The Big Interview: Peter Russian of Re:markable

Peter Russian is the first to admit that for many employees in Scottish business the nine to five is not a 'fulfilling part of life' .

Peter Russian says the rebrand indicates that the accreditation organisation  formerly Investors in People Scotland  is broadening 
its remit
Peter Russian says the rebrand indicates that the accreditation organisation  formerly Investors in People Scotland  is broadening 
its remit
Peter Russian says the rebrand indicates that the accreditation organisation  formerly Investors in People Scotland  is broadening its remit

But this problem – indicative of companies’ failure to properly value and motivate their staff – is what the chief executive of Re:markable passionately believes must become the top priority of every firm.

“This isn’t something you can leave until next year because there’s something more important to deal with at the moment – it’s fundamental. This is the basic stuff that any leadership team should be focusing on,” he says.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Re:markable is the new moniker of Investors in People Scotland, unveiled by Economy Secretary Keith Brown last Tuesday. Russian explains that the decision to rebrand the organisation, based in Leith in Edinburgh, was made around Christmas, but the unveiling was delayed by the general election announcement.

The name change “reflects its repositioning as an organisation-development business and its wider service offering to support business and economic growth”.

And while the new name may not be immediately indicative of its activity, Russian says the change was a necessary step as it looked to spread its wings, while retaining its flagship services of Investors in People (IIP) and Investors in Young People (IIYP) accreditation.

He believes the rebrand “allows us to introduce a wider range of services into the market in Scotland”, such as examining the effectiveness of boards and how they are developed, which will initially focus on the social enterprise/third sector area.

He stresses the importance of having a brand “that properly represented what we were doing. Because Investors in People is owned by a UK organisation, which is a community interest company, we needed to be able to have some autonomy in terms of the development of our own services, and on that basis it needed to be under a different brand”.

The organisation sees the new name as “quite punchy — it’s quite ambitious and it’ll make people sit up and say ‘that’s interesting’,” Russian believes.

“What our track record shows is that we do make a marked difference to organisations. It wasn’t simply a catchy word.”

People-management scheme IIP started out in 1991, and its accreditation is held by 14,000 organisations in 75 countries.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Its Scottish division was launched the same year by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise, with Kwik-Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer appointed its first chairman.

There are now 750 organisations in Scotland with IIP accreditation, and nearly 400 with IIYP. The latter scheme was launched in 2014.

Another area Russian says Re:markable is focusing on is innovative and inclusive teamwork, and it has signed an exclusive deal with David Marquet, renowned author of Turn The Ship Around and pioneer of intent-based leadership.

Re:markable is clearly also keen to shake off perceptions that IIP accreditation just adds bureaucratic red tape.“There are lots of people who had an experience with it perhaps 15 years ago and will associate it with paperwork,” Russian admits, but insists it has evolved since then by coming in and talking to workers to find out the real picture. “People are by and large the best witnesses of what the culture is.”

The Edinburgh-born executive took on his current role in 2003, having originally joined IIP in 1997 and become director of development in 1999.

Russian originally studied public administration, and has always had an interest in “the combination of politics, the way in which government works. The course also included organisation development and theory so it was actually really relevant in terms of the role now”.

It was a “brilliant” introduction to work, he continues, as it involved a year-long placement at Westminster City Council at a “particularly interesting and highly political time” when it was headed by Dame Shirley Porter, notorious for her involvement in the “homes for votes” scandal.

Russian said he wanted a career where he felt he was making a difference, and on graduating in the recession of the early 1990s, he worked at the Management Charter Initiative.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I went in effectively as an executive assistant for a particularly hard taskmaster, who I actually learnt an awful lot from in terms of the importance of discipline and rigour and so forth.”

He then worked with someone he describes as his “guardian angel”. “She took me under her wing and just taught me so much, particularly in terms of strategic development and planning”.

She also passed on the importance of a leader working to develop other people. “I think that’s very much reflected in the type of approach that we not only try to take within our organisation, but also that we’re trying to encourage others to adopt. We have to practise what we preach.”

Among organisations it has worked with are Standard Life, AG Barr, solicitor Digby Brown and property consultancy Doig and Smith, as well as housing, care and property-management group Wheatley Group.

“We will probably do different things for all of those organisations, but… what we’re doing is providing a regular review of how effective is your approach to leading and managing people and what difference that is making to the business.”

Organisations are seeking out “more and more diverse solutions” to how they get the best out of their staff, as macroeconomic uncertainty turns the screw and the changing expectations of a workforce of millennials make their mark. However, while this demographic may be perceived as quick to move from role to role, the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that the number expecting to leave their current role within two years fell to 38 per cent from 44 per cent in 2016. In addition, 76 per cent said they now regard business as a force for positive social impact.

Russian says: “It’s important that organisations are clear and engage their people in terms of ‘How do I contribute, what’s my purpose in this role, and what difference am I making?’ and I think millennials bring that into sharper focus.”

The Deloitte survey also addressed the issue of automation, with nearly two-thirds of “super-connected” millennials believing it will in fact lead to more jobs being available.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Russian highlights the rapid advancement of technology, and says: “From a competition perspective, Scotland and the UK will need to compete based on innovation more than forcing price of production down.

“The question we then have to ask is what is the type of culture and organisation that produces an environment which supports and sustains innovation and how different might that be to the type of environment that maybe we’re used to operating in.

“If you’re in an environment where you need to compete by innovating then actually evolving, encouraging and supporting people probably requires a slightly different approach to leadership and management.”

Driving such deep-rooted change is not an instant process, and Russian believes most company board meetings still measure progress principally from a financial point of view. “I don’t think that yet happens from a people perspective,” he continues. “Inevitably there are perhaps challenges in terms of measuring exactly what’s going on, but I think the biggest issue is about how far the chief executive is held accountable for culture within an organisation.

“I think there still remains the challenge about how to get the whole ‘people and culture’ issue round the table in a way which compares perhaps to the financial part of the business.”

Regarding the next year for Re:markable, Russian says the target is “being able to engage a wider range of organisations and supporting them to create more innovative, inclusive and more productive working environments.

“The long-term aim is that we’re able to use the growth of our business to then support and sustain the growth of other organisations because as a not-for-profit organisation effectively we can reinvest our success.”

He also says that he has “never met the perfect leader. When we screw up we then have to hold our hands up and say ‘that went wrong – we’re going to learn from it’, and we move on.”