In our regular series, we interview members at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined and their plans for growth. Today Catalyst team member, Kelly chats with Monica Beckles from Inside Advantage.

Tell me a bit about Inside Advantage…

The easiest way to describe us is that we are an HR consultancy and more. I formed the company in March 2015 having identified a gap in the market for commercially focused HR services. I have many years of board level experience in an operational capacity and I know how difficult it can be to find a truly commercially focused HR professional.

There is not enough focus from the top tables on aligning business practices with HR practices. Management teams that do, reap the rewards. I demonstrated the gains that could be achieved when I assumed responsibility for core operations in a previous role. The combined approach to business and people strategy achieved fantastic results, both operationally and financially, leading to awards and industry recognition. I formed Inside Advantage to help businesses achieve the same outcomes. So, yes we provide HR and employment law services, but we also help businesses to identify and maximise their value chain activities.

What are you currently working on?

We are working on a wide range of projects. One thing we also do which is quite unique is employee advocacy. We help employees who are in dispute with their employer, whether they are facing a disciplinary, want to raise a grievance, or appeal against dismissal, we support them through those challenges.

We have several employee clients working for very high-profile organisations in the UK that are going through challenges. They would typically go to a solicitor, but because of our knowledge and expertise in this area and significantly lower fees, they can come to us. We have great relationships with some of the top employment law solicitors in London and the South East that can seamlessly progress the case if it became necessary. However, we have a very high success rate in resolving disputes and preventing them from progressing to a Tribunal. Our leadership experience gives us great insight which can be very beneficial when relationships start to break down.

Current projects are therefore a mixture of advocacy cases mainly concerning discrimination, several investigations for employer clients, supporting start-ups to recruit, train and develop employees, training line managers in employment law essentials, the typical provision of contracts and other employment documentation and mediating a board level dispute. We also have retainer clients that we provide ongoing support to, helping them achieve a return on their investment.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge was getting our message out there and helping clients understand that what they typically thought of as HR should be so much more, and if they partner with us that’s what they will get. Initially, when I would say that I run an HR consultancy I could see the eyes glaze over. Then as the discussions progressed, you see the reaction and hear comments such as “oh, you do things differently then?” and, “you don’t sound like an HR person”. I get that all the time!

I do not believe that we are the only HR company that is run by people from operational backgrounds and therefore gets it. But we do have first-hand experience of the challenges leaders’ face and can therefore develop workable solutions that benefit both their employees and their bottom line. Now the referrals are coming in regularly.

So that was the challenges you faced in the past, what about the challenges you face today?

On the employer side – helping employers to manage across generations. We see a lot of issues borne from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to management; that’s a mistake. Managers now need to manage the individual, and the increase in mental health issues commands higher levels of skill and emotional intelligence. To get the most out of employees, managers need to get to know, understand and support them – gone are the days when you could say ‘leave your troubles at the door’. That’s another area that we are developing – we have staff with qualifications in psychological wellbeing and cognitive behavioural therapy that can help reduce absence and reduced productivity caused by waiting times for therapy.

One of the other challenges is on the employee side. Due to the growth of the advocacy side of the business we have decided to restructure into two distinct areas – employer and employee. Developing both sides, putting it together and getting our message out there is our next challenge.

What is your biggest success so far?

We had a case that was heading to a tribunal. It was a grievance against a large UK organisation in the construction industry, and we handled the appeal. A union was involved, and the employer was extremely concerned. I heard the appeal with the CEO, conducted further enquiries and provided an extremely detailed response. It clearly outlined the weaknesses in their argument, demonstrating how my client would defend it and they subsequently withdrew the claim.

On the employee side, one that stands out was an individual who worked in education in a management role and was going through some difficulties with his employer. He had an accident at work with devastating ramifications. The employer managed the situation very poorly and breached his contract. I handled his employment claim and found a personal injury solicitor to progress the accident claim. The client was absolutely delighted with the outcome I achieved for him which provided some much-needed funds to support him until his PI case resolved.

Why did you decide to join Sussex Innovation?

I came in as a virtual client. My intention at the time of joining was to have a base to meet clients. Gradually, as more clients came on board, I approached two professionals who I had worked with previously to join me. One is an excellent team leader – very good operationally, understands HR, understands employment law, so again comes from a very operational perspective. The other has a wealth of HR administrative experience and is technically brilliant.

I needed to get into an office. You know what it’s like: nothing beats sitting in a room, sharing experiences and discussing issues. Employment law is very much about interpretation and debating the best way to resolve a specific situation; it’s much easier when you are all together.

I also joined because of what Sussex Innovation offers. I looked at other business premises and considered a few but the main difference was the business support. We are still growing, and as mentioned we have ideas that we want to get off the ground and Sussex Innovation can help us do that. It’s a great network of businesses and start-ups that you can have a chat with and share experiences and challenges as they grow. I think that the community here encourages shared knowledge and develops businesses more than at other locations.

As I was saying to Saffron, the Centre Manager, this has had a major impact on my perspective. When I was working from home, I was in the house all day, unless I was at a client’s site. I’m also a carer for my mother, so I was either working or caring. I didn’t have a cut-off time, so I would work around her care and when she went to bed, continue into the early hours. I needed to separate the two, create some structure and a clear line between home and work. Now, I have, and the separation has been extremely beneficial.

Inside Advantage are CIPD qualified specialists who combine an extensive knowledge of employment law with HR and leadership experience to protect both businesses and their employees.