Learning lessons of dotcom age

The second half of last year
saw one young e-business crash after another and was in stark contrast to the
preceding 12 months when, it seemed, dotcoms could not fail.

After consulting work in a number
of e-businesses, including the ill-fated Boo.com, Robin Derrett, former
European HR director of retail outlet Gap, set up a consultancy to support
start-ups, venture capitalists or incubator companies involved with dotcoms.

Derrett runs thehrpeople.com with
co-director Tanya Sinclair, who worked with him at Gap as UK recruitment
manager. It also offers interim HR management and outsourced HR services.
Current clients include the idea-to-IPO incubator Gorilla Park, Shell Internet
Works, the Ministry of Sound and e-Kingfisher, the e-channel of the major
retailing group.

Why did you
decide to set up thehrpeople.com?

Robin Derrett While working in
dotcoms I realised the need for quality HR support. Many receive no HR support
until it is too late. I like the feeling of providing an HR contribution early
and really making a difference. It’s an opportunity to reinvent HR’s service to

Tanya Sinclair We realised what
dotcoms want isn’t the standard service – they need someone to stay with them
and execute it.

How does your
relationship with the client work typically?

RD Usually clients are in the
50 people or less category and are usually an e-business. We go on site for six
to 12 weeks and put in the HR infrastructure: performance management,
contracts, payroll, organ- isational structures, compensation and benefits
packages and recruitment. We only recruit for the customer on its own site – we
are not a recruitment agency and need to remain separate from it.

TS None of our client
relationships have been the same so far. At Gorilla Park, I went in as a
compensation and benefits specialist and ended up looking after recruitment and
an HR office. With e-Kingfisher, it wanted a rapid expansion and we put
together a preferred supplier list and got on with hiring. For the group’s
B&Q channels, I did a specific generalist role and set up the HR

We have lots of ways we can
support clients. We also offer what we call HR direct where a client retains
our services when it needs us.

What are the
common mistakes people make when staffing an e-business or e-division?

RD Using poor quality
recruitment providers and processes, lack of anticipation of what life in a
dotcom is like, under-recruiting the skills required, lack of courtship of key
recruits, offering wrong packages and poor planning.

TS Lots of line managers say
they can’t make a decision – they are not really sure what core competencies
they’re looking for. We have found that unless the recruitment and selection process
is slick and the company is set up to offer jobs quickly, it will miss out
because the candidate will have had three other offers by then. There has been
too much emphasis on stock options – people much prefer a higher salary now.
Bonus programmes and giving employees targeted goals are of interest though,
and are more effective.

You couldn’t
see a newspaper at the end of last year without reading about another dotcom
crash. What were the main factors for failure as you saw it?

RD The failures are in no small
part due to lack of HR support – whether it be recruiting and retaining the
right talent, or packing growth in line with finances. Other factors were lack
of focus and delivery against objectives, poor structures, increasingly poor
communications and immature management.

Boo was a high-profile
casualty. You were brought in a long time after launch but what were its main

TS The management was talented
and bright but lacked corporate experience and there was a lack of empowerment –
one or two key individuals wanted to make all the decisions. From day one we
had six offices in New York, Paris, London, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Munich
because it was launched as a global company. One of the first things I had to
do was make 50 to 60 people redundant because there was no manpower plan or
clear organisation chart.

But it was an amazing
experience – the culture, passion, energy and belief, even when the liquidators
were in everyone thought we would get a buyer. Whenever I enter a company now I
ask where the plan is, the mission statements, the budgets and who is making
the decisions.

How do you feel the next
wave of dotcoms will fare?

RD I suspect that the nature of
start-ups will remain the same, only the venture capital and money people will
be more rigorous about management skills and many will take a closer look at
what HR has to offer at an earlier stage.

TS I think we’ll see the
continued emergence of dotcorps which will combine the sturdy principles of
old-fashioned business with the pace and culture of dotcoms. Unless dotcoms can
adopt some of their disciplines, they’ll have difficulties. If they’re smart
they should investigate best practice from both sides.

Everyone said the main problem
with Boo was it spent too much on marketing – but it wasn’t just that.
Unfortunately, the real lesson we should learn has not been so well

of the week: www.trainingpages.co.uk

Not all websites are open about
how many visitors they have because, quite frankly, it can make pitiful reading.
Not so, though, Training Pages from information systems and marketing company
GB Direct; it bares all in its automatically updated access statistics section.
You can view how many people have visited the site this year on any given day.
23 January saw most hits with 2,131, but even Sundays score around the 400-500
mark – what ever happened to the day of rest?. While all of this makes
interesting reading, the site’s primary aim is finding you a course and with
10,984 courses grouped into 335 categories, it should succeed. As well as
searching through each category, you can search by keyword or refine your
search by selecting desired experience, delivery method and duration. All of
our searches returned a healthy crop of courses, complete with mini synopsis,
which can then be clicked through for full details. Users are then given the
option of contacting the course provider via e-mail or phone.

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