Skip to content


A refreshed approach to HR

With the business world continuing to undergo transformative post-pandemic change, organisations of all sizes are recalibrating HR approaches to ensure their compatibility. And one company helping them do so is outsourced services partner Shrewd. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to founder and managing director Martin Potts to learn more about the venture, its place within the evolving HR landscape, and why he is so committed to giving back to the region and its community.

Martin Potts has just returned from an early morning gym appointment, a grey sweatshirt evidencing his efforts to overcome a serious ankle injury.

His strength and conditioning routine, however, isn’t just reserved for personal gain.

It sits at the very heart of his commercial focus too.

As founder and managing director of Durham-based Shrewd, Martin operates akin to a coach, instilling greater health into company HR strategies so they carry the right form to thrive in a constantly changing employment landscape.

Launched at the height of the pandemic in July 2020, Shrewd guides organisations across the entire HR spectrum, from ensuring sound legal structures to encouraging cultural models that fit the post-coronavirus working environment.

Martin says: “The pandemic created so much uncertainty; businesses had to adapt and react quickly to the constant challenges thrown their way, and they needed support in areas they’d never needed previously.

“HR played a vital part throughout and those businesses without an internal HR function were lost in unfamiliar territory.

“I saw this as an opportunity to step in and offer my support.

“Nobody had really heard of furlough and all of a sudden it was being used in every conversation – employers were thinking, ‘what on earth do we need to do?’

“There was a lot of support needed throughout that period.”

The impact of Shrewd was immediate, with clients including Raby Estates, Gateshead-based occupational health operator Recovery4Life and Wynyard utilities firm Everflow reaching out for Martin’s guidance.

The trio remain anchor clients, with many more from right across the North East having been attracted by Martin’s specialist experience and expertise, honed from more than a decade at the North East England Chamber of Commerce as a HR advisor and, latterly, its people and performance manager.

He says: “I’m really passionate about seeing our region thrive; I’ve always had a desire to make positive change.

“I’m from the North East, I’ve lived, worked and studied in the North East all of my life, and I’ve always worked hard to see others do well,” says CIPD-qualified Martin, who sponsors Hylton Colliery Welfare Football Club’s under nines’ shirts and is presently giving his time free to community project Shildon Alive, as part of a regionwide, one-day-a-month, free charity commitment.

He adds: “That desire was further embedded from my time at the Chamber, and the days of accelerating start-ups’ growth and helping larger firms excel.

“We’ve got so much talent in this region and really brilliant businesses, but many of them need support and are not sure where to look.

“The North East is a region full of SMEs, businesses that are not quite big enough to have their own internal resource but big enough to need something.

“That’s where Shrewd fits in.”

A key element of Shrewd’s support is a free HR assessment, wherein Martin evaluates firms’ existing practices, policies and systems before offering suitable guidance.

He says: “Businesses often tell me they don’t know what they don’t know, so we spend a couple of hours reviewing what’s currently in place and then advise on any gaps, risks and improvements needed, as well as a route to best practice.

“Most importantly, we listen first, before shaping a plan of action to support the business in overcoming their challenges.”

And with the working environment having changed seismically following the pandemic, Martin – who left his Chamber role to run Shrewd full-time at the beginning of September, but remains a consultant for the membership body – says the approach is perfect in ensuring organisations’ HR functions pivot too.

He says: “HR is an ever-changing landscape.

“When I first started working in HR, it was very much about personnel management and admin tasks.

“But HR today is so different.

“It’s about forward-thinking, spending time on managing employee engagement and strengthening culture with a focus on creating diverse and inclusive workforces.

“HR isn’t just about policies, procedures and legal frameworks.

“Of course, they’re essential in providing the foundations to deliver guidance, setting out boundaries and ensuring expectations are clear to protect businesses – you have to support staff with those processes – but the breadth of HR is vast, and it’s about adding value to organisations and its people.

“Topics like culture and flexible working have been around for some time, but they’ve been pushed right to the forefront by COVID-19.

“Companies must now think outside the box in terms of their recruitment and retention strategies, how they look after their staff, how they get the best out of them and how they support their career progression to retain them,” says Martin, who hopes to welcome up to two members of staff in the coming months to maintain Shrewd’s momentum.

He adds: “Businesses need to be thinking about what more they can do to attract and retain staff, because if they don’t, they’ll struggle in the current marketplace.

“Enhancing benefits such as parental leave, supporting internal progression as part of their succession planning, and focusing on staff wellbeing are a few examples of how an organisation can improve their recruitment strategies.”

And central to helping instigate such watershed change is Martin’s approach to HR, which sees him work closely with organisations to understand their respective DNA profiles before applying tailored support packages.

He says: “I like to get under the skin of a business, to find out how it operates and learn about its people.

“Doing so provides an understanding of its ways of working, the issues and obstacles they’re facing and what they’re looking to achieve, which in turn allows for the delivery of bespoke advice.

“Shrewd is an extension of a business’ internal team, we care about them as if we were part of the team.

“We pride ourselves on building trust and rapport with businesses, working with owners and management teams to discuss issues openly, and forming unique, longstanding relationships that build the foundations for better HR processes.

“It’s so much more than simply doing a piece of work.”

Martin adds: “I’m bringing something new to the market with Shrewd, an outsourced HR consultancy working collaboratively with businesses to provide tailored solutions to their unique situations.

“I love reading stories of North East successes and efforts to give our region a thriving economy, and I’m here to put back into that community, by helping its businesses and people prosper.”

Shrewd HR