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Richard Branson on How to Train Your Employees

There is always something new to learn.

Richard Branson

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Q: When a company is small (just 30 people), what’s the best way to train new staff and help them to remain passionate about their work?

The day you stop learning is the day you stop living. We should all pick up new skills, ideas, viewpoints and ways of working every day.

That said, the first goal of any new business is simply to survive – you need to prove that your business model works. One of the best ways to do this is by hiring excellent people who believe in your company and share your goals, and then by helping them to learn and improve their skills.

This isn’t optional: If your best people aren’t growing in their careers as your business gains traction and expands, they will quickly lose enthusiasm for their work. And before you know it, you’ll be dealing with unsatisfied customers as well as unsatisfied employees.

Your employees’ desire to learn gives you and other entrepreneurs a competitive advantage over larger companies. Small firms are usually new, so they attract people who are eager to try fresh approaches and have great ideas about how to do things differently, rather than employees who are working toward attaining a specific post or title.

You can capitalise on this advantage by letting your people run with their ideas – and with such a small team, who else will? This is exactly the kind of training and career path that many creative people want: to be able to set challenging goals for themselves and then try to meet them, even if there’s a chance that they may fail.

If you give your employees significant responsibilities, you will be surprised at what they will achieve – and in turn, you’ll win their loyalty and commitment.

Once you have created this culture of opportunity, your people will see that there is scope for them to move up within the company. They will then be more likely to strive to master their current positions so that they can be considered for promotion and further development.

If your employees need help with their technical skills, you’ll need to make up for your small budget by being smart about your training plans. Constantly improving and acquiring information technology skills is essential in many industries –

I myself have been brushing up on social media and blogging techniques with the help of our social media team. It may be relatively simple to find help online: Firms like General Assembly and Codecademy provide low-cost tools that you may find useful.

If a number of your employees need the same training, consider alternate methods. Rather than sending 10 people to the same programme, can you negotiate to bring a trainer in-house, keeping costs down? Instead of enlisting expensive private-training companies, can you find experts willing to give talks to your team?

Can you reach out to your mentors, perhaps from contrasting backgrounds, to discuss the issues with your team? This could be more interesting – and more engaging – than traditional training.

As your business grows, some of your new hires may need hands-on training. New employees at Virgin Trains learn about their jobs in a real carriage that has been decommissioned – it even includes a catering car and a train driver’s cab. But creating a practice area might not be an option for you.

In that case, one of the simplest ways for you to train a new employee might be to set her up in a mentoring relationship with one of your best people. First, have her shadow her mentor for a few days. Once your new employee is ready to start work herself, ask the mentor to supervise her and continue to provide tips whenever she needs advice.

Remember to stay on the lookout for new technologies and opportunities, and arrange seminars so that you and your employees can explore them, even if you’re not sure they can be immediately applied to your business. Who knows? You could be onto the next big thing – and your team will be one step ahead.

As you help your people to build their skills, you’ll need to think about how to retain them over the long term. One of the best ways is to promote from within whenever possible – after all, who knows your company better? One of the examples at Virgin that comes to mind is the career trajectory of Virgin Galactic’s wonderful chief pilot, Dave Mackay.

His old job? He was captain of our Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600. Now he’s in charge of taking tourists into space. That’s career progression!

Whether you have 30 employees or 300, creating a culture of opportunity at your business will make a huge difference for your staff. Learning won’t be restricted to set training periods, but will happen in all areas of your business, all day long.

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

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Managing Staff

Why Uninsured Employees Are Bad For Business

Often businesses assume that their employees will take the necessary steps to insure themselves, but in reality, many people don’t. By covering your employees you’re not just insuring their financial futures if something happens, you’re covering your business too.

Anthony Miller

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Entrepreneurship is not for sissies. It involves dreams and risks. Cash flow is crucial and often thin on the ground, as owners juggle the challenges of overheads and growth. An entrepreneur or SME owner cannot fall back on the financial cushioning that is characteristic of much larger corporate businesses.

That said, as an entrepreneur have you ever thought what would happen if one of your staff members were suddenly unable to provide for their families due to death or disability? Would their family be left destitute? Would you as a business owner feel obliged to contribute to cover funeral costs and offer support to the family concerned?

If so, you should be considering a group life policy as the financial and emotional strain on the business can be significant. Group cover is generally far cheaper than retail cover. In many cases, employees can even cancel their individual cover and, in so doing, save a significant amount of money.

Recognising both the need and the opportunity, our business, Simply Financial Services, recently introduced an online Group Cover product. These are our top five questions asked by business owners when considering employee benefits.

Related: The Simple Way To Pay Wages When Your Staff Don’t Have Bank Accounts

1. Why is group life cover better for my employees than their retail alternatives?

Group life insurance holds numerous benefits for individuals. First, since the employer pays the premium, persistency is typically better and dependants are more consistently protected. Second, the cost of group cover is often far lower (for equivalent cover) than the individual could get directly. Third, better cover may be provided for people with impaired health. And finally, waiting periods are often waived or shortened. We’re convinced that good value group cover is a net positive investment for a company.

2. Is group life cover affordable?

Group life cover starts at very affordable levels. Meaningful cover can be obtained from about R49 per employee per month. Also, there are ways to structure the payment of premiums in such a way that it becomes part of your employees’ total remuneration package. You may for example want to structure it so that the employee makes a contribution, which is matched by the business.

Affordability is obviously important to SME owners and entrepreneurs. Costs need to be weighed against benefits both in terms of increased loyalty and job satisfaction from employees, and the potential cost to the business if a key member of staff is disabled or dies.

3. What does group life cover typically include?

Cover varies a lot from provider to provider and ranges from very simple funeral policies to very complex death and disability cover. Cover can be a multiple of annual salary or a fixed amount of cover for both life and disability, and a fixed amount of cover for family funerals. You should look out for the following when selecting your product:

  • What’s included in the cover? What benefits does it include? In our view, you should look for a product that provides good value protection products (eg. life, disability, family funeral). This caters for as wide a range of scenarios as possible. Be careful you don’t end up with a bundle of value added services (eg. free airtime) and very little life or disability cover.
  • Free cover limits. Is there a guaranteed amount of cover (the ‘free cover limit’), up to which your employees are covered for death and disability from both natural and accidental causes (full cover), irrespective of employee numbers?
  • Waiting period. How long would you have to wait, from when you take out the policy, before your employees get full cover, rather than just accidental-only cover?
  • How does the price compare with your alternatives — both group and retail — and how are premiums likely to change over time?

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

4. What’s hidden in the fine print?

It’s really important to check the fine print, to ensure there are no nasty surprises when there’s a claim. Many providers have complex policy rules and documents, and SMEs only discover the details when it’s too late. A good barometer is to look at how simple and transparent the sign-up process is, and how user-friendly the policy documents are.

5. What provider should I choose?

Make sure your insurance provider has a reliable track record, and is underwritten by a recognised insurance provider. There are a lot of fly-by-night players out there and you need to ensure that the policy you are buying has the backing of established and well-recognised market players. You need to be confident that your insurer can be trusted to pay when it comes to claim time.

6. How do I go about buying and administering the policy?

Traditionally, brokers have sold group life policies and provided admin support to their clients. Since quite a lot of work is involved and commissions are limited, brokers have not typically been available to SMEs. As such, there is a long tail of SMEs who don’t have group life cover and their employees are at risk. Fortunately, there are now options available that allow SMEs to do it themselves online and for brokers to serve SMEs cost-effectively.

You need to decide whether you want the peace of mind of working through a broker or the speed, control and convenience of doing it yourself online.

In conclusion, we believe group life insurance offers much value and peace of mind for SMEs. While many South Africans have funeral cover, very few have life or disability cover.  As an SME owner or manager, you can show you care by taking a policy for your employees.  Not only will you probably save money relative to an equivalent retail product, you’ll be amazed at how much your employees will appreciate your care and generosity. And you’ll be able to sleep easy, knowing their families will be taken care of if they die or become disabled.

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Managing Staff

Day Zero And Your Employees – What An Entrepreneur Needs To Know

With Day Zero pushed out to 2019, entrepreneurs in the Western Cape are still left with one concerning question: “What will happen to my business should the water supply still run dry?”

Jose Jorge

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Depending on their reliance on municipal water, entrepreneurs could potentially find themselves without the ability to generate revenue in the absence of water. During this time, they will still be expected to pay staff a salary, creating a potentially untenable situation for certain businesses.

It is imperative that entrepreneurs in the Western Cape region start early discussions with their employees to find possible solutions that can be implemented should Day Zero actually hit. CDH provides the following possibilities to consider:

To pay or not to pay, that is the question

The duty of the employer to pay remuneration continues as long as the employee tenders his or her services. This is also the case where an employee is prevented from working, due to an unanticipated or unpreventable act such as a natural disaster.

Related: SME Survey: Day Zero Warning Hits SMEs Hard

An employer would have to pay its employees that tender work even if it cannot provide them with any work. Fortunately for employers, labour law recognises certain measures that can be taken to minimise this burden. The two most common are short-time and the temporary suspension of payment of remuneration. It is also important to note that these two measures can only be implemented if all parties concerned have agreed to it.

Short-time is a system of work that is used for periods when there is little or no work. The system recognises that paying an employee for periods when he or she is not working places undue strain on the financial position of the employer and the employee.

Employees may either agree to short-time in a contract of employment, or an employer may enter into a collective agreement regulating short-time with a union representing the affected employees.

A temporary suspension of payment of remuneration may be implemented when there is some prospect of the work situation improving in the near future and the employer being able to provide the employee with work. This may be implemented as an alternative to a dismissal.

Where there is no agreement to these alternatives an entrepreneur will have to engage with his or her employees, explain the company’s position and attempt to secure an agreement in this regard. If an employer is unable to do so, he or she may have to consider retrenchments.

Can you retrench employees as a result of Day Zero?

This is a difficult question. An employer will have to consider whether employees’ inability to work will be for a prolonged period.

There is no way of knowing how long a drought will continue. With the unpredictable effects of global warming, the weather has become increasingly difficult to forecast. The World Wildlife Fund anticipates that if the Western Cape region receives the same rainfall pattern as last year, the drought will continue for six months.

Related: Why Innovative Employee Benefits Are Your Competitive Advantage

The Labour Relations Act, No. 66 of 1995 allows an employer to retrench employees for ‘operational requirements’. Operational requirements are defined as requirements based on economic, technological, structural or similar needs.

In order to establish that an ‘operational requirements’ dismissal is substantively fair, an employer must determine that genuine operational requirements exist. If the anticipated consequence of the drought is that a business may not be able to continue with its operations – without access to municipal water – this would constitute an operational requirement.

In conclusion, CDH advises entrepreneurs in the region whose business is heavily reliant on water to consider entering into working arrangements with their employees for the duration of the drought. This will ensure that the entrepreneur and the employee are both in agreement regarding available options should Day Zero occur. It will also help provide a sustainable alternative to retrenchments.

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Managing Staff

10 Corny But Undeniably True And Inspiring Quotes About Teamwork

As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.” He ought to know.

Blake Snow

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With two games remaining, my daughter’s soccer team is in second place. They’ve won nine games and lost only one – to the team in third place.

Although that team doesn’t not have as many star players as our side, they beat us on the admittedly widely held but elusive principle that sharing the ball leads to more goals (and better defense) than impressive dribbling or individuality.

In other words, their 11 played better as a team than the three remarkable players on my daughter’s team. Granted, the third-place team probably dropped more games than we did because playing as an effective team in consecutive games is harder to do. After all, it’s easier for a few great players to show up to every game (as we have mostly done) than a reliable team.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

In any case, my daughter’s “club” will square off against the first place team this weekend. I suspect they’ll lose unless they listen to Michael Jordan: “Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.”

The same is true in business and life in general.

If we want to “win championships” in both of those, we have to get others involved, pass more, risk failure, allow teammates to learn from their mistakes by letting them commit them and putting the needs of the group above our own selfish aspirations.

To that end, I encourage you, my daughter’s soccer team and everyone else interested in winning to consider and internalise my 10 favourite quotes on the importance of competing as a team. Some are a bit corny. All are true.

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