It is nearly the end of the current financial year. We thought we would take the opportunity to briefly look back on some of the ways we helped our clients respond to changes over the last 12 months. Obviously there have been a lot of changes to contend with for businesses in the last year including the end of the transition period following the UK’s exit from the European Union. As expected, this resulted in a lot of queries relating to the treatment of personal data and how EU law will apply going forward in a number of areas.
But before we get onto that let us go back to March last year. We saw a number of changes in our laws, in particular those relating to insolvency, and a variety of funding options emerged which quickly became overwhelming as businesses scrambled to move their staff to home working where possible and put in place a business continuity plan. Alpaca was quick off the mark to deliver a series of online sessions to help businesses understand legal changes and funding options– thank you to those that joined those sessions. We hope you found them useful. They seem a very long time ago now that we are a year on.
As the months progressed, we saw a number of clients move their products and services online. Alpaca quickly began helping businesses update their legal documents to work with an online offering of their products and services. The option to move online has been a lifeline for some businesses. However, this presents its own risks and challenges. One key area is personal data. We have had many conversations with businesses about what data they will be collecting, where it will be stored and how it will be kept secure.
But conversations around personal data did not stop there. As we approached the end of the transition period the concern for some businesses was the potential disruption this would have on data transfers from the EU. The issue of data transfers was not fully resolved in the EU-UK Trade Cooperation Agreement. It was agreed that there would be a ‘bridge period’ of up to 6 months in which data could still be transferred freely from the EU to the UK. It is expected that before the end of this period the EU will pass an adequacy decision (currently submitted in draft form and waiting approval) which will allow businesses in the EU to transfer personal data to the UK without the need for additional provisions such as standard contractual clauses or binding corporate rules.
Most recently we have had the budget from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many expected tax hikes to pay for the expenditure of the last year. We anticipated an increase to Capital Gains Tax. This did not materialise which is good if you are thinking about selling your business. We have had a few conversations with businesses around the possibility of selling their shares to an employee ownership trust which many owners are starting to consider for succession planning. It also means you do not pay any Capital Gains Tax on a share disposal which meets the criteria. An interesting option eh?
Needless to say, there have been a lot of changes in the last year (too many to list here). If you want to keep up to date on the issues which are getting our attention check out our linkedin page (the fact you are reading this means you probably have already). We routinely post updates on our linkedin account which we hope you will find interesting. We would love it if you contributed to our discussions as we believe everyone benefits when different professionals come together and share ideas.
We hope the next 12 months are not as turbulent as the last. But whatever happens we will be on hand to offer support to businesses as and when needed. If we cannot provide exactly what a business needs, we will know someone who will be able to.
We would like to thank the clients that we have worked with over the last 12 months and trusted us to provide them with the help they need. Thank you!!!
The Alpaca Team
March 2020 to March 2021 was the one of the most challenging times the world has known. At Alpaca we quickly spun out home-schooling with working-from-home whilst continuing to support our clients with their ‘growth’ (disclaimer – growth meant survival for many!).
As we reached 12 months of lockdown, we asked our team to share their reflections in a diary format.
We hope you enjoy our story.
I was thinking about it being International Women’s Day and what this means to me. Well, I’m a woman that’s for sure so I’ll take an international day in my honour. I’m also a working woman and that is a large part of my identity. Throughout all of my adult life I have worked, I have done jobs I have loved, jobs I have hated, jobs that have taught me so much and others where I have been bored witless. I have worked in teams where I have laughed so hard it hurts and in teams where I felt lonely, but only a few jobs have ever been about me being a ‘woman’. Up until a few years ago I blazed through life and work with confidence and a little bit of bravado and then ‘Bam’ down I fell. What happened? I hear you ask, Menopause happened!
We all hear about menopause in some shape or form, the knowledge out there is sketchy to say the least, but it is getting better. It’s one of those subjects we whisper, we ignore, we pretend its not happening to us because to be frank it’s pipping awful. Let me share my story and why on international women’s day it’s important to acknowledge the direct impact menopause has on 49.6% of the population (women!) and the indirect impact it has on the remaining 50.4% (men!)
When we think about menopause we think about the physical symptoms like hot sweats and weight gain but what we don’t realise are the numerous psychological symptoms, anxiety, depression, problems with memory and concentration, I could go on.
As I said I have always worked, from a paper round at 13, joining the police at 16, going to university at 30 and finding my profession in HR not long afterwards. I have seen things and dealt with tragedies that no one should ever have to, and all of this has made me the woman I wanted to be. Strong, capable, confident. Until Menopause duh duh duh durrrr.
Suddenly my confidence was gone, my ability to string a sentence together, totally shot! Find that simple word, nope not there! I couldn’t pick up the phone without a sense of dread, what if the person on the other end realised, I knew nothing! My voice went, I literally lost it, I stuttered and whispered. For the first time I questioned my capability, assumed everyone was questioning it as well. What made it all worse was the insomnia; 03.33. every single night at 03.33 I woke up, and that was it, restless, unable to get back to sleep watching the clock until it was time to go to work. I was permanently exhausted, absolutely bone tired and no matter what I did I couldn’t get the sleep I needed to function. You get the picture. Then I got made redundant and decided that I couldn’t work anymore, it wasn’t worth the impact on my health. I also wanted to take up golf but that’s a whole different blog!
What changed? I got help, I insisted that my doctor take me seriously instead of palming me off with supplements. I started asking questions and realised I wasn’t going mad; this was perfectly normal when going through menopause. I also got approached by Alpaca to come and work for them, they said they were flexible, and they said they were supportive. Turns out I wasn’t ready to retire.
So, in the past three years I have worked flexible hours, if I have had a bad night with little sleep there is no requirement on me to be at my desk by a certain time. I can take what breaks I need during the day because I’m trusted to get the job done. It is okay to be open about how I am feeling and sometimes it is just enough to say, ‘not a good day’. If my anxiety levels are high and I can’t find my voice, then its ok to take a step back; most importantly I am allowed to be honest.
I call Alpaca my tribe, I feel like I belong. I am respected for my knowledge and experience and learning experiences are constantly being chucked at me, most of which I’m retaining!
This woman isn’t being beaten by menopause, and I choose to challenge menopause in all its glory. #ChooseToChallenge
If part of your business offering is to make something complicated simpler or you have a super slick brand, or simply that your USP is amazing customer service, then might you be undermining your brand by sending out T&Cs which are so full of legal mumbo jumbo that no one can understand them?
Do they really need all the “hereinafters”, “notwithstandings” and “wherefore art thou Romeos”??
Have a look at them and answer honestly if you understand them.. there’s a lot of T&Cs out there that would baffle even the most accomplished lawyer. They can (and generally should) be in plain English.
Better to use them to your advantage and create something you’re proud to send out to your clients or customers – something that sets the tone of what dealing with you will be like, creating a positive first impression, incorporating and extending your branding, simple steps that make a big difference.
Liability – to cap or not to cap
Lawyers often approach liability as something to be avoided at all costs. Exclude and cap it all!!
In this age of improving transparency, some business are choosing to turn the standard approach on its head and are being upfront and open with their clients by expressly stating what they ARE liable for.
Regardless of the approach, check if your liability cap is set at the right level. Does it dovetail with the liability cap your own supplier provides you with? If you are taking on all your client’s risk, should you be pricing your product or service higher? What is reasonably expected in your industry? Being substantially more generous in taking on liability may seem like a way to stand out, but can you afford to do this? What could it cost you if something goes wrong?
And a final thought on liability is to transfer it! The insurance market is much better now at creating new options for all kinds of liabilities. We can introduce you to some great brokers to explore this option.
Make them relevant
If you sell bespoke jewellery or high end shoes, you don’t want your T&Cs to talk about you selling computer software or magazines (this is a true example I came across recently!).
And if you’ve found a template to use, which is quite common, please, please make sure you remove “the blanks” – there is nothing more obvious that it’s a cut and paste job then seeing this: “Communications should be sent to [FILL IN ADDRESS]”.
You should also make sure that any liability you exclude is relevant – does a handbag or jewellery maker really need to exclude liability for lost data or business interruption? That seems more relevant to a data centre operator for example.
This suggests the business can’t be bothered reading its own docs.. So why should the customer..?
It doesn’t send out a good message that you’re scrimping on your contracts – what else might you be cutting corners on??
And whilst we’re talking about shoes… 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼 still my dream shoes!! Sophia Webster
Add tangible value to your business
T&Cs have another (super)power which is often overlooked – and that is increasing the value of your business.
If you are looking to take investment or sell your business, the investor/purchaser will go through a due diligence process and having robust contracts in place, securing your sales pipeline and your supply chain will add £££ to the valuation.
The more risks there are from a purchaser’s perspective, the lower the value will be.
So where contracts already exist it’s important to make sure they are up-to-date and enforceable, as they will need to withstand the scrutiny of commercial and legal due diligence and signing up new recurring revenue streams to your T&Cs will reassure a buyer that they will inherit a consistent cash flow.
You can then sit back safe in the knowledge your business will fly through its due diligence raising the most money it can!
Don’t forget the all important implementation stage
So now you have T&Cs you’re proud of. Brilliant. ✅ Now you need to make sure they are used properly in the business – how are customers made aware of them? Think about how the T&Cs become part of the contract you make with your customers or clients.
And just like you review other processes in the business, your T&Cs should undergo regular reviews too – there’s the obvious reason of changes in the law (IR35, GDPR…) but your sales process may be improved, you may change your logistics provider or you may be thinking about cashflow finance – all of which would mean your T&Cs could do with being updated.
Hopefully this week’s posts have been helpful and if you think your T&Cs could do with some TLC, then give an Alpaca a shout.
How well does your HR person know the law? ‘But they don’t need to be lawyers’ we hear you say. That’s true, but they do need to know enough to give you timely and accurate advice. That advice could be as much as, ‘this looks complicated, we need legal advice’ or it could be enough sound practical knowledge to manage a case through to conclusion. When we say ‘manage a case’ that’s exactly what we mean. It is not the role of the HR person to undertake the investigation, carry out the disciplinary or hear the grievance, that’s the role of the managers within your organisation. The role of HR is to ensure the correct lawful procedure is followed and that a fair process is undertaken with an outcome that is balanced and appropriate.
Or perhaps not? Sometimes it is about knowing how to circumvent that process to achieve a quick resolution but understanding (and advising you) on any risk and costs associated with this. For example, a HR person who can navigate a without prejudice discussion and reach a settlement would be an asset to most businesses. While legal support would generally always be needed at some point, it is a skill that should be encouraged.
A valuable HR person is also someone who works well and in partnership with its external advisors. If you do need external legal support does your HR person know what to look for, can they spot a good employment lawyer? We suggest they should be looking for someone who makes time to understand your business, can pick up the crux of an issue quickly and can provide a practical and commercial solution. An early conversation around costs is also important and a good lawyer should not shy away from giving options around fixed costs or a potential subscription model.
Hint: build a strong relationship with external advisors who know your business and can give you the appropriate legal advice, not just what the law says
If you read yesterdays’ post, you will see we mentioned HR making decisions based on it being the ‘right’ thing to do and not being encumbered by policies and procedures. Let’s now contradict ourselves (slightly). A great HR person will consider all aspects and at the end of the day ultimately enable the business to make a commercial decision. Part of making a commercial decision is having data; data will show you patterns of behaviour, trends of examples, history and causal relationships. All of which enables an organisation to make a commercial decision.
Too often we see organisations wanting to terminate an employment and when we ask why we get told Jane has always been a problem when it comes to her attendance. ‘Let’s have a look at it then’ we say. Surprisingly, there is very little data to enable us to really get to the ‘why’. Had the data been there we could have seen that Jane is repeatedly late on alternate Mondays. We would have then asked the question, ‘what is the impact on the team and/or business if Jane doesn’t start work until 9.30 on a Monday?’. Maybe Jane is the first point of contact for clients, maybe she must be ‘present’ by 8.30am. Do we know why Jane is repeatedly late on a Monday? Does Jane understand the impact on the team and/or business with her lateness? It’s very hard to argue subjectively against data.
What about your high turnover of staff? Do you know when in their service they are leaving? Is it a particular team, function or location? Do you know why they are leaving? If you carry out exit surveys do you collate quantifiable data rather than comments? We see many exit surveys that ask lots of subjective questions such as ‘How did you feel about your workload?’ ‘What type of relationship did you have with your supervisor/ manager? These kinds of questions are not quantifiable, and we would even be so bold to say absolutely no use to you whatsoever!
Having the data enables constructive, objective discussions which will ultimately lead to an informed commercial based decision.
Hint: if you don’t have a HR system (HRIS) get one, it needn’t be massive and cumbersome. There are some good entry level systems out there that will automate your processes and give you quantifiable data. However, they are only as good as the data you put into it.
A good HR person should be able to look at everything they do and assign a value to it. Spend three days rewriting a policy; what did that cost in their time and what will it costs managers in time when they come to implement it? Still using paper documents; what resources are needed to complete, check, and process these? Do your policies work on control rather than trust; how long does it take to deal with a performance issue in accordance with the policy? Giving tasks a financial value enables a business to see what adds value and what distracts from the main purpose of the business. There will always be compliance and legal requirements within an organisation; a good HR person will work within these to fit your organisation. Do you really need a 57 page handbook with a policy for every eventuality? If anything, 2020 has shown us that the rules just don’t apply anymore and we need to be more flexible, creative and quick to adapt. The best HR people are those who can look at the bigger picture, within and outside your organisation, and make decisions based on it being the right thing to do!
So many times, we see HR people doing to role of the manager, even the CIPD allude to it when they say, ‘the HR function helps an organisation deliver its corporate strategy and objectives by effectively recruiting and developing people and managing their performance’. The HR support is not there to recruit, develop and manage people, if they are doing that then your managers are not doing what you pay them for, and you are not getting any value from your HR support; they either don’t have enough to do, they don’t know how to do it, or you don’t empower them to do it. Which could it be in your organisation?
Do you enable your HR support to add value to your business? Do you involve them in people based decisions from the very outset or are they an afterthought? What is the largest cost and most important resource in the business? Nine times out of ten the answer will be your people. A good HR person knows about people, not just the fluffy nice to have stuff, but how to train, engage and motivate them to achieve great things for your business.
So next time you hear yourself say, “I don’t need HR” really think about what value you COULD get if you use this resource to its full potential!
Hint: If your HR support jump in to do it for your managers, ask them ‘why’, ask them again, and then ask them again. Then ask yourself if you are enabling this with your expectations of your HR support.