Stabilising growth through strategic people planning: how SBC took control of its recruitment and retention strategy and enabled organisational agility

Flexibility and excellence have always been essential ingredients for communications agency SBC. Founded in 2009 by Shelley Hoppe, the agency quickly became a flourishing communications consultancy with a great reputation and a string of major corporate clients, reflecting her own creativity and zest for innovation.

Shelley had little difficulty attracting bright, talented people, and always went out of her way to promote a good working culture where people were rewarded for their hard work and dedication, with plenty of development opportunities.

However, although she was bringing in great people and investing heavily in their development, Shelley’s team were often poached by larger competitors, leaving her to repeatedly train newcomers. This meant it was difficult to achieve the level of delegation needed for her to grow and evolve the business. With the same problems recurring over and over again, Shelley knew she needed to address the people issues at their foundations.

It was at this time that Shelley approached People Puzzles, and People Director Jenny Chapman came on board in December 2021.

“Strategic people planning helps the stability at the core of the business to enable sustainable, stable evolution.” Shelley Hoppe, Founder and CEO, SBC

Developing a strategic people plan to stabilise the business

Jenny began with a thorough Discovery exercise, interviewing people across the team to get a true sense of how they were feeling and what they wanted. Working side by side with Shelley, Jenny quickly got to grips with the business vision and developed a robust people strategy designed to deliver those goals.

As well as being able to deliver the practical, operational side of the people plan, including bringing in a new IT system, introducing a new HR system and streamlining the recruitment and onboarding processes, Jenny  developed the strategic side of the people plan, looking at the longer term ambitions and building the foundations to support talent retention ongoing, while providing a much needed sounding board and trusted advisor role for Shelley.

As retention had been an issue in the past, Jenny identified a need to focus on the recruitment strategy, deliberately targeting specific people who really wanted to work at SBC, and who would be well suited to their culture. In short, SBC began looking for candidates who were in for “the long haul” – rather than those who were simply using the agency as a stepping stone to a larger agency. She was also able to take some of the people issues off Shelley’s to do list and foster some more open communication, which was invaluable.

“People can’t always come to me with their true issues,” says Shelley. “Although I try to be very approachable, I appreciate that the power dynamic between me and such a small team can be difficult to navigate. This can sometimes lead to feelings building up in the background that no-one shared with me and so I was not able to help. Having Jenny as a “safe” person to approach for support and as a sounding board for the team on a range of areas has been so helpful. It’s helped us to identify and deal with problems that may not have been addressed in the past.”

Managing culture with hybrid working

Maintaining the thriving business culture Shelley had worked so hard to build was critical. But although the team were clear that they wanted to stick with hybrid and remote working after the pandemic ended, it does come with some unique challenges.

Jenny worked alongside Shelley to implement new ways of working to protect and build on the culture to keep people motivated and engaged, and find a way to make flexible working work well. This included:

  • Designing a series of F2F events, to bring people together and get the most out of the intentional face to face time
  • Streamlining HR processes and tools, taking stress away from Shelley and freeing up her time for bigger picture strategy and relationship building
  • Providing a safe space for employees to discuss their concerns and to coach for development
  • Developing leadership and management skills on the team, to enable more honest feedback and conversations, helping people feel invested in and heard, while managing expectations for career development

Shelley says, “Jenny has helped us to provide training to the team, to coach them to be more forthcoming with feedback to each other and to me, and – crucially – develop and show more leadership behaviours themselves, rather than always deferring back to me. Providing this ongoing training and support has made it much easier to keep our team developing and motivated, even in the face of remote working challenges.”

Key outcomes

  • Multifaceted people strategy that has enabled greater performance
  • Proactive, not reactive recruitment, supported by development
  • Improved retention and employee satisfaction
  • Greater motivation, wellbeing and engagement across the business
  • Training resulting in better leadership, communication and feedback skills in the business
  • A flexible, agile way of working that suits everyone in the business
  • Freed up management time to allow Shelley to focus on the business direction and longer-term future

Strong foundations to support transformation in the future

SBC is at an exciting point in its journey, transitioning away from its more service-led roots to launching a behavioural science e-learning product called BEHAVES. Having a strong, committed team in place has helped Shelley to evolve the direction of the business, with more confidence in its readiness to cope with the challenges that will inevitably arise in SBC’s next pivot.

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