Embracing the ‘new normal’: HR director Kate Norton explains how we support our portfolio

‘The new normal’ is a phrase used a lot these days, but probably with good reason. During uncertain times, it’s important that things feel as close to normal as possible and that people and businesses are able to adjust. As a HR director, it’s my job to help things operate as close to how they should be as possible, and give our teams comfort and reassurance when doing so. So, you could say the past few months have been rather busy!

I joined the team at Praetura Ventures in January, and kickstarted plans and initiatives to really propel our people agenda forwards. My priority has always been to put people first, but never more so than now, and this focus ramped up significantly when the pandemic hit.

Everything happened at a rapid pace and we had to react in kind to make sure that our employees were safe and comfortable working from home. This involved providing whatever support was needed, including counselling and mental health support for those that were finding the situation difficult, as well as establishing a team support system.

Once that was set, we focussed on supporting the founders and businesses we back with the challenges they were facing.

Our portfolio is made up of high-growth early-stage businesses. As many are just starting out on their growth journey, they often have limited in-house HR resources, so we step in to provide them with unlimited access to the knowledge, advice and guidance of our own HR team from day one.

In normal times, this can include anything from helping to deliver learning and development programmes to supporting with recruitment, but when the pandemic hit this really pivoted to providing real-time advice as the government released new guidelines, initiatives and support schemes.

We also set up a series of virtual entrepreneur meet-ups, where the founders of our portfolio companies came together so we could keep them up to speed on the latest changes, as well as giving them the chance to swap experiences, network and learn from one another. This virtual network has proved invaluable, and it is definitely something we’ll continue.

While this help and guidance has been really valued by many of our founders over the past few months, the HR support we provide really does go beyond reacting to the pandemic. We want to make sure we can provide the right type of support as and when its needed by acting as an extension of their management teams, so our founders have the HR resource and expertise the business needs even if they have not been able to invest in it in yet due to the business’ size.

I’ve not seen this hands-on approach replicated in the same way anywhere else within the venture capital industry, and it’s certainly something our portfolio really value.

Giving Culture Shift the tools for future growth

Since we backed the Manchester-based business in a £1.35m funding round in March, Culture Shift has gone from strength-to-strength.

We’ve been helping the team to develop its proprietary software and accelerate its rollout to business customers. To reach this goal and help scale the business, we’ve supported Gemma McCall, CEO at Culture Shift and the team, with developing a number of their processes and procedures internally.

From day one, we worked closely to review their HR contracts, business policies and procedures, and advise the team on introducing new, streamlined processes. We’ve also supported Culture Shift with (virtual) conferences and training with the entire business, sitting in on the sessions to help guide the team through best practice from a HR perspective.

This support has started to bear fruit as Culture Shift bolstered its specialist team with five new starters last month, increasing its workforce by more than 60 per cent. Through the raft of new hires, Culture Shift expanded its expertise, especially in the higher education sector with the appointment of the former head of UCL’s behaviour and culture change department. Other appointees also include a new finance director, sales director and lead developer.

Helping to grow the team at FeedStock

We backed AI-driven SaaS business Feedstock in January to accelerate the rollout of its products, expand the size of its team and extend into new markets.

Over the past few months, we’ve been helping Feedstock cement its development operations in Italy. FeedStock has long relied on an excellent team of developers based in Italy and we have helped them restructure and simplify their contract structure which has delivered both financial and operational improvements to the company.

The team has become experts in navigating Italian policies and procedures as a result – a learning curve for us all!

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