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How Jacqui van der Riet Keeps A Finger On The Pulse Of A R200 Million Business

Jacqui van der Riet believes in not letting go. As UDM International has grown, she has endeavoured to stay as involved with employees as ever. For her, it’s not about micromanaging, but staying involved and engaged.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Jacqui van der Riet
  • Company: UDM International
  • Turnover: R200 million
  • What they do: UDM International is an up-market direct marketing company. Established in 1995 it currently employs 400 staff members. Its focus is on direct sales campaigns in the insurance, cosmetics and educational fields.
  • Visit: udm.co.za

The first job Jacqui van der Riet ever had was as an assistant at a law firm. The experience left a very bad taste in her mouth.

“As an assistant, you didn’t matter much. You were treated very, very differently from the attorneys and partners,” recalls Van Der Riet.

It was a very hierarchical environment, dominated by impressive designations and plush corner offices. Even today, as managing director of UDM International, she remembers the place well, and she has made it her mission to create a very different working environment.

UDM International operates in a tough sector. It’s a direct-marketing company, which means that it operates call centres. And call centres are not always the easiest to manage. There are tough targets, young and inexperienced employees, rude and irate voices at the other end of the line.

UDM, however, has managed to do something quite impressive: It has created a call centre environment that is simultaneously successful and fun. Unlike the visions of brutal boiler rooms that the term ‘call centre’ tends to conjure up, UDM is a place where employees are not only effective, but also happy and self-motivated.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top

How has the company accomplished this? It all comes down to hiring well and managing intelligently.

1. Hire slowly

UDM International is always on the lookout for new talent. In fact, a fresh intake of trainees arrives every Monday morning. Importantly, though, becoming a trainee in no way guarantees that you’ll be offered a permanent position. A mere 5% of trainees are eventually offered jobs.

Many companies might balk at this kind of approach — spending so much time and money on trainees who won’t even end up becoming employees. For Van Der Riet, however, it’s the only way that the professionalism and culture of the company can be maintained.

Indeed, it’s all too easy to underestimate the long-term effect of a bad hire. It will cost you time and money — more time and more money than a trainee programme ever will. Moreover, it’s notoriously hard to judge the potential of an employee based on a CV and an interview. A great interviewee is not necessarily a great employee. For these reasons, a trainee programme makes a lot of sense.

“You can get a great sense of who will work out, and who won’t,” says Van Der Riet. “Also, by the time a trainee finishes the programme, he or she is ready to really tackle the job.”

UDM has an entire training floor where trainees receive a lot of coaching and assistance. There is regular training, and experienced agents often sit in on calls to help trainees through calls and improve
their performance.

Even after trainees become full-time employees, they spend a few more months on the training floor. “We like to ease them into things,” says Van Der Riet. “Staying on the training floor provides a bit of a safety net, and ensures that we can keep an eye on trainees until they become truly competent and confident.”

Van Der Riet also spends time with each trainee. “Every Friday, I meet with each trainee individually. It’s a way for me to keep my trainers performing well and to find out about the trainees. One of the best things I ever started doing was setting up regular one-on-one meetings with trainees. Firstly, it allows me to see the potential in a person. UDM is very data driven, but the data doesn’t always tell you everything. By actually spending time with someone, you often see potential that the data doesn’t reveal. You discover that, with a little bit of targeted coaching, someone’s potential can be unlocked.

“Meeting with trainees also shows them that you care about them. When trainees discover that the MD or CEO is taking time to get to know them and review their performance personally, they tend to rise to the occasion.”

Related: Kay Vittee’s 3 Steps To Winning The Talent War

2. Use talent smartly

udm-international-marketing

The problem with many sales environments is that the best sales people end up closing the easiest deals, leaving the newbies to try and crack the hard sales. It’s easy to understand why this happens: Experienced sales people develop solid client lists, which means they spend more time selling to existing customers than new prospects. They often also receive the most promising leads.

By letting this happen, though, you waste resources. All the training and experience represented by a salty sales person isn’t tapped into when trying to turn weak new leads into long-term clients.

Van Der Riet together with her clients realised this, and came up with an innovative solution to the problem.

“I asked my best people if they would be willing to join a new ‘elite’ team that would focus on closing the hard deals. In exchange, they would be given a great working environment. They were moved to a private area, allowed to choose their own high-end chairs and served coffee and snacks all day long.

“I was surprised how keen people were to sign up. And it wasn’t just about the perks. These driven sales people were responding to the challenge of closing the harder deals.”

But perks are still important, especially when you’re trying to attract top talent. “I realised early on that we were competing for the best people with large corporates that offered great perks and great salaries. So, if we wanted to be able to attract the best talent, we needed to compete.

“Also, we ask a lot of our people. Our standards are high. So we believe that we should reward them accordingly. We pay for Gautrain travel, provide good medical aid, give women higher than normal maternity leave benefits, etc. We also pay salaries that we are told are well above the industry standard.”

Related: Out-The-Box Thinkers Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu Share Their Partnership Secrets

3. Manage with data

As alluded to earlier, UDM International is a very data-driven organisation.

“We manage and measure just about everything,” says Van Der Riet. “And we don’t just look at performance, but at all over productivity. We can see how often someone goes to the bathroom, how long their lunch breaks typically are and how much time elapses between every call made.

“But the aim is not to treat employees like children — to micromanage them and criticise their behaviour. We use it to help them. We don’t hire the sort of people you need to keep tabs on anyway. We hire people who are driven and want to do well. So we use the information to help them see how they can improve performance. Employees often come to us because they feel like they’re not reaching their full potential. Thanks to the data, we can help them see how they can improve performance. Often, a small tweak — a slightly shorter lunch break or less downtime between calls — can result in a significant improvement.”

Key to this approach is the fact that UDM encourages each employee to view his or her desk as a personal business.

“We view our employees as entrepreneurs, really, and it’s in the best interests of everyone to have them performing well. It’s our job to enable them to do their job to the best of their abilities.”

That’s where data comes in. “I really don’t believe in letting go as a company grows and getting less involved with the day-to-day running of things. It might work for some companies, but it doesn’t work here. As with the one-on-one meetings with trainees, I find things go better when I’m more involved and keep my finger on the pulse.

“The best way to do this is through data. It helps you to cut through the rubbish and get at the heart of a situation. I get a performance update every single afternoon, so I always know what’s happening. I never get a shock at the end of the month. Data is there to help you, provided you know what you’re measuring, and you use that information appropriately.” 

Take note

Data can be a great tool to empower employees and improve performance, provided it’s used correctly.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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