11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

11 SA Entrepreneurs on What They’ve Learnt About Managing Staff

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11Be transparent. Be straight

Steven Cohen

“I’ll say straight up that you know you’ve let us down and it’s affecting the team. 30% clean up their act, and 70% leave.”

Vital Stats:

“We’re transparent about our profits with the whole company. Our monthly meetings include the entire company, and are used to show turnover figures. We break this down to our profit level.

“Everyone understands that we need to meet targets set by Sage, but it’s also very empowering for them to know how they’re contributing to our profits. It gets everyone engaged, and they can see if their department or team is meeting or exceeding budget targets. If something dips, everyone wants to interrogate why. The more transparent you are, the more engaged your employees will be.

“Transparency is important at a personal level too. I’m honest, I’m one of the guys and I often have after-work drinks with my teams, but if you let me down you’ll know it. Ethics and attitude are the only career-limiting issues in the company. People with great attitudes will learn the job, so we hire based on attitude, particularly our managers, because culture flows down. If you consistently let me down, I’ll take you out for coffee and have an honest chat. I’ll say straight up that you know you’ve let us down and it’s affecting the team. 30% clean up their act, and 70% leave.”

Read more: Learning Along the Way

10Even the best people can use re-training

Alex Fourie

“When you’re offering a premium service, the customer must always be your number-one priority. We hire our technicians for their skills, but they often come from a network background where saving money comes first, the customer second. It’s the opposite here, so we have to retrain them to continue doing their jobs well, but put the customer first.”

Vital stats:

  • Alex Fourie is the founder of nation-wide out-of-warrantee smart-device-repair company, weFix.
  • The company has enjoyed triple-digit growth since launching in 2007.

When you’re in the services industry, your customer is king. Alex Fourie knows this especially well – in fact, he hires his store managers from the hospitality industry.

Why? Because hospitality managers work well under pressure, are excellent when it comes to client service, and also manage staff well. Similarly, it’s important that everyone in your business, lives and breathes your company culture and delivers on your promise to customers.

In this case, Fourie’s technicians are hired for skill, and then thoroughly re-trained on putting customers above cost.

Read more: Can staff training increase my turnover?

9Know your culture. Be consistent

Albe Geldenhuys

“I’m an autocratic leader. I tell everyone how things are going to happen, and they make them work. I’d go so far as to say that I even rule by fear, but I’m consistent.”

Vital Stats:

  • Albe Geldenhuys is the founder of USN, manufacturers of sports and nutrition supplements.

“I’m an autocratic leader. I tell everyone how things are going to happen, and they make them work. I’d go so far as to say that I even rule by fear a bit, but I’m consistent, and my team listens to what I say. This was the company culture that I created. However, as we grew, our back-end couldn’t keep up with our sales. I needed to focus on that. I also wanted to focus on product development, advertising and sales. I didn’t want to be MD as well, and so I promoted one of my managers, a lawyer who was excellent at the details, to be MD. The move caused problems I just hadn’t foreseen.

“For many, the shift in leadership style was just too much. Where I had been a firm task master, the new MD was a mild-mannered, diplomatic accountant, trying to operate within a framework that I had created. The company culture didn’t know how to adjust. We ended up losing some great people as a result. People need consistency, and to know exactly what the company culture is.”

Read more: Does Your Staff Dislike You?

8Put your energy into great employees, not the bad apples

Antonio Iozzo

“Give your top employees more and more responsibility. It takes trust, and they won’t always get it right, but they will learn, and, if you’ve judged them correctly, they’ll fly.”

Vital Stats:

Antonio Iozzo works on a simple system with his staff, based on what he calls A, B and C employees. ‘A’ employees are extremely good at what they do, they work hard, and they’re rewarded for it. The more responsibility I give them, the more they thrive.

‘B’ employees are the worker bees. They come in every day, do their jobs and can be relied on. They’re essential to the business.

“’C’ employees are the bad apples, and, when we spot them, we get rid of them as quickly as we can. It’s not because they’re necessarily lazy or inept; more often than not it’s because of their attitudes. They don’t take responsibility for their own happiness or success, but instead blame their managers, colleagues and the business for their failures. They’re incessant complainers. C employees can turn Bs into other Cs quicker than you can blink, and you can’t fix them. Don’t waste your energy on Cs. Get rid of them. You should be spending your time on As and Bs – they’re the foundation of your success.”

Read more: Want to Lead Your Staff? Serve Your People

7Encourage healthy, heated debate

Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved

“The rule is simple: You can challenge anyone, at any time, but you must play the ball, not the man. It’s not allowed to get personal.”

Vital Stats:

  • Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved are the founders of The Creative Counsel
  • The company is SA’s largest advertising agency with a turnover of R700 million.

“We really believe in a sense of competition, and healthy, heated debate is part of this. It’s bred into our backgrounds. You respect your parents, but if you disagree with something they’ve said or decreed, that’s where the negotiation begins. You need to find the angle to get your way.

“It follows that the more and harder you debate something, the better. You chip the block away from all angles, and you’ll find the best answer and a better result. As business partners, we might not always agree with each other, but we’ve always had the same intent: What’s best for the business?

“And this filters down to the whole company, from managers to new employees. Anyone can challenge anyone, as long as it’s not personal and logic prevails.

“We end up with juniors who think they have a right to challenge us – and they do. If Ran tells a junior copywriter his idea is bad, he can (and will) fight for it. On one memorable occasion, a junior copywriter actually came back six times to defend his idea, until he finally won the debate.”

Read more: 4 Steps to Hiring Killer Sales Staff

6Lead by example

Colin Thornton

“The most important job description that I have is managing people.”

Vital Stats:

  • Colin Thornton is the co-founder and CEO of Dial a Nerd.

“Customer service is our entire business. If we relax, this starts slipping, so I keep a constant watch over how we are delivering on our mandate and receive monthly reports on client interactions. I am also very conscious of the fact that I need to lead by example.

“If a client wants to speak directly to me, I make sure I’m available. One of the things that has always driven me nuts is companies whose MDs are inaccessible. You have a problem and you’re passed from manager to manager and never feel as if your issue is being addressed or taken seriously.

“This isn’t the business we want to be. Our differentiator is service, and I can’t insist on that with our managers and technicians if I’m not willing to follow suit with my own time.”

Read more: How To Keep Your Staff

5KPIs drive growth

Paul Veltman

“We first create a detailed job description for each employee in the company, from the CEO to the receptionist — everyone has their own KPIs.”

Vital Stats:

Paul Veltman is all about giving his employees a reason to not be average.

Paul Veltman is all about giving his employees a reason to not be average. We wanted to create key performance indicators for each employee that aligned their five-year goals with the company’s growth. These needed to work for everyone, but they also needed to offer enough of an incentive for employees to embrace. It’s hard work, for them and us, but it means a bigger pay cheque (or additional time off) for them, and top-class staff for us, which ultimately means satisfied and loyal customers.

“We first create a detailed job description for each employee in the company, from the CEO to the receptionist — everyone has their own KPIs. It’s important to state exactly what they do so that we can rate each element accurately. In an SME with ambitious go-getters these need to be updated quarterly as job descriptions are constantly evolving. We then do monthly, quarterly and yearly reviews that are driven by the employees themselves.”

“They take us through their performance and how they rate themselves, which keeps them actively involved in their progress. It’s time consuming, but the results — improved performance and client satisfaction — make the system worth it.”

Read more: Ubertech Meets Ubergeek: Stafford Masie isn’t Just Changing the Rules… He’s Changing the Game

4Pick your people carefully

Nicole Stephens

“The key factor in making flexi-time work is to hire the right people. Our agents are self-starters, have outstanding work ethic, and are over-achievers, which means there’s no need for micro-managing or monitoring.”

Vital stats:

  • Nicole Stephens is the co-founder of The Recruitment Specialist (TRS).
  • The company was founded in 2010, has two agents and two founders, all of whom work in a decentralised manner across two countries.
  • They’ve been profitable from day one.

Flexi-time is the way of the future, and many studies show that employees with more freedom and flexibility with their work hours are much more productive than their nine-to-five counterparts. But many companies are anxious about letting go of control.

The answer is just like Nicole Stephens suggests: It’s about hiring the right kind of person rather than retro-fitting non-flexi-time employees and learning the hard way that they’re not cut out for it.

Flexi-time staff need the above-mentioned qualities, and without them, you could have trouble.

Read more: Should You Hire a Motivational Speaker to Motivate Staff?

3Finding affordable talent

Mike Silver

“We found an international company that placed volunteer interns in your business for a few months.”

Vital Stats:

“As a start-up, employees are a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. If you employ a team too early, you don’t have the cash flow to pay their salaries, but if you don’t deliver well on jobs because you don’t have support staff, you’ll lose repeat business. My solution was to find affordable talent. We did this in two ways. First, we found an international company that placed volunteer interns in your business for a few months.

“They’re here to discover South Africa and get some work experience, but because they’re on holiday visas they can’t be paid, so your only expense is to the agency they’re sourced through. It was a mixed bag of talent. We had about 30 students working over a five-year period, some being incredible, others barely speaking English.

“For my permanent employees, we targeted kids who were looking for their first jobs and didn’t have high expenses and responsibilities.

“We’d ask them the absolute minimum they could accept, and in exchange they’d receive what we call ‘glamour tax,’ which is basically a cool working environment where they’d have fun, meet people, spend time at events and be exposed to great brands.”

Read more: How Mike Silver Became The Next Best Brand And Marketing Guy

2Encourage employee growth

Amy Kleinhans-Curd

“Great employees take responsibility and build themselves and the business with it.”

Vital Stats:

  • Amy Kleinhans-Curd is one of the country’s most famous Miss South Africa winners.
  • Today, she’s better known for her role as co-founder and director of the PLP Group.

“Understanding myself and my limits and strengths isn’t only important for my own development, but that of my employees as well. To be truly productive as a business owner, you need to know when to let things go. I’ll gladly let someone else run with an idea and make a success of it.

“It’s my job to come up with those ideas and conceptualise where we are, where we should be, and how we’re going to get there, but I have a great team who then takes care of the operational side of actually making things happen. If it’s something I love and I’m good at, I’ll run with it, but first, I take a step back and critically evaluate if I’m the best person for that particular project. If the answer is no, I hand it over. It’s as simple as that.

“We’ve built an incredible team over the years, and everyone has their own passions and strengths. It’s important to play to those strengths; pick the best person for each job, and remember that just because it’s your company doesn’t mean it’s always you.

“It then becomes my role to delegate, and then stay in touch through regular updates. I’m not saying hand something over and walk away – that’s also counter-productive. But you don’t need ownership of everything. Great employees take responsibility and build themselves and the business with it.”

Read more: Amy Kleinhans-Curd on Lifelong Entrepreneurship

1Maximising info in minimal time

Yossi Hasson

“To manage teams we’ve got a report back system called ‘15-5’. It takes 15 minutes to write and five minutes to read, and each contains a manager’s top five priorities for a week or month, and their one absolute top priority. The report details what they’re working on, stuck on, or been successful with.”

Vital stats:

  • Yossi Hasson is the co-founder of Synaq, a company listed as one of Forbes’ Top 20 Tech Start-ups for 2012.
  • In 2011, Dimension Data bought a 50,1% stake in the business.

Time is a commodity that’s not to be squandered, especially when your skills are required at higher levels of business such as strategising, and Yossi Hasson knows that.

Every Monday he’s able take 20 minutes to get a full grasp on what his four managers are handling for the week, and his managers know what their teams are up to.

He’s then able to make decisions, direct, and have follow up conversations where needed without requiring lengthy meetings.

Read more: As An Entrepreneur, Be A Motivational Leader To Your Staff

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