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.
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.
The Entrepreneurial Case For A Co-Working Space
Morné Stoltz, MiWay Head of Business Insurance shares the benefits and competitive advantage of co-working business spaces.
South Africa’s small business sector continues to grow, with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report for 2016/17 indicating that SMMEs now account for over 36% of the country’s GDP. Yet these numbers do not reveal the many challenges faced by local entrepreneurs, many of whom are unable to sustain their business operations due to limited support and countless administrative hassles.
Many entrepreneurs also suffer as a result of reduced opportunities for collaboration and networking, with many working from home or out of small offices that leave them with little exposure to other like-minded business owners, whilst their larger counterparts are able to build networks and push the boundaries of innovation by tapping into a wider spectrum of human capita.
Entrepreneurs have been largely left to fend for themselves, leaving them at an obvious disadvantage in the marketplace.Yet, with the recent emergence of co-working spaces, this pattern is slowly starting to shift, with small business owners now beginning to band together in the absence of appropriate support from those able to give it.
Why you need collaborative spaces
Not only do these collaborative spaces expose entrepreneurs to others facing similar challenges, but they also facilitate networking opportunities and much needed interpersonal interaction without a hefty price tag. In these 21st century workspaces, entrepreneurs are able to feed off one another’s energy, discuss and find solutions to administrative challenges and share resources so as to preserve that all-important cash flow.
Some co-working spaces also host regular presentations and events attended by industry luminaries, enabling business owners to up their expertise and connect with relevant big players in their respective fields.
Could this new way of working be the answer for the South African economy, which relies heavily on SMEs to sustain its growth? Sadly, the massive administrative and psychological challenges faced by small business owners are unlikely to be completely overcome without the necessary investment from government and the private sector. Inevitably, businesses need both money and time to survive and it is usually only the former that frees up the latter.
Co-working spaces offer a lifeline to new business
Nonetheless, there is certainly an entrepreneurial case to be made for the co-working space. While it might not be a complete entrepreneurial elixir, it does nonetheless offer up a lifeline for new businesses, affording them access to the people and networks that can elevate emerging enterprises from good to great.
That being said, not all co-working spaces are created equal and it is important that entrepreneurs seek out locations that best suit their businesses and working styles. Here are a few key things to look out for when embarking on the search for the perfect space:
Search for synchronicities
It is not simply enough to be around other entrepreneurs – if you want your business to thrive rather than simply survive, you will need to find a space populated with others in similar fields.
Naturally, you do not want to be sitting across from your biggest industry rival, but it is not going to do you much good if you are a marketing guru surrounded by a group of architects. So look for places typically frequented by those with complementary skills – it is the perfect kick-off point for great network building.
Do your research
Everyone has different working styles, so it is important that you find a co-working space that best suits yours. A loud, boisterous environment might be invigorating for some, while others prefer a quieter, more laid-back tone. By setting up camp in a space that facilitates productivity and energy, you’ll be far better placed to succeed.
Buy into the right benefits
Co-working spaces come in many shapes, sizes and price ranges. Ensure that you pick one that offers you exactly what you need without breaking the bank. While you’ll want your space to be adaptable in the event of growth, you also don’t want to have to invest in more square meterage than entirely necessary. By all means think big, but also preserve your bottom line for the time being.
You’ll also want to look into the other perks offered by your local co-working spaces. Many offer secretarial services, administrative assistance and other similar amenities, which are like gold dust for entrepreneurs who’ve started up their operations based on skills rather than savvy.
For other business owners, networking events and seminars might be exactly what’s needed to fast track your growth trajectory, so carefully weigh up the benefits and costs based upon your specific pain points and potential areas for improvement.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970)
You Can Motivate Your Employees Without Creating A Hyper-Competitive Culture
Creating work atmospheres where people choose to engage and do their best work for the right reasons will lead to sustainable success.
Recently, major companies – from the flashiest tech startups to centuries-old legacy banks — have made unwanted headlines due to unrealistic expectations and growth-at-all-costs behaviour.
Employees expressed concern that Uber favoured “high performers” over a safe environment for its female employees, as detailed by a former employee’s viral blog post; Zenefits created software to help its employees cheat on state online broker license courses to sell insurance illegally, and hired people with little experience in the highly regulated insurance industry. Also among companies reluctantly in the news recently, Amazon reportedly condoned workaholic behaviour to achieve its ambitions.
These companies exemplify company cultures that seem to focus only on results, leading to unintended consequences. Unfortunately, this corporate perspective is common to many Silicon Valley start-ups, as well as established companies.
In attempting to accomplish innovative feats, they ignore fundamental culture practices that will benefit every company, regardless of whether they’ve been around 30 months or 30 years and what metrics they’re trying to hit. Focusing on results without creating work atmospheres where people choose to engage and do their best work for the right reasons will lead to behaviours that put current and future business results at risk.
What can be done to avoid growth-at-all costs environments that continue to be an issue for many organisations? It begins with leadership.
How leadership can improve
Many leaders scale the ranks because they were effective doers – they got the results they wanted through hard work. These leaders often don’t understand that when they assume a new role as manager of a team, their purpose in the company shifts as well. Their primary responsibility is to influence the work of others rather than do the work themselves.
Often, inexperienced or poor leaders can be micromanagers who unintentionally put unhealthy pressure on team members, rather than taking a step back and creating an environment in which people can do their best work.
Connecting to purpose
Leaders cannot force their employees to do something, but they can give their employees the choice to engage. The best motivator for true engagement is to help the employee connect with the overall purpose of the company, rather than driving performance through fear or pressure.
Is your company simply driving results for results’ sake? Now might be the time to connect the results to an end benefit for the customer and to share that greater purpose with your employees.
People aren’t lazy
Many leaders hold the misconception that people are inherently lazy and will slack off if highly competitive cultures aren’t cultivated or goals aren’t mandated. They believe that if people don’t have structure and steep quotas to reach, their natural tendency is to not produce.
The reality is people want to make a difference. People want to do great work and achieve what hasn’t been done before. If they feel their work is connected to a deeper purpose and the overall mission of the company, they will willingly spend more time on projects, rise to the occasion and hit targets, without undue pressure.
Recognising rather than penalising
Employees want to achieve great work, but they also want to be recognised for it when they do, rather than penalised if they don’t hit the mark. They want a culture that celebrates wins of individuals and teams instead of one that instills fear. A recent study conducted by my company found that of the six most common motivating factors that cause employees to produce great work, recognition is by far the number one factor.
We live in a competitive business world in which every company wants to go above and beyond the industry standard. Establishing aggressive goals and focusing on results is important; however, unless leadership works to create cultures where employees are motivated to do their best work for the right reasons, they may unintentionally reinforce unhealthy and unethical behaviour that puts the very business results they seek at risk.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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