremely agile and adapt quickly to challenges presented by varying lockdown conditions across Australia and New Zealand.

The majority of our workforce is branch-based, serving the DIY, trade, construction, and infrastructure markets. The national and varying state-imposed public health advice meant we had to navigate the different government-implemented orders with a regional and industry-based approach. Our COVID-19 response team had to be up-to-date and disseminate information quickly across our operations, sometimes with daily changes. 

We had to adapt and adjust our business processes, operations, and employee rosters to accommodate the different COVID-19 requirements and business activity by jurisdiction. 

One of the main challenges we faced was how to best provide a safe workplace for our people, our customers, and the communities in which we operate. Supporting our people’s well-being and mental health was a priority. As was keeping our customers and communities informed about what we were doing to help keep them safe, by enabling them to continue to hire from us through newly implemented contactless and click and collect services.

Other challenges have been the recruitment of new team members, with many businesses trying to recruit within a very tight labour market, and slow supply chains with equipment taking longer than normal to get to us from overseas suppliers. Something that continues to be a challenge.

How was your transition journey to the remote work model? What challenges did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?

Rapid is the word that comes to mind. We were fortunate in that we had the platforms in place for remote working with most of our Group Support Office team members already enabled with laptops, and Microsoft Teams had been implemented in our business prior to the pandemic.  

Though, prior to the pandemic, the take-up of Microsoft Teams was low amongst support staff. This changed significantly when we were all working remotely – everyone had to learn quickly to be able to work and collaborate effectively.

Our IT and People & Culture teams did a fabulous job of supporting this transition and helping to set up those that didn’t have the equipment they needed to work effectively from home. 

There were a few challenges that had to be worked through particularly in regard to our customer service team in that they had specialised IT and communications equipment they needed to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. However, our IT team was able to quickly implement solutions for individual employees so that there was no interruption to our customer service operations.   

The fundamental shift in how we worked was how we stayed connected and how we communicated and supported people to keep working. How we onboarded new people in our Group Support teams during this time also proved somewhat challenging.

In order to overcome some of these challenges we:

  • Ran a reflections survey with our people to enquire about their reflections and learnings from this time, any challenges they are experiencing and their hopes for future ways of working.
  • Conducted a leaders workshop on leading adaptive, supportive, outcome-driven teams when working remotely.
  • Implemented virtual monthly Town Hall meetings with the Group Support teams to keep everyone connected and up to date with what was happening in the business.
  • Developed Working Flexible Guidelines for team members and managers.
  • Ran the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People program with Franklin Covey to support people at this time.

As you focused on ensuring business continuity amid the pandemic and restrictions, how did you ensure that you keep the company's organisational culture intact?

As an equipment hire business, Kennards Hire has been considered an essential business over the course of the pandemic and has been able to keep operating within each jurisdiction’s COVID-19 requirements, and public health orders.

However, all decisions we made were in line with our core company values. 

With ‘One Family’ being our cornerstone people value, we aimed to make balanced decisions over the course of the pandemic, focusing on the needs of our people, customers, and business. We are a leader-led business, so in our branch network, our Area Managers and Branch Managers continued to support their teams and respond to any issues or concerns that they had at a localised level.  Ensuring they are aware of the support available to them during this challenging time was very important and representative of our culture.

We did learn from the early days of the pandemic, when everything was so uncertain and we made some changes to the way we thought about the options available to us when snap lockdowns occurred and impacts to the construction industry were felt.  Kennards Hire was the first to market within the hire industry with our contactless service and introducing digital technology solutions that streamlined our business operations, which talks to our ‘Taking Hire Higher’ innovation value. Continuing to learn and adapt is critical.

We have adapted events and programs in our business that are core to Kennards Hire. 

One such activity is our much-anticipated annual Awards Season, which occurs in each Australian state and New Zealand. For the past two years, we’ve had to modify our approach. In 2020, we had to cancel the physical events altogether and held a virtual awards ceremony. This year, as the delta strain appeared, we had to cancel all but three of our 10 events. However, our awards were still presented either virtually or face-to-face to winning teams and individual award recipients. 

We also sent everyone a BBQ experience pack in Australia and a picnic experience pack in New Zealand just recently to everyone in the business for them to celebrate the awards with those in their household. The feedback from this has been overwhelmingly positive.

While onboarding new talent over the last 18 months, how did you ensure that the new talent connects with the organisation’s culture and the existing talent?

In the branches, we have continued to onboard people in the way we normally would in nominated training branches. It is critical that our new starters have the skills and knowledge to safely perform their roles and connect to what it means to work at Kennards Hire.  

The changes to our branch onboarding simply resulted in reducing training group numbers in line with each location's COVID-19 restrictions. 

We are also consistently communicating with our people on ever-changing COVID-19 safe working requirements along with mental health and well-being initiatives to ensure we look out for the physical and mental health of new and current team members. 

In our Group Support teams, it has been more difficult without the personal face-to-face time together, however, we have adapted. We still run on-board introductions as we normally would, just via Teams. Our managers continue to have regular team catch-ups which keeps everyone connected and importantly we have ensured that adequate time is spent with new people either in the office, socially distanced (where we have been able to) or virtually to ensure they know how to perform their roles. We have ensured catch-ups with these people are frequent to check-in and ensure that they have what they need and are feeling part of the Kennards Hire family. 

How soon do you expect the Australian and New Zealand's economy to recover from the pandemic's impact? What role can Australian-owned family business play?

We are already seeing high levels of activity in our business as strong investment in infrastructure and the housing market continues. The pandemic proved that as individuals, as a business we are versatile, adaptive, agile, and willing to embrace change quickly. We are optimistic and looking forward to the opportunities that will come from this and will continue to invest in the expected growth time ahead. 

The impact of the pandemic on family businesses has been varied, with some businesses hit hard, whilst others have had the opportunity to grow and evolve through not only the industry they are in, but also through stabilising their business operations and innovating their product or service offering, whilst simultaneously laying the foundation for their companies’ future. 

With more people seeing the benefits and opportunities of working from home and turning their ‘side-hustle’ into a full-time business, family businesses will continue to have an enormous role to play in our economy now and well into the future.

What are some talent challenges and opportunities the family businesses across ANZ should prepare for? 

The challenges associated with a tight recruitment market I talked about resulted from a halt on immigration and various government incentives offered during the pandemic.

Focusing on the engagement, retention and talent growth of your current workforce is critical, particularly for family-owned businesses. Asking, ‘What can we do to ensure our people want to stay with our business?’ and then acting upon that is key. One thing we have noticed is the increase in employees wanting more flexible working arrangements. Kennards Hire had these opportunities in place before the pandemic. However, we are going to see it become the new normal, rather than the exception.

Providing upskilling opportunities supports valuable employee career development and engagement, providing additional impetus for employees to remain committed and loyal. 

We are currently focused on our referral program where our people are encouraged to refer new people to our business and receive a reward for doing so.

We know our people love working for Kennards Hire and the family culture is well valued, so they are the best people to refer like-minded people to our business. 

We are looking to expand our referral system to create an Ambassador Program which is essentially equipping our people with more tools to help attract talent to our business. 

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Topics: Talent Management, #HybridWorkplace

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