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Stephen Cowburn

  • London and South East
  • People & Management (HR)

Stephen positions himself as a Business Partner aiming to support the MD (and owner) in running the business. He provides pragmatic, practical advice, assesses risk through understanding precedents, relationships and clarifying the issues. Support can be through challenge too, finding the right moment and way of expressing things to be that ‘critical friend’.

At a tactical level Stephen solves problems quickly to build trust and gain insight into the culture and direction of the company. So he writes contracts, handbooks, manages performance improvement, does management training, conducts investigations and hearings (disciplinary and grievance), manages exits, runs redundancy programmes, coaches key staff….

Having built trust the conversations then become more strategic: being a mentor/coach to the MD in terms of relationship management, exploring career options, discussing options for exiting the business, or discussing solutions to problems in the business that may or may not be a blind spot. The personal nature of the conversations effectively qualify opportunities for other specialists where appropriate.

Following 24 years in large corporates, including 12 at Board level, Stephen has worked with business owners for the last 16 years, acting as a business partner providing options, advice and an additional resource to maximise the return on investment a company is making in its people.

Stephen is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation.

Stephen works with clients in the turnover range of £1-30m across a range of sectors – professional services, packaging, marketing agencies, construction, publishing to name some of his current assignments.

Through retainers, Stephen provides practical face to face or telephone based advice on employment law issues, staff disputes, pay issues and performance improvement planning.

Recent project work has included coaching employees to realise their potential; updating employee handbooks, contracts and job descriptions; investigating a grievance alleging race discrimination; recruiting a commission only sales force; training in interviewing skills and performance improvement; restructuring a manufacturing business; re-engineering the workflow of the core business process to improve efficiency.

In addition, over the last 5 years, he has worked with owner managed and family businesses on the tricky matter of planning for succession. In family owned businesses this may involve getting the family to talk more openly about the purpose of the family business and discovering whether the next generation has the appetite and capability to take over before then talking about how to deal with the possible scenarios arising. In owner-managed businesses, succession often involves coaching the successor to take over and creating a planned withdrawal of the incumbent in terms of both ownership and management. Recent projects include recruiting a CEO to take over from the Founder of the business, and coaching two senior managers with a view to them joining the Board in the next 18 months. Stephen sits on Misconduct Hearing Panels for Surrey Police to determine whether serving police officers are guilty of misconduct or gross misconduct.

Stephen started his working life with a training consultancy before working in various HR roles at an international telecommunications company. Since completing his MBA and being on the management board of 3 professional service firms, he has worked with both owner managers and family businesses across a range of sectors leading and advising on the full range of people management and succession planning matters.

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