Bringing training in-house

At AVASK we can advise businesses on many aspects of business life. Here are some suggestions for cost-effective staff training...

Employers these days are bombarded with invitations to send employees on external training courses for anything from standard office software to project management skills.

Although ongoing training is highly beneficial for your business and for staff members individually, often businesses find there are drawbacks to external courses:

  • They are sometimes too generic with a one-size-fits-all approach that does not go into crucial detail.
  • The cost, especially when travel and other expenses are included, can be significant.
  • The employee will be away from their post for at least a day, which makes covering for them difficult and perhaps expensive.
An affordable alternative

One alternative is to bring the training in-house.

Experienced staff familiar with the software, for example, train those new to it. They devise courses specific to the needs of the trainees, and these courses are given in-house at times that suit all concerned.

If you think about it this makes perfect sense:

  • The expertise already in-house is recycled.
  • The training focuses on specific needs.
  • There is less disruption to staff schedules.
  • There are dramatic savings in cost.

Conducting a successful interview

Hiring suitable staff is essential to the success of your business, so it is vital to get the interview process right. Here are some of the factors to consider if you want to avoid losing a great candidate, or employing an unsuitable one:

Ten great interview questions
'Traditional' questions
  1. Why are you here?
  2. What motivates you?
  3. How do you take advantage of your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses?
  4. What's the one accomplishment you're most proud of and why?
  5. What are the most important attributes of successful people, and how do you measure up?
'Behavioural' questions
  1. Give an example of a time when you needed to adjust quickly. What did you do and how successful were you?
  2. Describe an occasion when you had to deal with a difficult customer. What solutions did you come to?
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to make an important decision and a colleague strongly disagreed with you. How did you resolve the issue?
  4. Describe a time when you were asked to do something for which you had no training. How did you handle the task?
  5. Tell me about a period when your workload became very heavy. How did you cope with the pressure?

Consulting your staff


You can often find that greater profitability can be unlocked by consulting your own staff.

In 2005, an EC Directive on informing and consulting employees came into force, giving many employees new rights to be consulted on key issues affecting the business or work organisation.

In fact, asking staff for their input can have a number of positive benefits for your business, as outlined below.

Creating a profit culture

Your staff are your key business asset. They know your business, and can highlight practical issues that arise on a day-to-day basis, helping systems to become more efficient and cost-effective, and identifying opportunities for generating new business.

Involving them in the business strategy will also encourage team ownership of projects, and enables all parties to understand their role in achieving the firm's key goals, creating a profit culture throughout the business.

Increasing productivity

Group consultation assists internal communication, and allows employees to feel more informed about issues affecting them. These factors in turn have a positive effect on motivation and productivity.

Here are five ideas for encouraging your employees to give their input:

  1. Run a brainstorming session
    Brainstorming sessions encourage creative thinking and can be an effective way of finding solutions to existing problems and generating fresh ideas.
  2. Install an 'ideas box'
    Providing a suggestions box in the office will allow staff to raise points as and when they arise, and also gives them the option to remain anonymous.
  3. Request updates
    Ask each department to submit a monthly progress report, which includes details of their achievements, frustrations, and future goals. This will ensure that staff remain focused and forward-looking while also allowing them to highlight any obstacles they may be facing.
  4. Hold regular strategy meetings
    Bring staff in on the game by holding monthly strategy meetings. Set a clear agenda which involves everyone, and make sure that the relevant people follow up the points raised. (Remember that this is a forum for offering ideas and suggestions, rather than negotiating issues, and management must retain the ultimate decision-making powers).
  5. Have a group 'away day'
    Holding an away day at a local venue can be an extremely productive exercise. Staff can take part in team-building activities in a relaxed environment, and the risk of interruptions is minimised.

Remember to tell staff when you have acted on their ideas.

Employees will appreciate the fact that you are actively seeking their opinions, and will be encouraged to continue looking for ways in which the business can become more profitable.

Employee incentives...that won't break the bank

Employee incentives never go out of style. During good times, you can use them to celebrate your business's success, and to keep your momentum rolling. During tougher times, they can boost staff morale and help you keep the key team members motivated.

Common benefits include healthcare insurance, company cars and childcare vouchers. But implementing effective incentives need not be unduly expensive. Here are some low-cost ideas for motivating your staff.

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We have the answers to your questions

1. Flexitime

Flexitime is one of the most popular employee perks, as it can allow staff greater freedom in their work-life balance. Some will enjoy the convenience with school hours, other just naturally prefer working earlier or later. Generally, employers require staff to be at work during certain core hours, with flexibility built in around these times.

However, it is important to take care before implementing a flexitime system. It can be complicated scheduling hours so that all posts are sufficiently covered and phones are manned - and if flexitime is available to some staff and not others, there might be a de-motivating effect on those denied it.

2. Transport loans

Commuting is often one of the biggest headaches for employees, particularly if they work in traffic-heavy areas. You could consider offering a season ticket loan. This can be cost-effective and easy to implement: your company pays up front for travel costs and then recoups the money through monthly payroll deductions.

3. Financial advice

Every member of staff, whatever their age or circumstances, will have issues with money. Why not hire an independent financial advisor to visit the office for the day? Assign them a temporary workstation where individual employees can go to discuss their financial planning needs.

This will certainly impress your staff, although you must be prepared to pay for the IFA's time, and be sure to cover yourself legally so that staff are clear that you are not liable for any action taken as a result of consultation with the advisor.

4. Gym membership

Gym memberships are now very popular, and if you have a health club near your office, this is a relatively easy perk to implement. Negotiate a staff discount and then pass the savings on to staff.

5. Extra holiday

Providing extra days of annual leave is an effective way of rewarding long service or loyalty, and is especially appreciated by staff with young children. It doesn't cost anything, so long as you don't need to employ in a temp to cover any shortfall in work.

6. Performance awards

Handing out quarterly or annual performance awards in a relaxed, social setting is a fun, low-cost way to recognise hard workers and give employees something to strive for. An engraved plaque and a £50 voucher for a local restaurant won't break the bank and will be greatly appreciated by the recipient. Just be careful to avoid any appearance of favouritism, and don't let your staff's competitive instincts damage teamwork!

If you want to inspire and motivate staff, but aren't sure how to do so affordably, why not call us? We might be able to find some cost-effective solutions for you.

Getting the most out of staff appraisals


Staff appraisals provide a valuable opportunity for you and your employees to work together to achieve future growth - for the employees' personal careers and for the business as a whole.

They give managers a chance to understand - and if necessary reassess - the role of individual members of staff within the company, and they also allow both parties to air any grievances before they become serious issues.

However, without proper attention these meetings can be treated as a matter of routine, and are not managed in such a way as to realise their maximum benefits. To help get the most out of the appraisal process, try the following procedures:

Hiring winning sales staff

What do you look for when hiring new sales staff?

Typically employers look at factors such as age, gender, and experience. But these do not always help you assess the potential success or failure as a salesperson.

Even looking at previous performance may not help if the candidate is going to be working in a different sales environment.

One approach that employers are finding increasingly helpful is to look at the personality of the candidate to see if he or she has what it takes to be a winning salesperson.

Add the 'Six Essential Traits of a Sales Champion' checklist to your candidate recruitment possess:

Sensitive – tries to understand and address the potential buyer's point of view – talks with them not at them.

Resilient – is never discouraged but reacts to failure with increased determination to succeed next time.

Self–starter – sets his/her own goals and motivates him/herself to reach them

Perceptive – identifies hidden agendas, unspoken objections, etc and helps the potential buyer past them

Identifies with success – closing a sale reinforces his/her self–esteem

Committed to service – understands the importance of being of service and feels rewarded by the buyer's satisfaction.

How did your candidate do?

How many of the personality traits listed above did your candidate meet?


Hire them!


You may give this person the benefit of the doubt, but think carefully before employing them.


Don't call us!

How to keep your best staff

Finding and training new employees can be a disruptive, costly and risky process, so reducing staff-turnover is a priority for many businesses.

But how can you encourage your current staff to stay with the company without causing too much damage to your bottom line?

Here are some strategies to help you keep your staff, and your profit:


Identify your star employees

When it comes to contributing to the profitability of your business, can you identify your star employees? Enthusiastic employees are what make a business stand out from the rest.

Proficiency and skill are important, but it is only when they are combined with vigour and commitment that your business really starts to move forward. To help you identify those employees who will champion your drive for improved profitability we have compiled this checklist:

Tackles problems head-on rather than side-stepping them.

Accepts responsibility when things go wrong.

Challenges criticism of the company

Is rarely, if ever, late for work or meetings

Completes projects according to deadlines

Volunteers for assignments even if uncertain of success

Bases decisions on facts, not just his or her own opinion

Is not just looking for "an easy life" and to be as worry-free as possible

Doesn't transfer or release good people who disagree with him or her

Sees delegating as more than a way of getting rid of unpleasant chores

Is willing to plan for the future, not just work on current tasks

Wants to be involved in recruiting and selecting new staff

Prefers to make criticisms in private rather than public

Engages personally with all staff, including subordinates

Is interested in talented or promotable people, and is willing to praise them

Will listen to answers or solutions provided by subordinates

Is willing to constructively criticise you.

Is willing to take risks

Delivers bad news as soon as possible, without letting problems fester

Is willing to work beyond conventional hours

Is happy to go on self-improvement courses, even if not paid for by the company or in office hours

Is focused on the future rather than the 'good old days'

How does each employee score

Count the number of statements you agree with for each employee and tally them with the results below:

16 or more

This person is active, inspirational, and accountable, a real star employee. Don't let him or her get away!


With proper coaching and management, this person can rise to greater responsibility within your organisation.


This person is tentative and perhaps uninspired, and might even make areas of your business vulnerable. Be wary of signs of improvement or further decline.


This person could be a serious impediment to profitability. You might want to ask yourself why you are continuing to employ him or her.

Keep a look-out for signs of stress

With the cost to UK business of stress and stress related illness estimated at billions of pounds every year, it is clearly in your interest to nip any potential problem in the bud before it starts to impact on your bottom line.

Look for the signs

Telltale signs that an employee might have a stress problem include:

Symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, indigestion, or unusual weight changes

If you see signs of stress a quiet chat with the person concerned and/or with his or her colleagues is often all that is needed to identify the causes.

Aggravating factors

Very often the main causes are not work-related, but there might be aggravating factors in the workplace. Research suggests such factors include:

  • Having to deal with excessive red tape
  • Skills shortages
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Deadlines
  • Constant interruptions
  • Lack of support
  • Poor communication
  • Incompetent management
  • Poor internal communications
Take appropriate action

A stressed mind quickly loses perspective and easily gets things out of proportion, and although any of the above might be cited by the individual as the cause of their problem, they are very often more perceived than actual causes.

Either way you need to take appropriate action because stress in the workplace is infectious and soon starts to eat in to your bottom line.

Managing absence

Recent surveys indicate that the adverse impact of absence on business profitability today is significant, with thousands of man hours lost every day. Recent statistics show that an average of 4.3 days are lost each year per employee with a median cost of £522 per employee. Approximately two-thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absences of up to seven days.

We consider below the main principles of effective absence management.

Good absence management procedures

The majority of businesses surveyed (94%) confirm that tightening of policies to review attendance has a major influence on controlling levels of absence, particularly when three fifths of all absence is for minor illness of less than five days duration.

The difference between short and long-term absence

When managing sickness absence issues, employers need to distinguish between short-term and long-term absences. Where the absence consists of short but persistent and apparently unconnected absences then, after suitable investigation, disciplinary action may be appropriate. However, this is not a suitable course of action in relation to longer-term sickness absence management.

Short term absence procedures

There are a number of key steps in managing short-term absence:

  • Establish a clear procedure that employees must follow, for example, the use of a return to work interview with line management and completion of self-certification forms even for one day of absence. This will ensure that everyone is aware that monitoring takes place and there is a complete record of absence.
  • Establish a system of monitoring absence and regularly review this for emerging trends. Frequent absences could perhaps be evidence of malingering but on the other hand could be a symptom of a deeper problem. Tangible statistics can provide useful warning signals to prompt early action and avoid problems in the future.
  • Return to work interviews should always be undertaken by the individual’s immediate line manager, which will ensure that clear reasons for taking time off from work emerge. This will give managers the opportunity to get to the root cause of an absence which could be a symptom of a deeper problem.
  • If the issues are personal and not work related, the employer should decide on the amount of flexibility he or she is prepared to give to enable the individual to address their issue.
  • If there may be an underlying medical condition the employer should consider requesting a medical report to support the level of absence; there may be a hidden underlying condition and links to disability discrimination may not be immediately apparent.
  • All employees should be made aware that any abuse of the sick pay provisions will result in disciplinary action.
  • If there is no good medical reason for the absences the employee should be counselled and told what improvement is expected and warned of the consequences if no improvement is seen.
  • If there are medical reasons for the absence, consider any links to the Equality Act 2010, for example, does the absence relate to hospital appointments or treatment required; if so, the employer is required to make reasonable adjustments which includes allowing time off for treatment.
  • If the situation reaches a stage where the employee is to be dismissed and there is no defined medical condition, it may be on the grounds of misconduct. Here the employer must be able to show that a fair procedure has been followed taking into account the nature and length of the illness, past service record and any improvement in the attendance record.
  • If the employee has a recognised medical condition that is not a disability but the absence rate is unacceptably high, it may be possible to dismiss fairly for some other substantial reason after following the due process. Again length of service and the availability of suitable alternative employment are relevant factors to consider before reaching a decision.
Long-term absence procedures

The key steps in managing long-term absence include:

  • Absence procedures, monitoring and return to work interviews are as important as in the case of short-term absence.
  • It is always prudent to gather medical advice to assess whether the employee’s condition amounts to a disability and also the capability of the employee to undertake their role going forward.
  • It is important to be specific about the information required from the medical report for example the nature of the illness, the ability of the individual to undertake their role, having provided a detailed description of responsibilities, the length of time the illness is likely to last, and any reasonable adjustments that would ease the situation.
  • Upon receipt of the medical evidence a process of consultation and discussion should take place with the individual (welfare visit) subject to any recommendation of the doctor.
  • It is important to listen to the employee’s proposals for their return to work.
  • If the cause of the illness is work related, the root cause should be investigated. Employers should discuss ways to reduce the influencing factors, for example, increased support, training or reallocation of duties. Could the employee return to work on a staged basis or on a part time basis for a short period?
  • ensure all steps are recorded in writing to confirm what is expected of the employee and also what steps the employer is going to take, so there is no confusion and all actions taken are seen to be reasonable
  • if the employee is to be dismissed it is likely to be on the basis of capability, however care will be needed to ensure all the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 have been considered and to demonstrate that a fair procedure has taken place.

Opening the books can improve profitability

Opening the books to employees is a strategy that has been tried to varying degrees by business owners over the years, and has often proved to be successful in motivating the workforce and improving performance.


Those who have taken this route report a number of benefits:

  • The trust implied by sharing information that does not normally pass beyond management circles has an empowering effect on all concerned.
  • It instils in the employees a sense of ownership - of both the successes and the failures of the business.
  • Employees become more aware of problems and identify with the search for solutions.
  • They are able to set themselves realistic targets that fit in with the overall goals and objectives of the business.
  • Team spirit and co-operation between departments generally improves
More transparency

Not every owner would want to go so far as to reveal everything to the staff, but it might be worth considering at least a little more transparency for your business.

For the strategy to succeed you will need to develop a system of reporting that provides your employees with timely financial information in a form they can work with. We would be happy to help you.

Recruiting executives

Whether you recruit executives from outside your organisation or appoint them from within, it is important to know that the people you choose have what it takes to excel at the decision-making level. The points below will help you identify some potentially useful traits in candidates:

Can inspire vision in others and motivate them towards long-term goals.

Can develop and maintain an organisation-wide perspective.

Can set realistic goals and timelines…

…But has the flexibility to change them.

Can think strategically.

Can focus on particulars when necessary and then pull back.

Can diffuse stress and anxiety in others.

Uses humour to good effect in dealing with people.

Gets on well with people.

Stays focused on core projects.

Is not thrown off course by others' emotional reactions.

Knows how to make himself/herself unavailable when necessary.

Is resilient and patient in working with others.

Manages time well.

Delegates effectively.

Prefers persuasion to displays of power.

If you identify people within your organisation who display even some of these traits, you might consider discreetly grooming them for bigger things further down the line.

Often, recruiting executives internally can be more cost-effective and more successful in the long term than appointing them from outside.


Recruiting the right staff

Hiring new staff is costly and time-consuming, but it is worth investing the effort to get it right. Without good people your business cannot succeed, and for a growing business, making the right recruitment decisions can be the difference between long-term success or failure.

Consequently, you need a structured process for recruitment. Here are some things to consider:

Identify exactly what you are looking for

Avoid getting swamped with piles of CVs. Talk to existing staff and define the vacant role that needs to be filled. Then build a picture of the ideal candidate, and find which applicants most closely resemble this picture.

Can you promote from within?

Promoting an existing staff member to fill a vacancy can save enormous cost and risk compared to external recruitment. But make sure that the employee has sufficient ability to cope.

Recruit people who are good with people...

If staff do not get on with each other, or worse, the customers, it can only harm your profitability. Make this a key priority when recruiting.

...But make sure that you are objective when interviewing

Structure your interview process, take notes and be consistent. Liking the person is not enough: you need to discover how competent they are. Open-ended 'behavioural' questions are good for determining this: you ask candidates to describe real-life situations at work when they solved problems similar to the ones they might encounter in your business.

Offer staff recruitment incetives

Existing staff might know good people who would be interested in the job. Offering a financial incentive can save you a fortune in recruitment agency costs.

Have an effective induction procedure

Ensure that all new staff have a formal induction programme, intended to make them familiar with their new job. This will pay great dividends in the long term.

The dos and don'ts of incentive schemes

Incentive schemes can have great benefits both for your business and your staff. Rewarding good performance motivates your star employees, and encourages others to emulate their achievements.

However, there are pitfalls, so tread carefully when devising an incentive scheme. Here are some dos and don'ts:

  • DO reward results
  • DON'T reward activities
  • DO set targets that encourage employees to maximise profit opportunities
  • DON'T set targets that do not fit in with your overall objectives
  • DO reward results in proportion to the extra profit they generate
  • DON'T set upper limits to the amount that can be earned in incentive payments
  • DO use incentives to take overall pay to the high end of the market
  • DON'T tamper with basic pay levels - keep them at competitive market rates
  • DO use equitable criteria so that everyone feels equally motivated
  • DON'T forget to communicate the successes and failures to all concerned on a regular basis
  • DO fund incentive schemes from the additional revenues they generate
  • DON'T make promises you can't afford to keep!

Call us if you would like help in developing strategies for motivating employees and reducing staff turnover.

Your staff handbook

Lengthy employment contracts, containing a huge amount of detailed information about terms and conditions, entitlements and procedures, are increasingly being replaced by short specific contracts and staff handbooks containing all the details of the matters applying to the whole workforce.

This simplified arrangement can be to the advantage of both employer and employee - here, we look at the reasons for preparing an employee handbook, and some of the things you should put in it.

Why should I have one?

A handbook is an effective way of communicating information about your company. It is good practice to be able to offer new staff a well written, comprehensive guide to your company's rules, procedures and employment policies. Not only does this promote good staff relations but it can also act as a training aid and save management time, because employees know where to look for relevant information rather than having to ask.

You can also use the handbook to fulfill your obligation to supply written information about basic terms and conditions of employment, although if you do this, it is essential to make clear which parts of the handbook are contractual. If items contained in the handbook form part of a contract of employment, reference to the handbook should be made in the statement signed by the employee.

What should be in it?

A good staff handbook might contain the following elements:

  • Make sure you update the handbook to keep abreast of changes in the law. Rather than having an expensive, glossy brochure it is sensible to present the information in loose-leaf form so that only the relevant pages need to be changed, or even to keep the handbook up to date on your company intranet.
  • It is important to get good advice when it comes to contractual issues. Ensure that your actual procedures are the same as those stated in the handbook.
  • Try to involve your staff in the production process. Is the information presented in a clear and friendly tone? Are there follow up questions they would wish to ask? If so, include the answers in the handbook.

Contact us for further information

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