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Fitting jobs to people, not people to jobs at the Annual HR Directors Business Summit 2016


The PERFORMANCE Management team was present at the HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham, United Kingdom, between 2 – 4 February, 2016. Consequently, the insights gathered from experts present at the event had been gathered and exposed here, in a series of interviews and articles.

On the second day of the Annual HR Directors Business Summit of 2016, held in Birmingham, United Kingdom, Dame Stephanie Shirley, known as ‘Steve’, who has founded the first software company who employed women, Freelance Programmers, presented several flexible working options that were available to her employees and focused the on cultural aspects of leadership worldwide and the inequalities she has to face, as a woman leading a software company.

Dame Stephanie’s manner of leading the company was indeed unique for the time (1960s), as she wanted to create working opportunities for women. So to achieve this, in a society were expectations from women related mostly to household and family responsibilities, the working environment had to be different. A significant part of her business success is due to the innovative ways in which human resources were managed: the job was fitted to the person and not the other way around.

Thirteen years after Freelance Programmers was founded, the Sex Discrimination Act forced Stephanie to accept male employees as well. In time, this philosophy went beyond just creating a suitable workplace for married women, to integrating all employees, especially people with disabilities and not expecting everyone to perform at his best in a standard, one-size-fits-all environment.

Several successful initiatives were shared with the public:

  • Diverse ways of contracting talent – permanent employees, collaborators, freelancers;
  • Flexible schedule – 8 hours programs, part time, even 1 FTE delivered by 2 people: husband and wife;
  • Flexible location – work from home, work from the office;
  • Different compensations – employees could choose to balance (percentage) direct and indirect pay;
  • Rewarding performance – bonuses, profit sharing, even co-ownership without any cost for the employee.

This approach towards employees created an incredible sense of engagement among them, with immediate effects on productivity and quality of work. From a small company, founded with 6 pounds’ worth of capital, to a multi-million company – this was possible only due to the extraordinary leadership skills of Dame Stephanie and her ability to maximize talent within the organization.

Dame Stephanie Shirley also shared another one of her HR secrets:

“I have always surrounded myself with quality people, people that I like, but not the ones that are similar to me.”

This assertion highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in the working environment.

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