Alana Jones has been a solicitor for 20 years and was senior partner at two law firms. But her experience of employment tribunals convinced her that there was a better way to resolve disputes between employers and employees – and that there was a business opportunity for her to assist with this.
“I was working in private practice and I saw a niche in the market,” she explains. Consequently she started her own one person business, Workplace Solutions, based in Newtownards, last August.
“I am offering an opportunity for a positive experience,” says Alana. “The tribunal system is negative, adversarial, soul destroying and fairly destructive. I saw an opportunity to do something positive and that was what I wanted to do.”
Alana says that the process of setting-up the business was simple – it was clarifying her commercial concept that was challenging. “The most difficult thing was me thinking through my business plan,” she admits. “Once I could see what I wanted to do it was fairly easy.”
That business plan has now been converted into a brochure which is the basis of Alana’s very smart website – www.alanajones.co.uk. Four related services are offered by Alana, which are all based on the principle of providing employers with alternatives to the tribunal system for dispute resolution.
Coaching and training are a key part of this, enabling businesses to avoid getting into conflict with staff and to understand how improved employee management can lead to better business outcomes. Mediation between the two sides is another service provided by Alana, though she can also act as an additional and independent arbiter in a dispute – for example, for a small firm that does not have enough managers to provide a comprehensive system of appeal.
In addition, Alana offers an investigation service, to enable employers to understand the background to a dispute, how it came about and to support the internal grievance and disciplinary procedures. Most employers do not have the resources to conduct a comprehensive and independent investigation into workplace disputes.
Small firms are potentially a key market, given their lack of human resources capacity and need to respond to quickly changing market conditions. The requirement on them to be flexible and adaptable in the modern economy can conflict with traditional approaches to staff management.
“I have found a real appetite for alternative, positive, solutions to workplace challenges,” says Alana. She explains that she was unable to test the market and so had to rely instead on informal conversations with friends and work contacts, whose reactions seemed to confirm her belief that market opportunities existed.
“It is early days, but this week I have been coaching a college, training a recruitment agency and conducting an investigation,” explains Alana. “It is much busier than I anticipated at this stage of the business. My clients are enthusiastic and they are keen to explore alternative ways to address difficult situations in the workplace.
“I anticipate that the business may grow more on the training and coaching side of things. A lot of organisations are getting smarter now in adding value, prior to getting to the investigations stage. All organisations see the need to enhance employee commitment and engagement and training assists them in delivering that.”
Although the business has hit the ground running, Alana is determined not to get over ambitious. “At present I am happy to be a one person business,” she says. “It’s my background and my contacts that are bringing in the business. I want to build on that for a while. It is too early at this stage to think about expanding or employing others.”