Simon Sapper is CEO at Makes You Think, and he’s an expert in work, industrial relations, membership-based organizations. Podcast creator/host.
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We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to Valiant CEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Simon Sapper: My name is Simon Sapper and I established the Makes You Think consultancy 5 years ago, having spent many many years working in and for trade unions and other campaign groups. We help membership-based organizations be as good as they can by providing advice and support across a range of functions – governance, strategy, culture, and communications. This last area has gained significant traction and podcast production has been the busiest area over the past year.
Who has been the most influential person(s) in your life and how did they impact you? How did that lead to where you are today?
Simon Sapper: Aside from my wife and kids, there are four people I have to mention – (1) my dad Alan, who opened my eyes to the union world. (2 and 3) Two senior colleagues at the Communications Workers’ Union UK, Billy Hayes and Jeannie (now Baroness) Drake who mentored and trusted me when others might have done neither, and (4) Ralph Ferret a union activist in south-west England who persuaded me that podcasts were an important and growing area.
2020 was a challenging year for all of us, particularly for businesses. How did the pandemic impact your business? Please list some of the problems that you faced, and how you handled them.
Simon Sapper: We were all set to launch a major new podcast series when the first lockdown happened. We hesitated but decided to go ahead. Audiences were impacted by an absence of commuting, and people spending all day on zoom/teams and not having the appetite to wear their earbuds for any longer than necessary. Our audiences grew and content was well-regarded. More importantly, it established Makes You Think as a major player in podcast production for the union sector, which in turn generated fresh business.
The pandemic led to a myriad of cultural side effects, including one that was quite unexpected that is informally known as “The Great Resignation”. Did this widespread trend affect you in any way?
Simon Sapper: Yes, but so far indirectly. We haven’t lost key stakeholders to TGR and I’m sure it (and other Covid consequences)will provide useful content for our podcasts and pose questions that Makes You Think can help clients answer. But I’m surprised that so many are surprised by TGR: When working practices and perceptions about the value of work itself have been so shaken up, new possibilities become visible.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. How do you feel about this trend? Explain.
Simon Sapper: In the UK, the most noticeable shift has been self-employed people moving either into employment or into inactivity. Both in the US and the UK, we need to ask what underpins and explain these movements. 4 million Americans is around 3% of the workforce, the labor market is tight so quitting for a better-paid job is understandable. Factor on top of that the continuing instability of employment in hospitality and entertainment and we see that some people have to quit jobs that exist in name only at present. Then you need to look at the role state/federal aid programs play if any. These factors are just the start of a long list!
According to a study by Harvard Business Review, Employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. That can be quite an alarming rate. What advice would you share to increase employee retention?
Simon Sapper: The starting point has to be to understand why staff is leaving in sufficient detail to have a meaningful remedy irrespective of the age cohort. A collective employee voice. is often the most effective means to achieve that. It’s not rocket science to draw up a checklist of likely causes – pay (both rate and progression), working conditions, work-life balance, personal development, non-pay benefits, and so on. But the one piece of advice I would offer above all others is to listen, really listen, to what leavers are telling you.
According to a Nature Human behavior study, In 2020, 80% of US workers reported feeling that they have too many things to do and not enough time to do them – a phenomenon known as “time poverty”. What is your take on the work-life balance? Explain.
Simon Sapper: First, time poverty is not the same thing as work-life balance. Second, work-life balance is essential for staff retention, good productivity, and constraining staff from absence due to sick leave and other issues. Just look at economies where it is hard-wired, like Denmark. Third, what is the cause of these reports in any given organization or workplace? Fourth, once you know the cause, what can/will you do about it? Irrespective of all the foregoing, offering time management training may well pay for itself by taking “time stealers” out of staff behavior.
A more recent survey by Joblist asked about 3,000 respondents if they’re actively thinking about leaving their job. That survey found that 73% of 2,099 respondents who answered this question on their employment plans are considering quitting. How are you preparing for the future to counter this potentially persistent problem?
Simon Sapper: Probably by adjusting the consultancy services we provide, and the marketing that we use! More seriously, are you sure this is a “potentially persistent problem”? Surely businesses will find a solution to destabilizing levels of churn even they don’t like to admit that, say. Low or stagnant pay or insecure work is part of this scenario. And “considering ” and quitting are two different things – whilst things are at the former stage, it’s not too late to ask staff why they are disaffected.
Thank you for all that, our readers are grateful for your insightful comments! Now, if the Great Resignation isn’t your greatest concern, what is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Simon Sapper: Market penetration – how to break into higher tiers of work.
Before we finish things off, we do have one last question. If you had 10 Million Dollars to spend in one day, what would you spend it on?
Simon Sapper: At present, that sum would be an investment opportunity for Makes You Think. I would buy what I could be confident of giving me the best return- real estate most likely!
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Simon Sapper for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Simon Sapper or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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