- The poem “No Man is an Island” was written in 1624, but the sentiments are true even more today. In a world driven by constant advances in communication technology that allow humans to connect to each other faster and with greater ease than ever before, human interaction and team work is still one of the biggest challenges in any size business.
Do You Have the Right People in Your Business for Its Full Potential?
“No Man Is an Island!” John Donne
The poem “No Man is an Island” was written in 1624, but the sentiments are true even more today. In a world driven by constant advances in communication technology that allow humans to connect to each other faster and with greater ease than ever before, human interaction and team work is still one of the biggest challenges in any size business.
No successful entrepreneur has ever built something bigger than themselves without the aide of a supportive and talented team. That doesn’t stop it being lonely at the top – being an entrepreneur can be just as lonely whether you have 1 or 100 staff.
Successful Entrepreneurs weave together a collection of the right skills and attitudes to enable their businesses to become greater than the sum of their parts. Whilst founders may be the ones who take the first brave steps, it is their ability to recruit followers, supporters and challengers that keeps their businesses in the top %.
Ideas are cheap, action is the critical factor in getting those ideas into reality and delivered, repeatedly and consistently. All the biggest and most successful companies have a mix of different characters:
- Apple had Steve Jobs as it’s front man, but supported by Tim Cook (now Apple’s CEO) who kept the company running.
- Mark Zuckerberg kick started Facebook from a University “prank”, but Anikka Fragodt, his assistant kept an eye on the company for him when it was exploding its growth.
- Lord Alan Sugar has started multiple businesses and over the years had several “right hand” men, most famous is Claude Littner who joins him on The Apprentice.
Every great entrepreneur inspires an army of talented people who help turn an idea into reality.
Building a Team to Scale your business
Despite all the evidence that a team is essential to business growth and success, many business owners simply do not “staff up” effectively or quickly enough to grow their businesses. It is important to find the skills and talent for each activity in the business – from administration, finance, sales and marketing to customer service.
Doing it all yourself means you are going to get tied up in what I call £10 per hour work instead of £10,000 per hour work. It makes no sense to spend hours doing your own book keeping if you can get it done quicker and more effectively by someone you pay £15 per hour to – thus releasing you to spend those hours getting sales, negotiating contracts or building a strategy that will grow your business.
Yes some jobs will not be done exactly like you do them – but they might be done better or differently OR both!
But what about the cost?
One of the barriers many business owners perceive is the cost of employing expensive team members. Once you have considered what additional staff will be doing in your business and you are clear what value they will add, then it’s a matter of investment.
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”
For example :
What if someone does your books and releases you from 4 hours a week of painfully adding invoices and making payments, yet only takes them 1-2 hours a week?
You pay them £15-30 per week but get the freedom to go and get customers, have more meetings, engage in more marketing – earn more money! Let’s say 4 hours a week allows you to generate £400 more income. So now you can see the book keeper is worth £370 to you.
Is it different with a permanent fulltime employee?
Regardless of how you employ additional members of your team, they all need to be paid whether that’s by invoice or through payroll.
As long as you are earning more than it is costing you in the hours you now have free, you are investing in the growth of your business.
And what if it doesn’t work out?
Even if you are employing personnel directly, you are always on a trial period when they first start. Making your recruitment processes rigorous should avoid most problems but there is always the odd person who just doesn’t fit no matter how well they interview or look good on paper.
That why there are probation periods in your contracts of employment (if there isn’t, get some added!).
Your investment is not the annual wage, it’s only the amount of money you need to pay until the new employee becomes effective or you find out they don’t fit. Be slow to hire and quick to fire to make sure you get and keep the right people, but more importantly get rid of anyone who isn’t right. Don’t be afraid to make decisions. I’ve seen too many business owners make themselves AND THEIR STAFF miserable by not firing someone that isn’t right for the business.
More on this in the next section.
Building a team and delegating to them allows your business to THRIVE.
There are 4 Key steps:
- Get the right essential talent in your in-house team;
- Use freelancers and contractors for specialist activities that are not part of your core offer;
- Collaborate with partners, affiliates and joint ventures to extend your reach;
Building a High Performing Business Team to Scale
Getting the right team in place is a challenge for every business owner and there will be false starts and occasional recruiting mistakes but there are some simple steps that reduce these.
The essential elements of a high performing team can be distilled into the following 6 steps:
- Robust recruitment
- Clear, communicated goals
- Defined roles
- Effective and frequent communication
- Consistent effort and action
There are many more elements, but getting these 6 right gives you a head start in your business.
Having a set of value and an established positive culture sets the standards for all future employees behaviour. Values and culture comes from “what’s acceptable round here” or more importantly “what’s not tolerated here”. This, combined with defined accountability, responsibility and authority, sets the tone of the whole organisation at all levels. Shared values across the whole team lead to self-policing of behaviours within the employees.
It costs 30 times more to employ the wrong person, so getting it right with rigorous recruitment standards is money and time well spent.
Some people interview really well and yet do not fit into the organisation whilst others interview badly but would be a perfect fit. Often the interview and selection process is artificial and doesn’t reflect the organisations true culture. Setting the expectation in the selection process allows a better result when recruiting.
Some techniques include:
- Vetting and reviewing candidates using their social media profiles including Facebook and Linked In gives you an insight into their personality traits;
- Getting existing staff to refer new recruits is a great way to find personality and cultural fit with your team;
- Have an open day for potential candidates throughout the year;
- Use group interviews to see how new people interact with both your team and each other.
If you do recruit someone who turns out to be a bad fit, consider paying them to leave – this works for Zappos and ensures that all their employees want to be there! Amazon employs the same tactics.
The important thing in recruiting is make it hard to join the company, have stringent standards you stick to – but if it doesn’t work out, be quick to fire when someone does not fit!
Clear and Common Goals
Going back to the Planning chapter, when goals are made clear to the whole team, everyone can work towards them. Goals need to be clear, written and communicated to everyone in the organisation. When they are achieved it needs to be evident to all – this way all employees will be working towards that achievement without competing against each other and everyone celebrates the successes.
When an employee knows what their remit is – what levels of authority, responsibility and accountability they have – they are more likely work as part of the whole company team rather than their individual departments or sections.
It is common in dysfunctional organisations for some departments to work against each other. Some departments or sections hold more sway and control outcomes to their benefit rather than the company as a whole leading to inefficient use of time and energy, leading to reduced productivity. If you have worked in any large company you will recognise this scenario!
Creating a culture where no one says “that’s not my job” is one of the critical elements to a high performing team.
Ultimately customer happiness is everyone’s job, and the way the contribute towards it must be defined for all to see.
Effective and Frequent Communication
Communication is to teams, what cash is to the business – it’s the life blood of performance! There needs to enough of it at the right quality to keep the team going in the right direction and at an appropriate speed.
When a team looks good on paper yet doesn’t perform as well as might be expected, it’s usually down to the challenges of different communication styles and methods. This requires trust between the members, the freedom to give adequate feedback and to encourage debate when there are differences of opinion.
It’s the role of leadership to manage and promote creative thinking.
If no idea is a bad one, then open communication is likely to generate some interesting ideas. A culture where everyone gets to air their ideas is healthy as long as this does not end in running the company by committee – as a leader you have the ultimate responsibility for decision making. Make sure when you delegate decision making to the people in your organisation you also invest them with appropriate levels of authority, responsibility and accountability to enable them to perform effectively.
Consistent Effort and Action
With any team there are the four stages of development:
The speed at which any team builds and accepts new members will be dictated by the alignment of goals and the inherent culture of the organisation. If members of the team are not enthusiastically working towards common goals, the whole group will be working less optimally.
And it only takes one person to start bringing down the standards of the whole group.
The saying “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” is true if the culture of the organisation is not strong enough to reject it.
Strong teams self-select those who don’t pull their weight or align with the goals of the majority. It’s one of the reasons why employee owned organisations perform better and grow faster.
If your employees have high WILL then you can give them training and additional skills. You cannot train for WILL – it has to be there in the first place. It is also worth watching for the level of will, and track whether it is falling as this is a sign that something is wrong in your organisation.
People Case Study – Iceberg!
The British Armed Forces are some of the best and most effectively trained in the world. Basic training can often appear brutal and inhuman, but the purpose is to ensure that everyone attains a common standard of behaviour.
Despite drawing recruits from every corner of the country, different upbringings and backgrounds, the golden thread of teamwork is built into everyone who survives basic training.
Basic training serves one main purpose. It breaks down any pre-existing habits and learned behaviours and rebuilds the ability to trust in and work with your fellow trainees to engender teamwork and a common sense of duty.
Initial training prepares you how to engage and rely on the people around you to do what needs to be done without thinking. Despite any personal differences, – you can’t always like the people you work with – in the military it is important that you trust your colleagues, your life might depend on it.
Most importantly basic training weeds out those with LOW WILL.
There is a drop-out rate of between 10-15%.
I joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1985 – it was a dream come true since being a little girl and seeing the amazing adventures my dad had experienced during his service life.
In 1989 I was posted to the Falkland Islands, working with all 3 services –Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.
This gave me a unique insight into who each service worked. The common theme was teamwork!
Despite different training and experiences, we were thrown together with the common goal of defending the islands against another invasion by Argentina. The 200 miles exclusion zone that was set in the Falklands Conflict was still in place.
The risk of invasion was still judged to be high and any potential aggression was to be acted on swiftly and deadly. There was frequent sabre-rattling from the Argentine government, so the Military presence was on constant high alert.
HMS Endurance was the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel, serving in the South Atlantic since 1967 and had spent much of her time supporting the modest military presence on the Falkland Islands. Although she was an ice breaker she was not iceberg proof – no ship is! Having served actively in the Falklands war, she survived unscathed despite the devastation wrought on other warships.
After 1982 the military presence in the South Atlantic exploded to about over 6,000 serving personnel.
After a few weeks of being on the islands, I had settled into the routine and started to enjoy being in this incredibly cold, hostile and isolated place. The daily temperatures were dropping as the harsh South Atlantic winter set in. On a day that started with air temperature was in the minus 30’s the sky was clear blue, crystalline and the seas were still and turquoise, HMS Endurance was returning from South Georgia – a 750 mile journey from within the Artic Circle. It was a journey the ship had made many times and the sea state was unusually calm instead of the more typical hostile nor challenging swells.
The South Atlantic weather can change with amazing speed, going from dead calm to storm force gales in less than a few hours, so the crew are always prepared for anything.
No one was expecting what happened next.
Everything seemed calm and for some of the crew this was going to be a rare night at sea where the only sound was the heavy throb of the engines as the ice-breaker made its way to the home port.
As the short winter days were turning into long, dark, freezing nights, and without any warning the night was filled with the ear-splitting screech of thick metal tearing open under the force of ice.
The ship collided with a huge iceberg that was just under the waterline, tearing a hole over 65 feet long and up to 10 feet wide at it largest opened up as if the ship was attacked by a giant can opener. The throb of the engines stopped and was replaced by the sound of thousands of gallons of freezing Antartic water flooding into the hull.
Hundreds of miles from both home and any rescue vessels the ship was at risk of sinking in the middle of the unforgivingly cold South Atlantic waters, unless the right actions were taken quickly.
The survival training kicked in automatically.
Ship’s personnel are trained to cope with a sinking ship – in war situations they are drilled to cope with missile strikes – and hitting an iceberg was no different. Nothing is more dangerous on board a ship or submarine than fire or water ingress. Every sailor receives fire-fighting and damage control training in a mock-up of a flooding ship which rocks and rolls as sailors try to plug gaps in the hull using wood. It’s a simulator and you know that after a couple of hours you are going to walk out onto solid ground.
But this was real – lives were at stake!
It’s dark, it’s cold and it’s noisy. The thunder of high pressure water rushing in through massive holes drowns out anything else.
There is no chance of rescue – if the ship goes down, the entire crew will be at the mercy of the onboard lifeboats which offer little in the way of protection from the Antarctic weather. The chances of survival diminish with every minute.
There is no way of knowing how long it’s going to take or how hard you will have to work before you can stop it.
To survive, and for the hopes of all 120 souls on board, it is imperative that the inrush of water is stopped. You don’t have time to think, you react on auto pilot, you get the job done and rely on those around you to make the right decisions too.
Wearing sophisticated protective clothing and using fairly primitive tools – blocks of wood and hammers – your will to succeed is driven by common goals and the fight to survive. Your own life, as well as that of your shipmates, is resting on your shoulders, and those around you. Freezing cold and soaking wet, you go to battle against nature.
Failure is not an option.
Seconds speed by, water is still flooding in and with every minute feeling like an hour, the situation feels hopeless and already you can’t feel your hands and feet because of the cold.
Life depends on your success – you keep going.
Slowly the water coming in starts to slow down, each small action is cumulating to stop the freezing flood and finally the hole is boxed off. It feels like days but it’s only been a couple of hours. Safety is not assured but for now the weather has been a blessing, and the ship can limp home to safety.
Thanks to the bravery and training of the engineers and emergency parties onboard, HMS Endurance was saved without loss of life in one of the most hostile environments on the planet and many miles away from assistance.
The team worked!
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