Charlie’s HR Advice service was designed to help people running small businesses make better HR decisions. In 2020, we’re taking the service to the next level by combining the human touch with the speed and efficiency of software.
One of the hardest things about working in a small business is that you’re often confronted with questions or challenges that are way outside of your expertise.
You have to wear many different hats, multiple times a day.
In Charlie’s early days, I was confronted with this fact nigh-on constantly – and this was always at its most challenging on the HR or People side of the business.
Every company will experience difficult moments and hard conversations. But when those questions become really fraught is when you simply don’t know the answer – whether that’s where you stand legally or how to do best by your team.
Like many young companies, we looked for help with those challenges from a few different places. I tried working with a couple of HR consultants and even an employment lawyer – but while the guidance we got was better than nothing, it never felt like the right fit for us.
- First off, those services were expensive… we’re talking thousands of pounds every month. Back then, that was way more than we could afford.
- Secondly, the guidance we received was super traditional and never really made sense in the context of a small, fast-moving and fast-growing company like ours. There were times we’d be advised to follow a 12-step action plan – and for a company of 10 people, that felt like overkill.
- But for us, the real deal-breaker was the advice didn’t understand how much emphasis we placed on the culture we were trying to build at Charlie. Sure, they could keep a company on the right side of the law – but they didn’t understand the more subtle challenge of building a progressive company we loved to be part of.
Building our own solution
Near the end of 2018, it felt like the time was right to build our own solution – the (imaginatively named) HR Advice.
We designed HR Advice to give small businesses access to their own dedicated HR advisor at a price they can afford. Using a live-chat format, users can get ad hoc guidance on any topic they need help with, whenever they need it.
What’s more, that advice is not just a cut-and-paste job – it’s tailored specifically to the context of their business. But most importantly, it’s a service that understands just how important the People side of a business really is.
Now, I’d be first to admit that the service we launched in 2018 was pretty lo-fi. Back then, we were still working out just how to put a service like this together and we weren’t at all ready for how popular this service proved to be.
It was clear that something about HR Advice just clicked – people loved the empathetic, human experience of a real person giving them real solutions. They loved getting actionable guidance from a real person, with all the intuition and experience they brought with them.
What’s more – they loved the long-term relationship they forged with their advisor. Users weren’t just getting one-off answers, but learning and developing as they went.
Charlie and the future of HR Advice
When it comes to HR, ‘complying with the law’ isn’t that difficult. If you just want to do the bare minimum then it’s actually pretty straightforward – but the fact is the bare minimum really isn’t enough any more.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Charlie’s mission to make work better and our plans for 2020. In that piece, I touched on the changing attitudes we all now have towards work and how we all expect so much more from our employers than just the bare minimum.
Now, more than ever, you have to get the People side of your business right – and that’s a lot more difficult. A lot of companies out there are doing this badly simply because they don’t know how to do it well.
This is why I’m so excited about HR Advice in 2020. Over the next 12 months, we’re taking everything that our users loved about the service – the warmth, the empathy and the human understanding – and combining it with the speed and efficiency of software.
By creating a service that is human-led but software-enhanced, we’ll be able to bring HR Advice to more and more small companies and make work better for more and more team members.
The first steps
In the second half of 2019, we had one of our product teams devoted to exploring the first steps of that journey – one thing we identified was the untapped potential of company handbooks.
Once they’re written down, company handbooks tend to just live inside a filing cabinet, out of sight and out of mind.
But these documents are meant to be the living, breathing embodiment of a company’s culture. In 2020, we’re discovering how we can use software to make that culture real – to take those handbooks and make them part of every team’s day-to-day reality.