NatWest Content Live: The SME Toolkit: understanding your staff

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The below article was published in NatWest Content Live on 27th June 2017. You can read the original article here. 

For an SME to flourish, it’s essential that business owners know what the members of their team are really thinking.

Dealing with surprises is part and parcel of the SME owner’s journey, and while some of these unexpected events will be so out of left field as to be impossible to see coming, it is feasible to mitigate against others.

A smart owner can take steps to ensure he or she has established clear lines of communication with the team. If you and your staff are on the same page, the chances of achieving your business goals will increase. If, however, you’re all on different wavelengths, you shouldn’t be surprised when key hires suddenly walk out or productivity takes an unexpected nosedive.

According to Engage For Success, a voluntary movement that promotes employee engagement, almost two thirds of staff say they have more to offer in terms of skills than they are being asked to demonstrate at work. It’s in an SME owner’s interest to recognise this and channel each individual’s abilities accordingly.

“It’s critical that an SME owner and his team are on the same wavelength,” says employee engagement consultant Lisa Pantelli, “although it can be a challenge for SME owners to get this right, partly because they are often going from a situation where they are so heavily invested in the success of the business to one where they have to trust that, actually, those around them want the business to succeed as well.”

Dealing with dysfunction

Pantelli’s description of a dysfunctional workplace – work not being completed, an increase in sickness levels, soaring customer complaints – will sound depressingly familiar to some, and the easiest way to prevent it from becoming a reality, she says, is to improve communication with the team. “What goes through a business owner’s mind is often quite different from how an employee processes information. The owner tends to see the bigger-picture strategy, and it’s important they are clear with the team about the ambitions of the company and what role the employees will play in this.”

What no entrepreneur wants, says Simon Monaghan of business consultants Business Doctors, is the SME equivalent of the officer being shot by his own disgruntled troops. “What you want is everybody aligned and working towards the same goal,” he says. “If you have that, you’re much more likely to develop a happy team.”

For Callum Negus-Fancey, co-founder of StreetTeam, provider of peer-to-peer sales software for live entertainment, trying to achieve good comms with a dispersed workforce (60 people in London, California, Texas and Poland) was challenging. “What we did was sync up the time we socialise together globally,” he says, “which means running monthly events, attending festivals and sharing photos of them on our company Slack channel. We then cover it in our monthly magazine, which is a good chance for everyone to get to know each other better.”

As well as this, Negus-Fancey has set up a weekly ‘town hall’ video conference where everyone can find out what’s going on in the business, ask questions and voice any concerns.

Happy staff are more productive

Charlie Mullins, well-known founder of Pimlico Plumbers, says one of the best business decisions he ever made was investing £250,000 in a state-of-the-art on-site gym. “We have two personal trainers who run classes throughout the week, from boxing to yoga, and these are usually crammed,” says Mullins. “Some days I join in and it’s great to see so many people involved. I’m a huge believer in the idea that happy staff are the most productive.”

“What you want is everybody aligned and working towards the same goal. If you have that, you’re much more likely to develop a happy team” Simon Monaghan, Business Doctors

Not every SME can afford to go to such lengths, of course, but Monaghan says that a pat on the back – in any form – can go a long way towards making an employee feel you’re in this together. It’s not about trying to be their best friend but about letting them know they’re appreciated and their input is vital.

And if you do start to sense an ill wind, never be afraid to ask employees what’s gone wrong. “It’s all too easy to make assumptions about what people are thinking,” says Pantelli. “If you really want to know, ask them.”

Me and my team

Five business leaders reveal their top tips for boosting that all-important boss-employee synergy.

  1. Reveal the inner workings

“I try to make it feel like we’re all in it together – a team in the truest sense of the word,” says Emilie Holmes, founder of Good & Proper Tea. “It’s not for show – it’s how I really feel.” Holmes says she is transparent with the whole team, and has found that understanding the inner workings of the business makes the role of each employee feel more important.

  1. Freedom to shine

Says Ben Smith, CEO of virtual reality experts Laduma: “Getting input from team members not only makes them feel a part of the big challenges, but also helps team leaders to correct oversights and fine-tune their approach. Above all, it gets everyone aligned and invested in the outcome.”

  1. Run together

“Exercise with your team,” says Jason Powell, CEO of Niche Finance Group. “I run a circuit-training class once a week before work. It’s is a great way to connect with the team.”

  1. Rethink your hiring practices

“We’re all on the same wavelength because we set out to build a team with intent,” says Ciaron Dunne, CEO of digital marketing and publishing company Genie Ventures. “We completely reinvented our recruitment process.” Dunne says each candidate meets around eight members of the team in a quickfire ‘speed dating’ process, and everyone provides feedback. “We’ve been able to build an incredible, aligned team with a 94% retention rate,” he says.

  1. The informal touch

Angela Middleton, founder of training and recruitment agency MiddletonMurray, uses WhatsApp to keep in touch with her team when she is out of the office. It’s an informal way, she says, for employees to approach her about anything. “We also encourage everyone to share pictures of themselves doing what they love on WhatsApp, too, which helps to build a supportive culture,” she says.

By Content Live

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