HR manager at Bayfields Opticians, Caroline Charles, speaks to OT about how the group has evolved
Independent optical group, Bayfields Opticians, is headed up by optometrist and entrepreneur, Royston Bayfield.
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Since Mr Bayfield acquired the group’s first practice in Leeds in 2003, the business has been steadily growing and now comprises 16 practices across England, with further acquisitions expected this year.
As the company’s practice portfolio has grown, so too has its employee numbers, which now stands at 130.
Importantly for Bayfields, aligned with its increasing number of staff, it has introduced a range of employee-focused initiatives that are designed to ensure its staff work in a happy and healthy environment, and have the opportunity to advance in the workplace.
Part of the family
Despite growth, Bayfields has not lost sight of the simple things that are required to help its staff enjoy and thrive in their working environment. Its HR manager, Caroline Charles, tells OT: “It may appear to be a very simple thing, but something that we actively work to ensure is that all of our team members have a good working relationship with their line manager.”
“We pride ourselves on creating an environment where people have a good support network in place and can talk to their line manager openly,” she says, highlighting that “this is important for us because, as a relatively small company, we are currently unable to offer the big benefits, such as private medical care, that larger companies can and do.”
This open relationship between employee and manager can be achieved in a number of ways, Ms Charles says, identifying a weekly employee survey as something that has helped Bayfields immensely.
“We introduced the survey, which is run by an outside company, around two years ago. It contains various consistent questions, such as ‘how happy are you at work?’ and staff can rate themselves out of 10,” she explains.
“The survey is completely anonymous in that we don’t ask for names, but it is not confidential as the results are shared with the team every week – we want people to be aware of the findings so we can react and improve,” Ms Charles confirms.
Sharing the benefits that the introduction of the survey has brought, the HR manager reveals that staff retention has improved greatly since its introduction because, “it allows us to tackle the little things and nip them in the bud quickly before they grow into bigger issues.”
For Bayfields, a large part of ensuring the team remains happy is regular meetings. These include a five-minute morning meeting where the teams in each practice gather to discuss priorities and flag up any potential problems, as well as regular one-to-ones with their line manager.
Regular meetings extend beyond the practice teams, as Ms Charles explains using her role as HR manager as an example: “I oversee two learning and development coaches who work remotely across the business, so I to have a daily telephone call with them.”
One-to-one meetings also feature in Bayfields’ team structure. “Most full-time staff will meet with their manager on a weekly basis,” Ms Charles confirms. During these meetings the same four questions are always asked. These are based on what an employee is doing, if they need help and what they will achieve by the next meeting. Each one-to-one meeting starts with allowing the employee a couple of minutes to be honest and tell the manager anything they want, without repercussions.
“It’s really all about good communication,” Ms Charles emphasises.
In addition, simple to implement staff benefits, such as a generous holiday allowance and a day off for your birthday, are in place at Bayfields to boost staff motivation, the HR manager shares.
Flexible and part-time working is also explored when required. “We are getting more requests for flexible working from those returning from maternity leave and those who, with the ageing population growing, are caring for elderly relatives,” Ms Charles explains.
“It's really important for us to look into these requests and, if we can accommodate it, we always will,” she adds.
Always looking to improve staff experience, this year Bayfields will introduce an annual development-focused, benefit-structured appraisal system.
Discussing why the new system has been established, the HR manager says: “We have always run monthly and quarterly review meetings with staff, but the new annual appraisal process [which is being implemented over the first quarter of 2017] will see staff develop an annual plan to work towards over a 12 month period.”
This will happen on an individual, personal level, as well as at a practice level.
The appraisal system “is very much about supporting the development of each team member,” Ms Charles explains, adding: “There will be regular reviews to ensure employees keep on track and are working towards achieving their objectives – we want to set them up for success.”
The year for training
For Bayfields, 2016 was very much a year of training – leadership, and learning and development were just two areas of focus.
“A lot of training has been undertaken across the company over the last 12 months, which started with leadership training for line managers and extended to the recruitment of two full-time learning and development coaches,” Ms Charles shares.
Discussing the reasoning for the introduction of leadership training, Ms Charles tells OT: “We wanted to empower practice managers to enable them to run their practice like it was their own. While there are obviously some key initiatives and structures that they must adhere to under the Bayfields brand, we feel that it is important for all managers to feel they can make the decisions that are in the best interest of their own team.”
As the company has grown through a number of acquisitions year on year, Bayfields also felt that 2016 was the right time to establish a formalised and consistent induction programme for new staff. In doing so it appointed two learning and development coaches.
Bayfields acquired six practices in 2015, and four more in 2016. Reflecting on this and how it links to the new roles, Ms Charles said: “When it came to inducting acquisition practices, it was really hard to get teams up to speed as there was no formal process.”
“Reaching over 100 employees, we felt that we had got to the size where it was important to employ people to perform this task, and lead on the development of team members working across the company, officially.”
Understanding the importance of investing in its staff, one of these appointments was made internally, with a successful dispensing optician now in the position of learning and development coach.
“It’s nice for us to be able to promote internally,” Ms Charles says. Having joined Bayfields in 2008 as a receptionist, she has benefited from internal up-skilling and promotion opportunities also. “Bayfields believed and invested in me and allowed me to grow and progress into the role that I’m in today,” she highlights.
"We pride ourselves on creating an environment where people have a good support network in place and can talk to their line manager openly"
In 2017, Bayfields will continue to hone and grow its learning and development offering for employees, while improving and tweaking things in these new areas, Ms Charles confirms.
However, the main focus will be on establishing a structure to allow pre-reg optometrists to complete their training period within the business, with the aim of welcoming its first cohort into practices across its portfolio in September 2018.
Explaining why this is an important next step for Bayfields, Ms Charles told OT: “In the past, we have had a tough time recruiting. Therefore, establishing a programme that allows us to take on pre-reg optometrists will support us in attracting some good talent and to make sure that we are attractive to them too. If we can support pre-regs in their training at Bayfields, this has the potential to help us with the recruitment and retention of high calibre staff.”