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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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What Would Twitter Do? Lessons On Culture From 5 Top Start-ups

How Airbnb, Twitter, Skillshare, Buffer and Squarespace create and maintain great company cultures.

Sujan Patel

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What do the world’s top start-ups all have in common? They’ve mastered the art of company culture.

Brands from all over have attempted to mimic “start-up culture” – the collaborative, fun and enriching atmosphere that makes employees want to come to work each day. But fostering a start-up culture is not as easy as it sounds, especially as your company grows.

Having a strong culture, however, is the key to success and cannot be neglected. In fact, research from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick showed that happy employees are 12 percent more productive than the average worker. So it truly pays to have a strong company culture.

But what exactly does a strong culture look like? And more importantly, how can you build one? Follow these five tips from successful start-ups:

1. Keep employees engaged

At Airbnb, employees are kept in the loop on major company happenings and big decisions. This gives them a sense of ownership and purpose in the company, which in turn fosters engagement. According to a Gallup survey, 51 percent of the American workforce is not engaged. But having engaged employees is highly beneficial.

As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote on Twitter, “A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur’s job is to build the foundation.”

Engaged employees create a more positive work atmosphere. And, with happier employees, as well as increased productivity, your company will have happier customers and boost sales.

Related: To Change Your Company Culture, Change Your Conversations

2. Focus on the company’s purpose

Employees want to feel that the work that they do matters. That’s why Twitter’s purpose-driven environment works so well. Its focus is on creating a collaborative, team-oriented space that helps employees come together and see the value of what they do.

In an article on Medium, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote, “Start-ups have a unique ability to create a culture of compassion that helps us improve; and in so doing, we are more likely to make a difference in the lives of others.”

In 2014, Twitter’s employees were named by Glassdoor as the happiest in the country. Much of that happiness can be attributed to the company’s culture, where employees feel that their voices matter.

3. Be proactive

Culture doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s something that needs to be nurtured and tended. Without culture, your company will have no legs to stand on.

On his blog, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne wrote, “There’s no right or wrong with culture, it is simply a combination of [the] natural personality of the founding team, in addition to proactive work, to push the culture in a desired direction and to maintain certain values.”

Since the beginning, Buffer has made culture a priority. At each stage of its business, it’s assessed its company culture and made changes based on the company’s growth. As your company grows, you must also scale your culture. And that will almost certainly mean that the culture for a three-person team will look very different from the culture for a 20-person team.

Related: Strong Company Culture Fattens The Bottom Line

4. Stick to your values

In essence, your culture is your people. Without great people, you can’t have a great culture. That means you need to define what you want your culture to be like from the beginning – starting with whom you hire.

In an article on Medium, Skillshare CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn wrote, “Because the best cultures derive from actions people take, it’s imperative to define expectations around optimal behaviors, which set a foundation for a value system.”

To ensure all new employees fit in with their culture, Skillshare developed specific hiring guidelines based on its core values. This allowed the company to build a team focused on common goals so people would be able to work together successfully.

5. Show appreciation

Not every employee needs to have fancy benefits like free lunches, yoga classes and snacks – but perks like those don’t hurt, either. Squarespace offers some exciting benefits for its employees, including flexible vacations, catered meals, relaxation spaces and occasional guest lecturers. The company was even named one of the best places to work in New York City in 2013 by Crain’s New York Business.

Employees appreciate being taken care of, but that’snot the sole reason they want to work for a company. Squarespace also boasts a flat organisational structure, which means there is no hierarchy or levels of management. This creates an open space for employees to collaborate and make their voices heard as well as gain access to the company’s leadership.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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How The Digital World Has Impacted HR

Here are a few ways in which HR has changed.

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Almost every conversation that happens within a business environment is around growth and how technology is changing the way we do business. With few industries left untouched, the digital world has radically changed the way individuals work, creating an even bigger demand for real-time experiences.

The HR department deals with an influx of messages and emails on a daily basis, so in order to make things easier, digital has introduced a variety of different online tools that have certainly helped set the tone for the future of organisational management. With employee cultures, engagement and productivity being a few of the most important topics circulated internally, HR has a fundamental part to play in getting existing employees to adopt a digital mindset that supports this new-age culture.

The quicker businesses take advantage of technology to manage performance, make the hiring process easier and give people access to their own personal information, the quicker it will separate traditional workplace thinking from today’s thinking.

Here are a few ways in which HR has changed:

Cloud computing and online apps

With previous admin and other HR tasks being done by hand, cloud computing has now made everything faster and simpler. Professionals now have access to the latest online tools that will help streamline processes and allow individuals instant access to their own personal information without having to ask for it. This also speeds up the process and takes a lot of extra, unnecessary work off HRs shoulders.

Related: Is Leveraging Your Resources Getting The Job Done Properly?

In the upcoming years, companies can expect cloud-based HR systems to become more automated and mobile friendly. This means that HR and management will be able to access employee payrolls, CV applications and more, with just the click of a button.

People analytics

One of the many benefits that digital has created for HR is the availability of employee data. More companies have started using online applications to monitor employee performance and company productivity. HR departments have started tracking employee behaviour and patterns through their selected app, making employee feedback easier and more efficient. If any employees have complaints, questions or queries, logging these requests online will make it easier for HR to deal with, considering the amount of content they receive, every day. This will also help them to make more effective decisions.

It’s no secret that a company’s most valuable asset is their people, and when looking to motivate employees, track employee training and individual performance or set up a training programme, then online is the way to go. By having a more holistic understanding of your people and how they’re performing, HR can better support a culture of feedback, engagement and motivation. This kind of approach will also enable employees to better align their personal goals to bigger business objectives.

Real-time feedback

Because the digital age has created the impression that things can get done quickly, in real-time, employees feel the need to give and receive feedback with an instant response. Real-time evaluation is much more effective for something that needs to change than an annual or quarterly review would be.

If new procedures, policies, meetings or activities get announced, employees can immediately give their feedback on a specific topic or outcome. This will also help you know when to make changes both within the organisation and with employees. For example, employees who don’t measure up to their KPI standards can be subjected to additional training or can be let go in favour of someone else who can come in and do the job better than they do.

Related: What Happened To The Workplace? How To Make It More Human

AI, VR and AR

Gone are the days where robots, VR and AR were simply jargon used among tech geeks. These terms have officially made it to everyday conversations, between business owners, employees and HR leaders. Virtual Reality (VR) which can be identified as a recreation of reality, is now being harnessed by companies in their training activities, as well as Augmented Reality (AR) which enhances technology. These elements are starting to become far more integrated into internal activities, helping employers engage better with employees, making activities more interactive and fun.

While many advancements have been made to the HR department and even HR management courses at colleges, there are countless others to look forward to. New tech innovations are introduced every day, creating even greater opportunities for businesses to align their goals with HR.

Professionals will need to keep up to date with the latest trends and develop their own strategies to stay within the path of progress. Much like all things digital, we all have mixed emotions when it comes to new trends but in order for companies to stay relevant, they will need to adapt their company goals to meet these challenges. Technology is only going to keep moving forward.

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A Culture Of Discipline Critical For SMMEs To Thrive

Employees are the heart and soul of every organisation, especially for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs).

Thabang Rapuleng

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Employees are the heart and soul of every organisation, especially for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). As a result, the implementation, as well as enforcement of clear workplace policies and practices is critical to the success of these companies.

With South African Labour Law as strict as it is, we are still finding a significant number of SMMEs that do not have any formal policies and procedures, which increases the risk of these companies not complying with labour laws.

This is often as a result of SMMEs not having the necessary manpower or finances to have fully-fledged human resources (HR) departments. It can therefore be a common occurrence to find SMME owners at the helm of HR divisions.

An owner-run HR department will also not necessarily be overly familiar with labour laws. The company will often do something that is “good for business” but not advisable in terms of the law. This could lead to poor decisions being made and could be detrimental to the future of the company.

Related: 3 Steps To Find And Keep Top Talent In Your Business

Poor communication of policies and procedures is another area of concern for many SMMEs, resulting in employees often being unaware of HR policies and making them likely to infringe on these policies. New employees may also find it difficult to adapt to the business and employees could end up losing what could have been a valuable asset to a growing business.

A culture of discipline is essential

Discipline with regards to the enforcement of policies must be considered as a day-to-day management function, rather than a once-off or ad hoc event. This approach will ensure an issue is resolved before it spirals out of control.

For example, if an employee takes an extended lunch break, and the employer allows it to happen, it will send a message to other employees that this is perfectly acceptable. Employers will soon find other employees adopting a similar approach, possibly resulting in a large-scale disciplinary process. If the employer took the time and initiated a disciplinary discussion with the one employee, it would have communicated to other staff that this type of behaviour is not tolerated, avoiding a potentially bigger issue.

This is not just an issue in SMMEs. CDH often finds large corporates also struggling to maintain discipline on a day-to-day basis. In some cases, corporates tend to wait until an employee has made a significant mistake or serious act of negligence before intervening.

Record-keeping is your ally

Keeping a record of all disciplinary matters is an essential part of creating a culture of discipline in the workplace. It is critical that all verbal and written warnings are recorded and kept in the employee’s file.

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

Under South African Labour Law, an employee must always be allowed to state his/her case in all disciplinary matters, irrespective of the seriousness of the infringement.

Before the employer issues a verbal or written warning, the employer must notify the employee of his/her infringement. The employees must then be given the opportunity to state their case and if the employer is not satisfied with their explanation, the employer may then legally issue the warning.

For more serious matters, which verbal or written warnings will not solve, you must follow more formal steps, such as disciplinary hearings. However, if you maintain a culture of discipline on a daily basis, you will rarely have issues escalating to such a degree.

Correcting an overall workplace culture is far more difficult than rectifying a small incident. When an employer has to correct an entire culture that is deeply entrenched in their business, the process can be more expensive and take much longer.

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