Archive for category staffing

Are you controlling growth – or just letting it happen?

Part of any business owners dream is to have rapid growth and an influx of business.  But increased demand puts pressure on your systems, people and cashflow.

So, how do you handle an influx of business?  Have you been able to maintain the same level of customer experience?  Have you made any changes in how you service your customers?  Do you have a strategy for growth?

This was the topic discussed by members of the Business Exposure Group at our recent meeting.

Some of the barriers to growth are – lack of business plans / muddled marketing / running the business in the same old way / meddling and misspent time / wrong objectives based on just sales / no financial strategy and poor controls.

Check your systems, processes and procedures are up to date and adopt a proactive management approach with a quality control system where everyone uses the ‘same scripts’.  The ability to grow must be influenced by your willingness to devolve certain decisions to staff.  You must have a strategic plan for the short, medium and long term growth of the business.

To achieve growth – invest in ‘safe bets’ / identify strategies with a good probability of success / start with core business and eliminate secondary products on a regular basis.

Good information equals good decisions.  Can you deal with a sudden influx of orders with no way to fulfil them?

First of all spend time finding out what is causing growth and understand why your company is suddenly getting more business, as this is could be important to many of your future decisions.  It is also important to understand the reasons why business is slowing down.

One way to overcome barriers to growth is to invest in staff development.  Try to plug the skills gap in your business to move your business up a level.  Identify staff responsibilities and make sure you employ and retain the right people.

Be careful not to expand too quickly, look at whether you are growing to be more profitable or is it growth for growths sake.

Many fast growing companies change their goals too often; they never quite complete a plan before starting the next one, and because of this will get into all sorts of difficulties when business growth stalls.  It’s important to retain the culture of your business when taking on new staff.  Be careful not to let them dilute the personality of your business.

Ask yourself when looking at growth:

  • Do I have the qualities and diversity of people
  • Do I have systems in place
  • Do I have the ability to delegate
  • Do I have enough cash

And finally, ensure that it is not your mind set that is holding your business back.

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Motivating staff without huge salaries

How to motivate staff without paying them huge salaries was the main topic for discussion at a recent Business Exposure Group meeting.

It’s easy to find an employee but not easy to find help.  Help is when you pay money and get back more than you laid out.  So, how do you attract the right employee?  Don’t hire people on a recommendation or just because you know them.  Take time to select the right person for your company, and let them loose so that they can do what they do best.

The usual job ads don’t work – ‘salary commensurate with experience’ is boring, ‘competitive wage’ ie, you pay the same as everyone else – will not attract amazing people.  Good candidates want – no management, no bullshit, and no idiots – that would attract great people.  So, come up with your own unique version to attract good people to your company.

As an employer you must not play God, employees do not like being talked down to, nor is it good for motivating them.  Bad bosses bribe their employees with high salaries.  Amazing bosses motivate their staff by saying ‘this is where the company is going’ and ‘let me take you on a journey’.  Only give pay rises commensurate with the success of the business, don’t bribe staff to stay – they must be motivated.  Create a ‘map’ and show employees what they are working to achieve.

Make your staff feel they are part of the success.  Does putting KPI’s on the computer so staff can see how well the company is doing in comparison with last month, energise and motivate your staff, or is it dangerous if the business performance takes a dip?

Have you got a good environment for people to work and flourish?  They will be motivated to do better if they are recognised for going that extra yard.

So, how do you ensure that your staff want to be part of your business rather than just turning up every day with an attitude that they are making you money and not seeing anything for themselves.  They must buy-in to being part of the bigger picture.

Don’t hire people to do the jobs you won’t do.  It begs the question why would someone else want to do it?  Mundane jobs are okay if you introduce some variety, consider flexible working practices.

Giving people a job title often limits the role they carry out, eg receptionist – only answers the telephone.  That is probably not a fulltime role.  Everyone should share the job responsibility, but this only works if staff are motivated,eg techies who are happy to deal with customers.  Keep staff motivated and have a share in the collective work.  Get staff to do a bit of each other’s job when needed, ie to cover absence.  Introduce cross-training.  Employees like to do more and be involved.  Staff will take pride in their work if they feel part of the business.  Also clients like to talk to people who know about other areas of the business and can add value.

Good employers have a vision of what needs to be done, which is not done by having rules.  Employees should be following your vision and solving problems, not obeying rules.One of our members who has a cutting edge business explained that ‘the fact that other businesses hate that we exist’ is what makes my staff excited and motivates more than pay.

The younger generation enjoy the competitive environment but this is not limited to financial gain.  Quality of life is the big motivator these days.  It is important to move away from the boss to employee relationship towards an alliance for success.

These were some of the points raised by our members during the meeting.

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The biggest challenges Businesses face today

What are the biggest challenges businesses face today, was the question posed to members of the Business Exposure Group at a recent meeting, and below are the 10 most pressing concerns.

According to the CBI change is the new normal.

Growing revenue is the top challenge for businesses employing 5-30 employees.  Hiring employees is the biggest challenge for businesses with 30-50 employees and government regulations becomes the biggest issue for business with 50 or more employees.

What are the 10 big challenges for SME’s.

  • Uncertainty about customer trends – does this lead to short term focus, and does it make you feel vulnerable?
  • Financial Management – cash flow. Larger customers are imposing long payment terms, so how are you addressing this?
  • Monitoring performance – are KPI’s as good as they sound even though they compare historical information or are there better ways.
  • Recruiting the right talent – employee working flexibility is important to retain good staff, but increasingly stress in the workplace is a real challenge in small businesses when staff have to be able to multi-task.
  • Technology – it should be outsourced to reduce demand on administrators, but is investment in technology an asset or a handicap. Distinguishing which technology will attain the highest return in terms of time and investment is a problem.  The big issue is, is the IT fit for purpose.
  • Information overload. There are now big digital challenges for meeting the expectations of customers, together with finding and keeping people who can digitally transform a company that delivers a bespoke customer experience.
  • Customer Service – what is the right level, are customers’ expectations too high? Managing the relationship is key
  • Maintaining reputation – there is genuine concern about reputation management with easy access to social media and particular concern about cyber security disrupting the day to day functionality of the business.
  • Knowing when to embrace change is a worry and knowing how to balance quality with growth. Businesses are stocking less and relying on a lean supply chains, but is this clever or does it open up crippling disruptions.
  • Regulations and compliance are becoming more and more demanding of staff time

Everyone was in agreement that running a business is getting harder and is forever challenging, but all were motivated about the challenges and were ready to face them head on.

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How small changes can transform your team dynamic

Simple tweaks in communication can nudge employees into top form and create a more productive environment for everyone.

Everyone knows that it’s not easy to suddenly make your employees and colleagues more creative, adaptable, or collaborative, however well-intentioned you may be.

One Member of the Business Exposure Group is the MD of a successful technology consultancy and wanted to forge a culture that would enable people to be innovative and focused, collaborative and emotionally balanced.  He did all the usual things—hired carefully, developed an inspiring vision for the company, and designed an inviting workspace.  Improving work life, one day at a time.

Multitasking is such a problem!  Each switch from one task to another—from email to reading to speaking on a conference call—wastes a little of our mental energy.  And those switches cost us dearly.  People are less creative, more stressed, and make 2-4 times as many mistakes when they deal with interruptions and distractions.  The decision-making quality drops the longer people go without a break, and we are more prone to sloppy thinking in general.

But, if leaders can encourage people to go offline when doing their most important work, as well as taking more frequent breaks, they’ll see an increase in productivity, innovation, and morale.

Our Member thought about this and knew that a stumbling block to taking breaks and avoiding multitasking was that people often feel they need to show their responsiveness to senior colleagues by being constantly available, whether on email, instant messaging, or in person.

He knew his own behaviour would be crucial to changing what normally happened in his company, so he decided to place a timer on his desk to signal that he was taking 25 or 45 minutes to go offline – to re-focus.  This role modelling worked and it became the norm within the company.  Everyone now agrees that breaks are a legitimate use of time because they get so much more done afterwards.

He also created a “Monday meeting” for all staff to discuss how they were working together as a company.  After some time, it emerged that pressures were mounting, threatening to derail their commitment to focusing and recharging. “It was an emerging cultural behaviour, and we wanted it to stop”. So, he set some rules, like ‘encouraging people to have lunch with each other’ and ‘scheduling breaks between meetings.’

Most important, he felt, “leaders had to take responsibility for our behaviour and give out the right signals, use the right language, celebrate the right behaviours in others. So we cheered people for leaving the office to go for a run. Later, we adopted the phrase ‘leaving by example,’ encouraging people to use it instead of a mumbled, guilty excuse for taking a break.”

Also in the Monday meeting, the leaders took one further step to reduce overload, by asking everyone to name their two priorities for the week.   Our Member says “the ‘two priorities’ rule encouraged people to be realistic and focused in their work.  Decide what really matters this week!

The meeting is also used as to look at the company’s workload.  When it looks like someone has too much on, people are encouraged to offload rather than suffer in silence.

The result: great creativity and camaraderie. 

Another Member of the Group owns a healthcare company.  Budgets are tight and the outcomes of his team’s work are often subject to scrutiny.  He has to help his staff stay energized and motivated, even when the going gets tough.

Our Member has put this insight at the heart of his leadership style.  He creates a positive frame for difficult tasks or discussions. He always begins meetings by talking about what the team has done well.  This calms everyone down and helps people think more clearly.  It’s not about trying to spin or gloss over the problems.  But, beginning with what’s working well puts everyone in a more open frame of mind, meaning we can look at what’s not working without people getting defensive.

By focusing on something positive before getting into the tough stuff, bosses can help people stay in high-performance mode. It doesn’t take much.

Usually, when a colleague has an issue, leaders help by offering advice or direction which can backfire.  A well-intentioned “have you tried this/that . . .” can be subconsciously interpreted as a judgment, as in: “why haven’t you tried this/that?” This mild threat can be enough to constrain the deliberate system and make people less creative in their own thinking.  The alternative: create space for people to do their own best quality thinking.  Our Member uses the “extreme listening” technique.  He asks someone what they want to think through, and lets them talk without interrupting or making suggestions. Usually within five minutes, the problem has literally solved itself.

Our Member is clear on the lesson for owners: helping colleagues feel capable of handling matters on their own “is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone,” providing a great boost to their resilience and confidence.

Another Member of the Business Exposure Group is Chairman of a Marketing Company. Marketing is evolving fast.  Traditional marketing requires creativity.  Modern marketing still requires that, but we now get to benefit from new analytical tools that allow us to track return on investment of our marketing campaigns.

This requires quite a different type of skillset—much more quantitative which means our Member had to hire new types of people in the marketing department of his Company, alongside existing staff.

The challenge was “Whenever you have a very new group of people joining an existing team, you’ve got to pay real attention to motivation,”

Of all threats, social slights are especially high on the list of needs if we want our staff to flourish:

  • Inclusion:“Do I belong?” Existing staff were worried they were going to be excluded from exciting new work.  The newbies, meanwhile, were wondering whether they truly fit in.
  • Respect:“Do people recognize the value I bring?” Everyone on the team wants to feel that their efforts are useful and appreciated.
  • Fairness:“Am I being treated just like everyone else—or do I at least understand the reason that things are the way they are?”

If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” people quickly go into defensive mode—which is a sure recipe for dysfunctional behaviour.   Our Member said “people were clearly feeling anxious and nervous and as a result, they started complaining about things they’ve never complained about before—making snide comments or questioning things that they saw as scope creep.  People here are generally polite and friendly, and passionate about their work. So they weren’t hostile. Just unsettled.”

To boost feelings of inclusion, our Member created opportunities for all staff to get to know each other and to later work together on new product innovation.

Our Member also takes the time to make everyone feel respected for their individual contribution. “You have to make sure to give people ‘spotlight moments.’   He looks for opportunities to get them in front of the management team.  If people have done the work, they present it, not the boss.”

He personally takes time to balance his time between the creatives and the technical folks, and if someone’s giving up some responsibilities to one of the new hires, he says, “I make sure to explain why that’s happening and emphasize the opportunities they will have to do new stuff in other areas—often areas that they’re better at and enjoy more.”

All staff are learning and growing by being exposed to each other.  The company never stops changing.  The people who are currently ‘new’ will become the ‘old guard’ and then there will be a new generation of skills needed.

Staff will behave more like their best selves, more of the time, if owners take a few modest steps to foster an environment where people’s brain’s aren’t overloaded—more focused on rewards than threats—and have their fundamental social needs met.  With a little behavioural science in your toolkit, business owners can build a more productive team—and a happier one.

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Cutting Sales Costs Not Revenues.

Bold companies have used the economic situation to make their sales operation not only less expensive but also more effective.

At a recent Business Exposure Group meeting, we discussed how our sales strategies have changed over the last couple of years.  We asked if employers should tinker with the sales force that gets the job done, even imperfectly.  Most people have moved away from piecemeal ongoing repairs and put in place a resource that allows the business to understand their customers and cut waste not value.

One of the members admitted to getting it wrong.  He had reduced his back office sales staff, thinking it would hurt the business less than removing some front line sales people.  The result was that the front line sales reps began undertaking support tasks.  He conceded that after a few months his business had made the support function essential to the business effectiveness and he had to go out and replace those that he had only just discarded.

The following pints were raised round the table.

  • Not all sales effort should be equal. It is important to understand how much effort really goes into each customer.  Then, considering which are the profitable customers, allocate more resource to developing them.  Understanding customers allows companies to focus sales resource where they are needed and to cut waste not value.
  • Cutting across the board risks losing quality customers and the salesforce are left without the resource to capitalise on new opportunities.
  • Do customers want and need expensive face to face interaction? A shift to telesales may increase satisfaction because it can easily develop consistent and regular contact rather than relying on reps visiting every few months both small and large clients on a rota.
  • Time spent on the road by reps should be reviewed. Rather than visiting remotely interested prospects and travelling long distances on a lukewarm lead, it is better to spend more time in the office qualifying and understanding the potential buyer’s requirements before getting in the car.
  • Companies that analyse bids and conversion rates centrally have a more confident attitude to their sales process, because they are internally applying all the lessons learned from their sales process and addressing buying queries in a professional and consistent way.
  • Squeeze out the inefficiencies after the sale. Stop sales people having to waste time dealing with mistakes.
  • Major on a client’s buying history, to decide how your sales team should operate first.
  • Consider alternatives to expensive trade fair exhibitions just to get 3 – 5 leads. Possibly a good telesales operator could get 3 – 5 leads in one morning and not over several days at an exhibition.

Many of the Business Exposure Group members felt that it was important to communicate cost cutting plans to the entire workforce.  Explain what and how you intend to make savings and then what you are going to do with the savings.  It is important to consider it from the employee’s viewpoint.  They need to know what’s in it for them, so that a strong culture of cost saving and revenue generation can be implemented from the bottom to the top of your business.


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Clearing dead wood and converting it into success.

How many of us have dead wood in our businesses?

It’s actually about moving a load of people.

The big challenge business owner’s face is that we need to shift non-performers or the blockers in the business. We need people that are more innovative and in touch with the demands of customers. People who will do it cheaper than some of the more senior staff.

But a question was raised at the Business Exposure Group meeting as to whether they were under performers when you hired them or did they become so once they started working? Did you have a role in creating that dead wood? Something must have happened and the business owner must take some responsibility.

Owners who don’t understand that they must create a management system that allows people to think, create and act are failing as leaders no matter how visionary. But how do you make staff feel they have a career with you? How do you put a plan in place to make people realise their future is either with you or not!

It is important to energise high performers – they love to perform. Provide them with relevant training and get out of the way, because they don’t like meddlers. Keep them doing things they like doing and always celebrate progress.

If you have made a mistake release weak hires and disgruntled employees as soon as possible, because
– they are unlikely to get better
– they take up everyone’s time
– they delay the hire of recruiting a quality replacement

One of our members pays off weak hires to leave within the month because he believes the
damage they can cause with clients is immense if they are not on board and enjoying working for the business.

Yet few businesses actually employ ‘managing out’ tactics.

Staff statistics show – 48% don’t like their job / 80% feel stressed / 30% feel engaged /18% are actively disengaged, ie present at work but hating it.

So what causes disengagement was relayed around the table at the meeting with the
following comments made.

a. Micromanagement saps the life out of us and causes apathy at work – it tells an employee that you don’t trust his work
b. Lack of progress – too much red tape, to many unnecessary rules
c. Job insecurity – no confidence in leadership
d. Poor communications
e. Unpleasant co-worker (people with a best friend at work are 7 times more likely to engage with the business)
f. Boredom

Many believe that a constant turnover of staff is inevitable in business and fresh blood is good and not a problem and that once dead wood has been released a tremendous honeymoon period of camaraderie and productivity hits the business. The secret is keeping the honeymoon period for as long as possible, to take advantage of the opportunity to develop the business.

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Business Exposure Group discussion puts staff pay under the spotlight

The amount that new members of staff should be paid was the subject of debate at the latest Business Exposure Group meeting.

Businesses were asked how they set a salary range for new staff, and one attendee said: “Ensuring that the amount you offer new employees is very important. If your candidate is hired at the top of your pay scale, you will have nowhere to go. However, staff who will accept low rates of pay are often less motivated and less effective on the ground.”

“Don’t wait until you find a candidate to come up with an offer,” said Geoff Sumner, who also attended the meeting.  “You need to keep the salary of new hires in line with current staff, and quality of life perks puts you a long way to attracting talent.”

Salary data is available from a number of places including:

–       classified ads

–       networking

–       public information

–       other business owners

–       chamber of commerce

–       employment agencies

–       trade associations

–       job applicants

–       suppliers.

The group also looked at the pay scales for existing staff and how to decide on pay rises. For example, some businesses have chosen to move away from paying the minimum wage of £6.19 per hour to the provincial Living Wage of £7.45.

“You could put every member of staff on commission,” continued Geoff Sumner. “Vary the rate between roles and pay it every month. Every employee is then inherently motivated.  Payroll will rise and fall automatically along with revenue creation.”

The real value of UK wages fell back to the equivalent of the 2003 level in 2012. Since 2009 inflation has outstripped wage increases.

David Greggs, who also attended the meeting said: “Male full time employees in the private sector have experienced the biggest fall in pay and on average, workers have seen pay drop by 3% annually between 2009-2013.

“An increasing number of workers have been underemployed since the economic down turn, which combined with lower take home pay, in real terms means many are earning much less than they were.”

If you are a Director or business owner and would like to attend one of their informative round-table discussions, please contact

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Methods of recruiting – how do you select staff?

The information in this article came from comments at a Business Exposure Group meeting

Recruitment is a two way process for both parties – the employer and the candidate.

So that they can make good decisions, selection becomes a matter of matching and fitting individuals to a business in which they can thrive.

In terms of the application process, there are various processes applicants can go through including:

–          Interviews

Structured interviews – Some questions with a predetermined marking scheme.  Panel interviews can also be useful.

–          Application forms

–          References

–          CVs

–          Personality tests

But these must be able evaluated correctly.

–          Literacy and numeracy tests

–          Aptitude tests

Also, look at physical and mental ability:

–     Assessment centres – (used by 30% of businesses we spoke to)

–          Tests to simulate work such as an in tray exercise, putting the candidate under real life business pressure

–          Group problem solving

–          Presentations on related topics

–          Role plays

–          Writing reports

In times of recession recruitment and selection tends to be about filtering of large numbers of candidates.  In times of prosperity, it is a marketing exercise, hunting out good applicants.  Online applications are there to sift out the volume, and make the selection process manageable.

Most employers recruit for attitude and train for skills.  However the reality of today’s market often points to poor recruitment practices damaging brand and bottom line.  Many candidates are left with a negative view of a business following an unsuccessful job application.

For example, figures from Personnel Today show that 28% of candidates have an experience so bad that it had stopped them doing business in the future with the company as a result.

Some examples of poor recruitment practices:

46% weren’t told they had been unsuccessful

39% said they had a lack of feedback – both of these are because companies receive too many applications which a small business cannot handle.

So think your business could lose significant income over the lifetime of a disgruntled candidate. Therefore treat people in the same way that you would wish to be treated.

And what about the young?  A radical shift is needed in the way young people are viewed by employers as young people are frequently under employed.

– 1 in 5 want to work more hours, but never get the opportunity and

– 1 in 4 employers actually offer ‘work experience’ to young people, with the majority being left on their own without direction.

Contemporary businesses need to embrace some fairly sophisticated ways of selecting talented employees.  No longer should you rely on interview gut feeling.  An experienced interviewee will have all the right answers, so you should dig deeper to get past the interview veneer.

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Employee benefits – how important are they?

Benefits are a delicate balancing act for employers, ensuring employee well being versus cost control.

There is a need for businesses to focus on benefits that support a high performance culture as employees who aren’t worried about hospital bills or affording to retire are more focused on their jobs and productive.

Many small business owners mistakenly believe they cannot afford to offer benefits, and perhaps you should value benefits as an investment rather than a cost.

Employee benefits include:

–          pensions

–          life insurance

–          private medical

–          health screening

–          gym membership

–          eye sight testing

–          income protectors

–          critical illness

–          dental plans

–          personal accident insurance.

Soft perks like gym membership are valued least by employees yet employers communicate most about them.  Some commentators state that health benefits are nearly as important as salary in determining staff feelings of loyalty.

An individual is three times more likely to be ill for six months plus, than to die during their working life. So why give critical illness?

So what is the best way to communicate benefits to employees?  Here are some tips:

–          The most common method is via new joiner packs, but this is not always the right timing – on that date they have too many other things to consider

–          Core financial and health benefits are hardly ever discussed and not on a regular basis

–          Have a periodic benefits review

–          Should employees contribute and should the benefits cover the family?

–          You should tell employees what their benefits cost – staff have a mis-conception

–          A workforce of young single people do need life assurance – do a survey to find out what they want, and tailor your package.

–          A big mistake is to exclude some employees, which makes them feel less valued, and creates problems.

Employees look to their work place benefits to help them establish financial security.

So when attracting new starters, don’t tell the applicants that no benefits are offered as this may deter the best candidates.

Implement some basic benefits as a good starting point, because retention of quality staff will be key as the economy improves.

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Developing staff and team profiling – How can it help your business?

Why do some people get your thinking while others don’t seem to get it at all?

In business, we generally avoid the second group but research suggests they may be the very people we need to solve our problems.

Homogenous teams are more compatible, yet diverse teams are more effective at solving problems and also have a proven track record of stimulating innovation. But businesses need to ensure they value these differences in their workforce and create an inclusive culture to promote career growth and productivity.

Many businesses are using behavioural profiling to help them manage their teams to get the best out of their staff and also to provide them with a stronger sense of certainty in their recruitment decisions. It can also be used as part of a staff retention strategy as gaining a greater understanding of your employees improves communication skills, reduces conflict and helps unlock potential.

Profiling gets to the heart of team issues identifying where things are going wrong, personality clashes and challenges that need to be overcome. It enables people to understand what makes their colleagues tick.

The process can also be used to repair dysfunctional teams and train individually talented employees to work well with each other and to improve commitment as well as fix communication breakdowns.

However, there are some pitfalls. Do some people get unnecessarily labelled through the process or are some talented employees lost because they come down on the wrong side of the profile test? If the results of profiling are not interpreted correctly, they can actually steer you away from hiring someone who would have been an exceptional candidate.

Whether you opt for psychometric testing or more traditional methods of staff improvement, investing in training and career development is still regarded as one of the most effective ways of retaining a skilled and specialised workforce.

In times of financial uncertainty, it is vital you have staff in place who are as motivated to making the business a success as the senior management team. Staff development should never be abandoned, even when the budget is tight or non-existent.
There are a number of low-cost or even free sources of training on offer including internal knowledge sharingwhere businesses seize on the experience and knowledge which already exists within their company to train and motivate other members of staff. There is also a wealth of online courses which staff can complete from their own desktop at a time which suits them.

According to Michael Gerber of “E-myth” fame, 80% of all businesses fail in the first 5 years, and of the rest only 4% are successful within another 5 years. So if that’s true, then developing and harnessing the talent of our staff is fundamental to success.

This article came from a discussion event at the Business Exposure Group.

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