As an entrepreneur and business owner for the last 18 years, I remember well what the start-up phase is like; you wear every hat under the sun – from receptionist to doorbell-ringing salesman to production manager to accountant (if you call personally sending out homemade invoices every month being an accountant!).
Fast forward many years down the line, and I now have a large team spread across the country and my challenges are immensely different to when we were in start-up phase. For one, my team works remotely, and I need to know whether they are productive or not. The challenge of monitoring productivity while still running and growing the business, all the while constantly avoiding the trap of slipping into micro-management, has lead me to these findings.
Productivity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a deliberate process and a daily challenge.
Just because you, as the owner of the business, have a fire in your belly compelling you to work 14 hour days, including weekends, doesn’t necessarily mean that the team you’ve hired have the same zeal that you do. So the battle starts – do I still try do it all myself, with a bit of help from the team, or do I let go and empower my team so that I can start dreaming over my business again? The reality is that letting go is often more mind-numbingly terrifying for entrepreneurs than getting a root canal without anaesthetic. It takes tremendous courage.
Here’s a comforting thought: You don’t have to take a blind leap of faith to empower your team. There’s no Indiana Jones ‘invisible bridge’ across the chasm, because there is no chasm if you have the right business processes and systems in place. In fact, you can ‘let it go’, and simultaneously gain more control over your business than ever before.
1. First Things First – Hire Right
Your team is your most valuable asset in the business – they reflect who you are, what you’ve sweated blood to achieve and built, and what your business is about, more than the products or services.
By the same token, one bad apple in the team can do more damage to your brand than your strongest competitor. Employees who are skilled and have the right attitude are often more productive, responsible, communicate better and work faster with fewer mistakes.
If the target is improved productivity, this is your silver bullet. Culture-fit is more important than qualifications and skills on a page. Fight for this, it’s important.
Alternative Option: Virtual Staff (Outsourcing)
This is a viable option if you find you are too busy to handle your day to day activities, but cannot justify hiring a full-time employee to perform these tasks.
Virtual staff or outsourced resources become like a team member who just happens to work remotely, so it is important that you carefully consider who your supplier is, much as you would a permanent employee.
Virtual teams are strongly relational and require a fair amount of personal investment and guidance from you on the onset in order for them to understand your brand, product and needs accurately, especially if they are customer-facing.
Thankfully South Africa has a wide selection for us to choose from, with everything from PA, finances, marketing or call centres services at our disposal. The bonus is, you get the work done without the potential HR challenges.
2. Get a Goal, Stick to it, and Measure it
You know how demoralising it feels when you have too many things to do, and not enough hours in the day to do it. Stressed and burnt out employees are the opposite of productive, and is not something to brag about or a sign of being successful.
Busy is not the goal – productivity is.
Processes and policies give a team structure and a framework for efficiency and measurable productivity. It’s also easier to notice when something or someone is missing the mark or causing bottlenecks and unnecessary delays and quickly respond to that.
Here’s how we do it:
- Set your team targets and tasks that are realistic and achievable within a given period of time. Your team will feel more motivated to achieve these goals, and will enjoy a sense of accomplishment once achieved.
- Put procedures in place that follow best practice for your industry. If this is not something you feel you have time or the skill set for, involve your team and brainstorm this – it might surprise you how well they know your business and what ideas and insights they have. Alternatively, ask a systems analyst or business coach for assistance. Map these procedures and processes out in a document or more visual platform, like Visio, and circulate them throughout the business so that everyone knows the fastest, most accurate way of performing a task. This can also filter into the KPI and regular assessment and incentive processes.
- Get the right software to help your team track orders, projects, inventory and invoices. Try and avoid multiple data capturing points as this can increase errors and be an unnecessary burden on your admin staff. Look for a single system that incorporates the production process from start to finish. We like Slack and Skype for internal comms, and keeping our inboxes solely for client comms. This makes for faster turnaround on client email responses. For project management and time tracking we like Trello, Asana or BOS. BOS (Business Operating System) also includes functionality for quotation generation, stock management, accounts, resource management and reports, so that helps.
- Create a culture of excellence where efficiency is recognised, applauded and rewarded. If a team member has found a way of doing a task more efficiently than the norm, let them share it with the rest of the team, and consider including their personal process into the team’s process.
- Measure it: If you cannot measure the return on investment of your human capital (your team) and your infrastructure (machinery, software, etc) then you probably have very little insight into the profitability of your business and the productivity of your team. Knowing the productive hours of each member of staff will greatly influence your decisions on quoting accurately, resource allocation and team utilisation. Once again, BOS shines here.
3. Schedule a Daily Check-In
The worst thing you can do as a business owner is remove yourself from the business – even if it is under the guise of ‘business growth’ and important work.
Try and avoid being constantly out at client meetings, or chasing sales or being unapproachable when you are in the office. You don’t have to physically be in the space to touch base with your team, so schedule a check-in to see if they need your input and how they are progressing.
It can be a phone call, and email or on whatever system you use for internal comms. It can be five minutes a day, but it makes your team feel that they are part of something bigger, that they belong and that their work is important.
It also provides a platform for you to weigh in on decisions or give them support and helps you panic less about the status of work.
Look for software that has scheduled reminders and a calendar function. Alternatively, software that offers a dashboard view of work in progress will also give you more of a helicopter view of the business.
A bonus would be if it is cloud-based, so that you can check in on your team regardless of where you are – on site, at a client, on holiday or at home!
Now you have more clarity, more control, and more opportunity to run your business holistically and with freedom.
Finding the right balance between doing it all yourself, leaning on technology and efficiently allocating team resources is your productivity sweet spot. Take the time to invest in this, and you won’t look back.
Keep Up The Momentum
The year has kicked off with a whirlwind ride and already the first quarter is done and dusted. It’s important not to lose the momentum.
Motivational programmes that offer staff incentives have proven highly successful. They can generate a positive, productive atmosphere.
A powerfull driver
The statistics here are unambiguous and speak for themselves: Research shows that companies with motivational programmes outperform those that don’t by 30% to 40%. This figure is not to be overlooked. Increased productivity will mean, at the very least, lowered costs in production and improved profit margins.
The role of employee motivation is a significant element in the chain of value production. There are various means to increase drive, and ‘progression’ is one of the strongest among them. It’s important to note that ‘progression’ doesn’t only imply change, but the movement towards a target. This means that progress needn’t be confined to upward development: Instead, a manager may set up goals that an employee will find rewarding either in terms of:
- Personal development, or
- Tangible returns.
This last element is where incentives come to the fore. Incentives provide recognition and material reward to those who have earned it.
As an incentive solution company, Uwin Iwin has the necessary experience in achieving the optimum results.
Stagger the awards
It has been a long few months since the Christmas bonus and January, February and March are traditionally ‘lean’ months. It might be a good idea to have quarterly award payouts to just keep employees motivated to perform.
Increasing normal rewards
There is nothing that destroys motivation as quickly as boredom. Instead of the normal incentive programme, introduce competitions and make it fun. Increase normal incentives by 50%, for example, to motivate sales channels to perform at the highest levels possible. Keep it interesting and you will keep the employees’ interest.
A targeted approach
When it comes to deciding on targets, realistic goals need to be set. Goals must be achievable and fair, and the best way to determine them is to ask staff members to suggest their own. This means that their commitment to achieving the target is greater because they take ownership of it.
Businesses should not concentrate on rewarding top achievers in their workforce, but ensure the programme is designed to engage and improve performance across the whole team.
Reward categories could include Performance of the Month, Biggest Improvement, Best Comeback, to name a few.
The challenge that many businesses face when planning their reward strategy is what type of reward to give. Cash is appreciated by most employees, but runs the risk of being an ‘invisible reward’ — forgotten once it hits the bank account and likely to be spent on day-to- day necessities.
Money uploaded onto a gift card that can be used anywhere is much more rewarding. Uwin Iwin has the perfect solution in the Kudosh card (www.kudosh.com) that offers exactly that — cash on a branded card accepted by any vendor that accepts MasterCard.
Rewards beyond gift cards
Out of the ordinary rewards can be a very good incentive. One option that works nicely is earning days off (increased leave) that can be used outside peak seasons. Sending out questionnaires to keep your ear to the ground when it comes to preferred rewards will give you great insight into possible solutions.
Communication is key
Communication about the incentive scheme is especially pertinent. Regular emails, SMSes and even hard copy pamphlets outlining the increased rewards serve as a constant motivation. The trick here is make the communications so powerful that they keep the momentum.
Incentives are an extremely powerful tool that business owners and managers can implement to assist with motivation and performance. It has to be done properly though, which is why investing in a professional platform is an imperative.
Ask Uwin Iwin to help you relook your incentive programme. We will come up with the perfect solution tailormade for your company. For more information, visit www.uwiniwin.co.za, phone +27 (0)11 557 5700 or email email@example.com
5 Characteristics Of A Culture That Develops And Executes Breakthrough Ideas
Innovation happens by design. Build it in to your company, and it will show through in your results and relationships with customers.
Peter Drucker, the father of modern-day business management, noted that a business has only two functions: marketing and innovation.
Companies that have wholeheartedly embraced innovation – Amazon, Apple and Tesla among them – garner admiration, sales and additional marketing in the form of earned media.
And while businesses of all sizes know innovation is an important lever that will fuel their long-term success, many struggle to do it effectively. They get stuck in a rut of doing “what we’ve always done.” Others hop on the latest trends when they are forced to do so, rather than becoming pioneers in the space. No bueno.
Jeff Bezos credits a major part of Amazon’s massive success over the years to its people’s willingness to innovate. In his 2015 letter to shareholders, he explained the source of the $100 billion dollar company’s ability to innovate: “One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure,” he wrote. “I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organisations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.”
If you want a business where innovation is the norm, you’ve got to create the right environment – one that’s conducive to change and diversity of experience as well as opinion. No matter your history, you can build a company that delights your customers with your products, services and experiences on a consistent basis. Here’s how.
1. Create a culture of experimentation
Articles, books, and other resources give the same account: Failure is a precursor to success. When you accept failure as a part of the learning process that helps you achieve your goals, you get more comfortable with this concept.
The key to making failure work for you is conducting experiments that are small enough you won’t be left shirtless if things go south. Creating a company culture that experiments on a regular basis thrives only when you’ve also developed a consistent feedback loop. This crucial communication tool ensures you’ll have the clues needed to iterate and produce something remarkable.
2. Make idea generation a habit
Innovation begins with an idea. And to exponentially increase the odds of producing a winning idea for your business, quantity trumps quality. Of course, not every idea will be a great one. But a large arsenal of thoughts from which to choose makes it easier to refine your understanding of what your customers want from you.
Whenever I write a new article, I generate 25 potential headlines. Pushing myself to generate more ideas forces me to think beyond the obvious and stretch my mind to come up with more creative options.
Work to make idea generation a habit in your business. Encourage team members to bring forth their own suggestions, and create a system to catalog what is presented.
3. Diversify your experiences
When it comes to innovation, realise that homogeneity is a liability. Steve Jobs knew this to be true. It’s why he encouraged others to branch out to take the road less traveled. “If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative … you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does,” Jobs said in 1982, as he accepted the “Golden Plate” award from the Academy of Achievement in Washington, D.C. He was 26.
Make it a point to step outside your comfort zone. Accumulate new experiences for yourself both professionally and personally. As you look to build a rockstar team, be intentional about seeking talent that brings to the table diverse backgrounds, experiences and ways of thinking.
The observations, skills and expanded frame of reference you obtain as a result will prevent you from being satisfied with the status quo.
Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!
4. Encourage dissent
Want to improve the quality of your ideas? Encourage others to tear them down. A capable team of people whose opinions you value will generate constructive criticism to help make your idea better. You’ll produce a much better product or offering than you ever could have done alone.
Research backs up this principle. Data from UC Berkeley demonstrates that conflict improves the ideation process. A team whose members cosign everything you say can’t help you or your company become more innovative.
Consider setting up regular team meetings to solicit input on how to take an idea from good to great. Create an environment that assures team members their opinions are valued and welcomed. Once you do, they’ll feel comfortable enough to be more vocal about using their expertise to raise the quality standard for whatever your business delivers.
5. Obsess over your customers
Your business exists to serve your customers. The more value you provide, the more they will reward you with their loyalty. When you focus your efforts on knowing your customers intimately, you’ll gain a tremendous amount of insight into how to solve their problems like none other.
Talk to your customers every chance you get. Take the opportunity to walk a mile in their shoes so you can develop a deeper empathy for their issues. Seek out pain points at every step of their customer journey and brainstorm ways to improve the experience for them.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Employees, Not Consultants Or Executives, Are Your Best Innovators
Hungry for the fresh ideas that come from a collaborative, team-driven approach to innovation? You’re ready for an EDIT.
The insurance industry gets a bad rap as outdated and inefficient. But one insurance firm, CSAA Insurance Group, is bucking the stereotype with a strikingly modern approach to innovation.
This American Automobile Association-affiliated insurer caught the attention of the Harvard Business Review last August due to its all-hands-on-deck innovation strategy. As the article described, CSAA had harnessed the brainpower of its 4,000-person employee base to encourage systematic improvement at all company levels.
The results were astounding: Underwriters analysed the company’s call data to improve voice prompts and reduce misplaced calls… by 40 percent. Other employees jumped in to streamline online claims, improve the issuance of insurance cards – and more.
But CSAA’s approach wasn’t innovative just for the insurance industry. Top-down innovation has been tried over and over, and it just can’t hold a candle to the alternative: employee-driven innovation teams being used by companies like CSAA and my own human resources solutions company. We like to call these teams EDITs.
Why an EDIT philosophy works
Industry insight and creativity aren’t exclusive to the C-suite, nor are they best purchased from industry consultants. In fact, they can be found in every employee, from the part-time package handler right on up the corporate ladder.
Sarah Miller Caldicott, author of Midnight Lunch (and great-grandniece of Thomas Edison), has been trying to tell this to the business world for years. So when I heard her speak at a conference a few years ago, I couldn’t help but try an EDIT at my own company.
All EDITs begin with a call from a leadership team sponsor who brings a business problem to the table. That person then invites volunteers to form teams of around eight employees each. Teams choose their own leaders, who then hold the rest of the team members accountable and ultimately deliver proposals to the executive team.
EDIT does more than make us a better company. Team members develop cross-departmental friendships; help boost everyone’s morale; and grow their own leadership, presentation and executive consulting skills. Rarely do non-managers have the chance to shine in leading roles the way they do with EDIT.
Another upshot of our EDIT? We began a new HR project, “Extending the Culture Beyond Our Walls,” in which we’re expanding our employee culture to our clients, contingent workers and broader community through employment branding.
The only down side? We wish we’d done this sooner.
Ready, set, EDIT
If you’re hungry for the fresh ideas that come from a collaborative, team-driven approach to innovation, you’re ready for an EDIT. Here’s how to get and keep the EDIT ball rolling:
1. Make the problem and ideal solution as concrete as possible
Every EDIT begins with a problem outlined by someone from the organisation’s leadership team. Think of this like a call to action. What’s the problem or opportunity, and what type of action, process or technology will solve or capitalise on it? Be sure to also describe what resources the EDIT will have to work with, such as budgeted funds, fixed assets and subject matter experts.
The Arizona Department of Transportation, for example, was looking last year for faster ways to reopen Phoenix-area freeways after closing them for repair. ADOT workers designed a reverse stencil that protects painted surfaces from an asphalt finishing spray. For materials, they used just scrap metal and two trucks,
Now, a scrap stencil may not have been what leaders first envisioned as their “future perfect” solution, but ADOT’s employees certainly made smart use of their resources.
2. Give diversity and inclusion space at the table
An EDIT is only as strong as its members are diverse. In other words, don’t assemble a team entirely of marketers, salespeople or denizens of any other one department. A study from Holton Consulting noted that people tend to come up with more interesting, exciting and unusual ideas when they’re not thinking about their own area of expertise.
Don’t worry if one EDIT has four people and one has 10. Team size doesn’t matter nearly as much as the diversity of backgrounds, departments and skill sets. With that said, do your best to not exclude willing participants. To this day, our company has never turned away someone who wanted to contribute to an EDIT initiative.
3. Provide structure, but avoid rigidity
Give your EDIT space to work, but don’t let it fly blind, either. Have the EDIT take its cue from agile development or the scientific method, whichever its members are more familiar with. Encourage the EDIT to hypothesise solutions, test them, iterate and then evaluate them against the “future perfect.”
When our company’s EDITs meet for the first time, they always begin with a brainstorm. From there, they test ideas in low-risk, low-resource experiments. For example, a team suggesting a casual dress policy might survey or visit other companies with such a policy: The point would be to see whether changing acceptable workplace attire affected productivity.
The goal? To get real-world feedback on potential solutions, narrowing them down until the only top performer is left standing.
In our industry, there’s no greater cliche than “Your employees are your greatest asset.” But nothing has driven that point home for us, like EDIT. The soon-to-be-released enterprise-resource planning system that our employees spearheaded is proof that these people are, indeed, our strongest innovators.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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