Meet Our Locals: Rachel Parmley, HR Consultant & Executive Coach
Fellow Walthamstownian, Rachel Parmley, is a HR jack of all trades who also happens to have mastered them all. After working for a number of companies in-house, she went solo in summer 2019 and now runs her own HR consultancy.
We’ll be welcoming Rachel to Creative Works on January 30th, when she’ll be running her first day of clinics for members on all things people-related. We caught up with Rachel ahead of her visit to find out more about her work and what makes her tick.
(If you’re a Creative Works member who needs a little guidance or advice on anything related to with HR, arrange a session by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Hi Rachel! To start, can you tell us a bit about your professional experience?
I’ve worked in HR for around 20 years now…saying that out loud makes me feel rather old! I’ve always been a “generalist” in the sense that I cover everything; recruitment, pay and benefits, performance management, learning and development, dealing with change and challenging situations such as disciplinaries and grievances – all the way through to employee engagement and wellbeing.
I’ve mostly worked in small-ish organisations; places where I’ve needed to be able to do everything on the HR spectrum. I’ve worked across a range of sectors, from housing and the civil service to higher education, publishing and sport.
I headed up UK Sport’s HR team for a number of years before leaving in summer 2019. I’d been thinking about going solo for a long time and when my youngest started school it was a good time to branch out and become self-employed.
What drew you to the self-employed life?
I was attracted to the flexibility, but mostly I wanted the diversity; to work with lots of different types of businesses. I’m particularly passionate about working with small and growing business and getting in with them early enough that they can get their “people stuff” right from the get go.
“…People who are highly motivated and happy in their work will perform better for you so it makes good business sense to get all of that stuff right.”
Thinking about how to get the best out of the people that are working with you is so important. If you get it right from the beginning you’re going to be in a much better position as you grow. After all, people who are highly motivated and happy in their work will perform better for you, so it makes good business sense to get it right.
Is attracting and retaining talent a huge challenge for small businesses?
It can be, yes. There’s a lot of competition out there so it’s important to have a really strong brand and know what your values are as a business, even if you’re teenie tiny. Having strong values that people then can get excited by will make people want to come and work with you and stick with you.
How can businesses a) establish and b) communicate their values?
I think when most people start a business, whatever it is, they do it for a reason. Essentially it’s about understanding your why. Why are you doing this and what’s your purpose; what are you trying to achieve as a business? You also have to make sure that your values as an employer are completely aligned with your vision so that it means something.
There are so many cheesy company values out there but to resonate, they’ve got to be authentic and aligned. They have to reflect who you are as an employer, the way that you like to work, run your business and how you want your customers to view you.
One of the things that really motivates people at work is having a really clear sense of purpose: people need to know why they’re here, what they’re here to do and how their work supports the delivery of the overall business objectives.
Where I see it going really wrong is when businesses treat employees as people who just come in and get a job done. Anything a business can do to show their employees that they really value and care about them and that they’re important is just so critical.
When someone leaves your business for whatever reason, you want them to be moving on as an ambassador for your business.
What motivates you in your job?
It sounds cheesy but I love working with people and problem solving. When people come to me with a bit of a challenge or something they’re stuck with, I love being able to help them move positively forward. It might be something very complicated. Some of the larger organisations I work with deal with quite complex change management, restructuring, and redundancy issues, which isn’t going to be so relevant to smaller businesses.
Even so, in a small team, there might be a breakdown in a relationship, somebody who’s not performing or an employee who isn’t well and the employer doesn’t know how to manage it. Issues like these can have a massive impact and I love being able to help. It can be a very emotional thing when it’s your small business.
Sometimes it’s about helping employers understand legal implications. There are things that you really can’t do and things you can but you need to know that there’s a risk attached to it.
How can small businesses provide employees with learning & development opportunities?
To be honest, the most impactful learning happens on the job more often than not. Just because a business doesn’t have the money to pay for someone to go off on a slick external course, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer development opportunities.
A lot of the time it’s about giving someone more autonomy so they can try things out for themselves, providing them with opportunities to come up with their own ideas and have more ownership over their role. Swapping expertise and skills is also effective.
If external training is needed I can help find more affordable or online options. Sometimes it’s about looking at it through a different lens: development isn’t just about going on a course. One of the key things is to regularly give people really valuable feedback that they can learn from.
Why have you chosen Walthamstow as your base?
Walthamstow’s where I live and I love it! There’s so many creative enterprises and people setting up small businesses. I’m a big fan of Creative Works and think it’s amazing; the atmosphere is great and it’s such a wonderful resource for small local businesses and people who are self-employed.
I work across all of London but I feel really connected to Walthamstow and I’m really excited to help local businesses grow. See you on the 30th!