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Special Guest: Shona Hamilton-Higgins

Mar 9, 2022 | Episodes, Special Guest | 0 comments

This episode of the Money Compass podcast was published on 9th March 2022. You can listen again by heading to our Episodes page, or on your favourite podcast player.

In this Special Guest episode Emma is joined by HR expert, Shona Hamilton-Higgins of Lilac HR. Chatting all about how Shona got into HR and why she set up her own business.

Shona’s Top Tips

  • Using an external HR company like Lilac HR Ltd it can make your life easier as an employer, as you have someone there to ask questions to whenever you are unsure of something
  • An external HR company would deal with the employee paperwork and contracts to ensure they include any clauses necessary relating to their job role, this ensures all the legal documents are completed up to the required standard
  • During the pandemic Lilac HR supported their clients by ensuring the company was always following the government guidelines relating to their industry and even helped with the furlough scheme which caused confusion for many.

HR

Emma Knights
Good morning. I’m joined by Shona today from Lilac HR. It’s lovely to have you Shona.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Thanks Emma. It’s great to be here.

Emma Knights
It is very nice to meet you as well. So, I’m wondering if you can start today by telling me a little bit about who you are and what it is you do.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, absolutely. So as you said, my name Shona and I run a company called Lilac HR. So we’ve been in business about three years now and the primary focus of Lilac HR is supporting small and medium sized businesses with their people management.

I support companies from one man bands who are ready to employ their first employee, right up to companies with 150 employees that need real hands on, you know, kind of HR manager position, but they’re perhaps not ready to hire somebody in house, so I can provide them with that support and that service.

In the meantime, i’m based in Norfolk and I live with my husband and our two dogs and our cat and our two horses.

Emma Knights
Wow, you’ve got a real menagerie there.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yes, we have they keep me very busy.

Emma Knights
I can imagine especially the horses that’s like a full-time job on its own, isn’t it?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Oh, God it is. But you know what? It’s lovely because you know, mornings like today, where it’s a lovely crisp autumn morning – I was out in the sunshine first thing in the morning with my cup of tea, just listening to the birds singing and it was magical. I won’t be saying that midwinter when it’s raining and horrible.

Emma Knights
So, you’ve had your own company for three years, but I’m guessing you’ve been in recruitment quite a bit longer than that. How did you get into HR ? What kind of started that journey for you?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
I really just fell into it by accident. When I left Sixth Form, I was properly keen to go and work with horses, that was going to be my career choice. That unfortunately didn’t work out, but I think it probably worked for the better.

I ended up working in an engineering company, just doing their admin and I got approached one day by the HR director. He said, we need some help organising the training for all the engineers because they had to have specific qualifications to go on site and work safely. So he just said, can you come and help us do that? I was like, yeah, that’s fine. I got drafted into the HR department and then while I was there, I learned so much more about HR. I learned so much when I was working in that department, I thought actually, HR is quite interesting, it’s a really good career choice, if you’re a bit nosy and if you like digging around getting loads of information. So I thought, actually, I might be able to do this.

Unfortunately, I got made redundant from that role. But because I found something that I really wanted to do, I thought, okay, I’m going to put my redundancy money into my first CIPD qualification and within four weeks of being made redundant, I had bagged myself another job, which was a HR role in a food manufacturer, quite local to me.

It just kind of went from there, really, I grew and I learned and I climbed the ladder. So after I’d had a couple of promotions in that particular role, I then moved into social care. I did a four year stint with a national social care charity, working on their employee relations team. That was eye opening to say the least, because I don’t think anyone has the kind of complex cases that particular charity had, it was very, very full on but very, very interesting. We got lots of exposure to things like employment tribunals, a really good role.

From there, I went to a global IT company and was the HR business partner for them for a little while. But I just kind of got to the point where I got so sick of commuting and just spending my whole life doing stuff for other people. Like we said at the beginning having horses and dogs and everything else, it’s quite a lot to do. When you’re not actually getting time to enjoy the things that you like outside of work, it kind of makes it not really very worth it.

Emma Knights
So finding that work life balance for yourself, I guess.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
100% and I was having a chat with my husband, we hadn’t got married then, we were just engaged, and I was having a chat with him like I don’t know what I want to do because I don’t want to be an HR manager. I just was in a bit of a funk and I thought I just know that I don’t want to be commuting two hours a day anymore. That’s ridiculous. He just said, why don’t you just set up your own company? It’s really easy and I was like, you’re an idiot. Like what on Earth are you thinking?

Emma Knights
If it was that simple, everybody would do it.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah I was like oh, for God’s sake. But when I thought about it, I thought, you know what, actually that’s not a bad shout. It means that I could work from home, I can walk the dogs at a leisurely pace rather than dragging them around the village to get it done in 15 minutes. I thought, wow, I could actually take a bit of control of my life. So that weekend, we set up the company and it’s kind of just grown from there really.

Emma Knights
Wow, what a lovely story, to have just developed into it kind of naturally and end up where you are now.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, I think I needed to go through the motions and I needed to get all of my experience that I’ve got in the corporate world to have the confidence to go okay, let’s set up on our own then.

Emma Knights
I can deal with that. I’ve dealt with that before I know exactly what I’m doing. Wonderful.

So you said being quite a nosy person, liking to know kind of what’s going on, is really helpful. Is there a particular area within HR that you like delving into? Or is it just HR in general that interests you?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, my favourite bit of HR is the bit that most people hate, which is the Employee Relations stuff; so the disciplinaries, the grievances, the absence cases – if there’s a problem to fix, I love getting my teeth stuck into it. The more complicated and weird and wonderful, the better. I absolutely love it. It’s very much the bread and butter, you need to be able to do all of that to be in HR. But I just love it. I love a good case.

Emma Knights
Delving into it and finding the depths of it.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, absolutely and especially when you’ve got, you know, a grievance, because grievances are really emotional and you’ve normally got two sides of the story that don’t match up at all, it’s  very he said, she said and you’ve really got to read between the lines and dig into the information to work out who’s telling the truth? Who’s in the wrong? What do we need to do with this? It’s not easy, but it’s good fun.

Emma Knights
I can imagine. So you say working with small businesses is something that you do all the time. What sort of services do you provide to them? So obviously, your people management is one of them and the absences and all agreements is sort of that side of things, but how do you structure what you do for somebody?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
I have three support packages that I’ve got structured, and I also offer bespoke packages if those packages aren’t quite right.

So we start off with the real basics for very small employers, one man bands up to sort of 10 people, and that is 12 hours of support. So that’s the I’ve got a pay query, or somebody has asked me how much maternity leave they’re allowed, they can ring me up, and they can ask me that question, they can drop it on an email or whatever. So they get that 12 hours of support and they also get their contracts of employment drafted, so it means that they know that they’ve got the basic legal document there to cover the employment. All the other policies and procedures are just a nice to have, when you’ve got two or three people, you don’t necessarily need a massive employment handbook. I try and keep that nice and simple.

Then the support packages basically go up from there in terms of the level of support, my middle package has 30 hours of support. You’ll also get Employee Relations case support, which is where, like I said, the disciplinary agreements, the absences, I’ll come in and sort those out for you. So I’ll do the investigations and help you with the hearings and the letters and all of the really technical stuff.

Emma Knights
And the formalities that you have to follow, I suppose.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, completely, because a lot of the time, I use this example – actually, recently in one of my podcast episodes – you could have what you think is a really clear cut disciplinary case, such as you’ve got an employee with their hand in the till money, like money coming out of their pockets, it’s really clear what they’re doing. There’s witnesses everywhere. But if they’ve got more than two years service and you find them on the spot, they could still win in a tribunal for an unfair dismissal claim, because you’ve not gone through the process. Even though, you probably would still come to the same conclusion because they’re nicking money, it’s just the process. So that’s what I support my clients with.

Then my top package, which I love, I’m so obsessed with this package, It’s the ultimate HR manager experience. So it has the policies, the procedures, the handbooks, the contracts, the Employee Relations case support, the advice. Plus, we’ve got an employee benefits platform that we’ve just recently introduced, which gives employees access to discounts, healthcare, loads of different bits and pieces, but requires no input basically, from the employer. We set it all up and also our HR system so you can manage your holidays remotely through the system. You know, employees can just submit requests on their phone, it pings through to the manager just makes everything really seamless. So, I try I help my clients with everything to do with managing their team in a nutshell.

Emma Knights
So basically, as an employer, I think one of the biggest headaches can sometimes be staff and not because there’s anything wrong with them, but it’s just all the paperwork and all the regulations that go with it. So you basically take that headache away and deal with everything for them.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Absolutely, you don’t even really need to think about an awful lot. The documents are all there, you can refer to them if you need them or if not, you just give me a shout.

Emma Knights
Sounds like an absolute dream!

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
I try and make it that way, because running a business, is really stressful, isn’t it? Like you say, when you add other people into the mix, who do unexpected, sometimes silly things, it can really ruin your week. So I try and make sure that doesn’t happen and we say, okay, this has all hit the fan, but it’s fine, this is the process we’re going to follow to deal with it. You don’t need to stress about it.

Emma Knights
Wonderful. So I take it as well that say an employer came to you and said, okay, I’m now going to look at taking on new staff and the job advert has been done, in the contract I take it you would tailor it to whatever the role may be, or do they not need to be.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Normally on the seniority, the role and the kind of work they’re going to be doing. So if you were taking on a delivery driver, you would need some clauses in your contract around driving company vehicles and what happens if they get disqualified from driving for example, that’s a key part of their role.

We can structure the contract around the type of hours you want them to be working. So you can have the traditional nine to five, or you can have them working shifts, or you can have them working annualised hours, there’s loads of different ways you can structure how they actually work.

Then you can include other clauses for more senior roles, such as profit share schemes as a benefit, or bonus schemes or relocation support, you know, there’s loads of things you can do with your contracts, loads. You can keep it as basic as you like, or you can make it as complex and structured as you like.

Emma Knights
That’s sounds really good. From the point of view, as well as lots of small business owners are an expert of what they do and that’s why they’ve started a business. Like yourself, you’re really good at what you do and really enjoyed it, but actually people management and contracts and all those sorts of things aren’t necessarily your area of expertise. So it’s kind of using an expert that knows what they’re doing, to form that new part of your business while you carry on and do what you do best.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Completely, I liken it to having an accountant, like you don’t have to have an accountant, you can 100% do ebooks yourself, but it’s hard work, you’re probably going to miss out on tax relief that you didn’t know about. Because you’re not an accountant, it’s probably going to take you twice as long. If you just pay an accountant, you don’t have to think about it. It’s done. Easy.

Emma Knights
That’s a really good way of looking at it. So would you say since the pandemic has there been a change to the way employers are working? Have you seen a change to your business because of that?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
I think it’s kind of difficult to gauge with my business, because I only really took the business full time, mid pandemic. So I’ve been working full time for an employer and setting up the business in the background. When I went full time it was June 2020, so we were in full lockdown. So in terms of my business, I have no idea what it would have been like.

Emma Knights
But it kept going and you’ve done well through it. You’ve been able to give up your full time employment during a pandemic and take it full scale on your own. So it’s obviously a success for you.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
That’s it. My logic was, there’s never really a good time to kiss goodbye to a salary and go self-employed. So why not do it in a pandemic? You know, and the thing is, is that lots of people were needing more HR support, so it kind of worked in my favour, really. But in terms of my clients, I think the majority of my clients have a work premises, they’re not necessarily in office space, but they have a shop, cafe or a restaurant or something like that. So, they were obviously massively impacted by the pandemic, and they had to utilise the furlough scheme quite a lot.

In terms of the types of issues that we had come through, I probably had two or three weird and wonderful things to do with how furlough interacted with things like maternity leave, and we were like, it’s anyone’s guess. I don’t know what we’re doing! So, there was a lot of work out on that. But in terms of the actual issues that people were seeing, it was all the same stuff, just people disappearing off the face of the earth and not coming back to work or people going off sick or people turning up late or just people not doing their job.

Emma Knights
I suppose people needing to isolate and things like that and how that impacted pay or whatever it may be.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah. And I think the way that the rules kept changing was really, really difficult. It was a real challenge for me to keep up with never mind my poor clients. When they kept changing the rules around isolation periods, and then whether or not you had a vaccination, and then whether or not you’re going to get SSP from day one or not, yeah, it was a real real challenge.

I think my clients would have had so many more headaches had they not had my support. I got those updates on what was changing in the rules every single week to my inbox, whereas my clients weren’t getting that. So I was able to pass that information on to them to make it easier.

Emma Knights
Then you can obviously tailor it to them as well on their business specifically, rather than someone having to sift through every type of business and how they’re impacted and actually know that doesn’t affect me but that does affect me. What actually does affect me?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, absolutely.

Emma Knights
Wonderful. So if any of our listeners wanted to get in touch with you, and to utilise your services, or just want to have a chat with you, what would be the best way for them to contact you?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Oh, there’s lots of different ways to contact me. So I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. So send me a little DM on any of those social media platforms. I’m @LilacHrLtd. Or you can send me an email at [email protected] . Or you can go on my website and send me a contact form, the website is www.LilacHR.co.uk.

Emma Knights
Wonderful. We’ll put those in our podcast summary as well. It will go on our website as well. So, if anyone needs to find it, it’ll be there as well. If they did cut the podcast short and not listen right to the end, they’re still going to have those details. So another question that we always like to ask all of our guests on our podcast being the Money Compass, we like a bit of travel, I’m sure you haven’t been very far like most people recently. But what is your favourite holiday destination?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
My favourite holiday destination is America, purely because you can go to so many different places and have a completely different experience in every single state in every single city. I just think it’s phenomenal. It’s a phenomenal place. I can’t get enough. So that’s where I’m going to be going next.

Emma Knights
Wonderful. How many places have you been in America then?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
I did 16 states in three weeks in 2016, which was super awesome. We did a Coast to Coast tour from New York to LA and did all the Deep South I could talk about it forever. It was absolutely phenomenal. It was so much fun, and we will be going on our honeymoon, at some point in this pandemic. So, for our honeymoon, we want to fly out to Dallas, Texas, and then drive up through Utah and Wyoming and do a few days in Montana, which will be super fun.

Emma Knights
Wonderful. Are you going to go to a ranch as well while you’re there? If you’re into horses?

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Emma Knights
I was going to say it had to be done.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, it’s on the bucket list. I need to be on a horse in a cowboy country. That’s the dream.

Emma Knights
Sounds incredible. I have a friend that has one state left in America, then they’ll have been to every single state. So, I think you need to put that on your bucket list because with 16 you’re getting there.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Yeah, like quarter of the way there, almost.

Emma Knights
You have got a lifetime ahead of you yet, so I’m sure you can manage to get the rest in there as well.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
I’m going to do my best, I think that’s a good bucket list goal. I like that.

Emma Knights
Sounds good. Thank you so much for joining me today, Shona. It’s been lovely to have you.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Thank you very much.

Emma Knights
I’m sure we’ll have you back as a guest in the future.

Shona Hamilton-Higgins
Thank you so much it’s been lovely to be here.