“The battle for talent is fierce and you need to put resources behind their personal development in multiple spheres – help them to achieve both within and outside your business.”
Be brave and invest when necessary. You need to always be forward-looking and always thinking of the future. Many owners want to take money out, rather than invest for the long term. Depending on the ownership structure, you will need to approach these conversations differently.
Part of the role of the board is to have these conversations and try to persuade the owner(s) to invest appropriately rather than always take out every penny of profit.
It’s not just investment of cash either – it’s also being prepared to do things better than your competitors, to take people off the front line and supply them with what they need in order to think of innovative solutions to problems.
Owners and the board need everyone aligned, excited by the vision and bought in, in order to pursue growth. One individual has to start the process, but there’s no point in going ahead with the investment unless you can sell it to the entire business.
It’s a bit of a dark art – being courageous and ambitious about what’s possible, but also daring to dream big. You must accept that something may take two or three years, even with a level of urgency, to have an impact on your business.
What’s your view on engaging the customer?
Do you really know and understand your customer, and do you know your market? It can be easy as a mid size business to become quite insular. If you’re falling behind, are you aware of this? You can’t be if you don’t understand your customer. Do you know what your customers’ challenges are? You need to do whatever you can to achieve this. Businesses should be increasing the opportunities for senior managers and leaders to interact with customers, but you have to do it correctly.
You’ve got to always keep the customers in mind as your single most important priority. You must be willing to ask them what they think, educate them, and sometimes take a risk to delight them with something that they will really value and that makes sure you stand out from your competitors.
Value your employees, win the battle for talent
Businesses are run by people, so be willing to invest in your staff – train them well, celebrate their achievements and assist them in developing new skills. And find ways to say thank you to them for going that extra mile, whether that is through cash or simply by publicly acknowledging them in front of their peers.
It’s about how you view your employees. Do you get the most from them by command and control management, or do you see them as individuals? Does the CEO recognise them as human beings? Are you open to helping them where you can as a business, and are genuinely seeking their ideas that could help you too?
What about when times are tough and you need to reduce costs?
I’ve worked with businesses who have had to make large numbers of redundancies. I’ve also worked in stressed businesses where they have worked with the staff to reduce costs. Employee-led reduction in staff costs took longer and wasn’t perfect, but it can sometimes work better than forced redundancies in many cases – it all depends on the culture of the business.
We can’t always avoid redundancies, but we can always treat individuals as humans – even where we have to make hard decisions. Managers must take responsibility for these decisions and carry them out in a humane way so as not to lose customers or valuable people. Everyone watches how you deal with people during tough times and they judge you partly on how you go about making tough decisions.