Invest North: How to approach the challenge to growth created by talent

Neil Moles, CEO, Progeny Group

Business growth can be impacted by a number of factors. The CEO of growing advisory business Progeny, Neil Moles, explains how they approach the talent challenge as the company continues both organic and acquisitive growth.

“Finding talent is important, finding talent locally is important, and it is also important to look at what people want from a career, I think its changed, I think people’s work life balance has changed – but also what they are looking for in a career and from and employer has also changed.

We have to look at ourselves and think ‘what do we want to be?’ Moles says this is vital to attracting and retaining the right people, through looking at reward packages, shaping the business so it is appealing to the next generation, and investing in people.

He said: “Throughout the pandemic we have recruited more than 100 people – these are people we have never met. We’ve gone through a challenge of recruiting people who we have only ever seen on screen.

“One of the biggest challenges is a fast growth business is culture.

“Progeny has grown rapidly both organically and acquisitively, the challenge, when remote working has become commonplace throughout the pandemic and beyond, has been to create that shared culture, having brought in people from different organisations post-acquisition.

“It is easy to have a culture with 12 people – which we were in 2016 – but it is much harder to maintain and grow that culture when you get to 280 staff, which we are today, and even harder when you are acquiring businesses because most of those people didn’t choose to be acquired.”

“Somebody asked me the other day “What is your culture?”. Fundamentally three letters start our culture and that is fun – we work hard to have fun. We spend a lot of time here, whether its on a screen or face to face.”

Moles says that when you’re recruiting people its easier to pass on that culture, for them to embrace it, as part of the recruitment process but when a company is acquiring – one day there are owned by someone and the next day they are owned by someone else.

Moles said: “Really you just have to throw yourselves at them, whether its the integration/induction phase, and really bring them in to things that performs in line with being fun.”

On attracting talent, Moles says that although there is a sea of talent, a lot of people don’t always think that financial services or legal services is a career for them.

“So we have to go out and tell them.

“One of the things we are hoping to do this summer is a summer school. We’re inviting children from local school to come in for a couple of weeks and find out about the business and the profession.

“I think you just have to think more outside the box – everyone’s always keen to knock on the door of universities but that’s not always the answer.

“You have to capture someone’s heart and mind a lot younger.”

On tips for businesses looking at their own growth trajectory, Moles says that most businesses grow not by design but by accident – you come up with a great idea, people then move towards it and then the business expands.

Moles said: “We wanted to make sure we had a strong capital base, obviously you need strong foundations before you start building. And then build out the infrastructure – so the business has that infrastructure to be twice its size. We are always future planning, and in doing so we are always thinking about the talent we needed to bring in to allow that to happen.

“Even now when we look at the scale we’ve got to and where we want to be on this journey we are constantly looking at that infrastructure – looking at what talent we are going to need and getting ahead of where we want to be.

“Take a step back too, there are lots of mentoring programmes out there – learning from people who have already done it – those who have scaled a business or bought a business – go find and talk to someone who can help you on that path and on that journey.”

On retaining talent, Moles says: “On trying to to retain talent, what always frustrates me about business or any growing business is this ‘glass ceiling’ philosophy. You take people on a carer path and get them to a certain level and say ‘sorry, you’ve got to wait for someone to leave before you can have that promotion’. Well, no, frankly, its the board’s job and responsibility to grow a business, so if were not growing it then were not doing our jobs properly. We’ve always created that opportunity mindset – that if you work hard enough you’ll get there and you’ll move on to the next part of Progeny and that’s just a different wave of thinking to most businesses.

“I think you have to think about the talent, first of all, people of today don’t just want one role in life, they don’t just want to be a lawyer forever, so create opportunity that is different – we’ve got people moving from compliance to marketing within the business – show that there are different career paths that can be taken within your business, and then prove to people that you are growing, in a controlled fashion, in a safe way, but prove to people that you are going to generate new opportunities which means that they don’t have to go anywhere else.”

Invest North 2022 a virtual one day conference bringing political and business leaders together to look at how Levelling Up rhetoric can be changed into realistic economic growth for the north. Curated by TheBusinessDesk.com the event was supported by headline sponsor Squire Patton Boggs, alongside sponsors Progeny, Transpennine Express, Mott Macdonald, Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, becg, Campaigner, and Curveblock, and event partners Influential, The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, and the IoD,

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