While most focus may go on dealing with members of staff not pulling their weight, business leaders must be careful to not ignore their best performing staff who are the most important assets.
Businesses which help talent flourish can improve retention, motivation and financial performance. To find out how, Be the Business spoke to three companies benefiting from giving employees the opportunity to provide regular feedback, suggest new product or strategy ideas, develop their skill sets and choose their own working patterns.
Assault courses, marathons and go-kart racing might not be many business owners’ idea of talent development, but Ayrshire-based transport group Maxi Haulage believes it’s been the best route to better performance.
Alan Miles, the company’s managing director, explained that these energetic activities are part of the company’s annual development scheme, which sees mostly younger employees take part in an intensive two-week training programme. “We are in the fifth year of the programme now and part of it challenges the delegates to raise money for charity. They have to find a way to do so as part of a team using networking, analytical and creative skills. It gets their brains working and over the five years we’ve raised £40,000 for charities,” he said.
The programme also teaches the staff more about the business – such as how it gains work, works out prices, makes profit, develops customer relationships and fits in the wider industry.
“They hear from me and other experts in the company about our careers and the mistakes and good decisions we’ve made during them,” Miles explained. “We take up to eight every year and they are mostly, though not all, from our younger members of staff with between two and four years of experience. They apply and are chosen for the course after an interview process and psychometric tests. We are looking for people with potential. We find that in our industry that it is difficult to hire from the outside, so we want to develop our own young talent.”
After the programme, Miles said, he looks for delegates to “immediately impact profits”. This is ideally done by building closer relationships with each other, “talk and question more” back at their depots, come forward with ideas, mentor and look to be mentored and “develop a passion for a specialist subject”.
He added: “We’ve had 38 people go through the courses to date. They get to know themselves better and develop a greater understanding of their strengths and weaknesses with some progressing to managerial positions. By empowering them and giving them confidence it has helped the business, which is growing turnover by ten per cent each year. Our retention rates have also benefited, with only two people of the 38 leaving us for elsewhere.”
Goldman Sachs insight
Rich Walker, managing director, of robotic hand manufacturer Shadow Robot Company has embraced development training. Walker took part in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business growth development course for leaders back in 2012.
“Shadow Robot has been a registered company since 1997 but only really became commercialised in 2007. One of our team had to be the boss, and it was decided that I should hold the role,” he explained. “I believed the course would help me develop more leadership skills and develop and grow the business.”
The 12-day intensive course saw Walker cover issues ranging from leadership and management, to financial planning and how to grow and develop staff.
“My knowledge of and language about business changed including developing an inclusive working culture,” he stated. “We had always been focused on our people, but the 10,000 Small Business course helped me get a greater understanding of work culture, why staff remain loyal and what motivates people to do things. It’s not about money, it is about talented and interesting people being with you because they want to be.”
Taking that back to the business on a practical level meant engaging with and empowering with his best performing staff. “Our genius engineers face really difficult challenges and, as a manager, I discuss with them what exactly they need to get their projects done,” Walker explained. “It means that if one of our employees has a problem and they provide a solution to it then we say ‘great, what else do you need?’. It’s a very flat company structure. We have regular one-to-one feedback sessions but, when it comes to ideas or problem solving, we encourage a culture where they can just come and grab us to get things done quicker. We also spend a lot of time hanging around together in the pub talking about the business and supporting the team.”
Walker said Shadow Robot is more like a “theatre company” than a traditional business. “We are a group coming together, a collaboration, to create something great. It is not just a way of thinking and behaving, we are also an employee-owned company, so it is very much our staff’s robot company.”
“It’s a culture which is helping us grow with staff numbers climbing by 30 per cent a year to our present 35.”
Trust your people
Another way of empowering talent is through the group’s approach to remote working with software engineers based around the globe. “Our chief technical architect, Ugo, came to me and said he wanted to move to Brest in France with his family. He felt London was too Parisian a city! He thought he would have to quit, but I said there was no need. We wanted to keep him, so we created a subsidiary in France and he now works from home,” Walker said. “It’s the old adage of if an employee has an issue then you need to ‘hold all calls’ and address them immediately.”
Finding working patterns which keep talented staff happy, motivated and feeling empowered is practised by word of mouth sales platform Verve. Co-founder Callum Negus-Fancey has created a particularly innovative working culture where all meetings are optional and everyone can take as much holiday as they need in order to perform at their best.
“We have offices in London, Los Angeles and most recently Las Vegas. In each we spend a huge amount of time and resources in setting the culture,” he explained. “We have created an environment based on the drivers of intrinsic motivation which are freedom, ownership and mastery as we believe this gets the best out of people. Freedom and ownership is about working in the way that gets the best results; our team have clear goals and the ability to choose how they reach them, including when and where they work, the meetings they attend and now much holiday they need. Mastery is about helping someone understand the overlap of what they love and what they are best at, and then working with them to get there.”
He admitted that this new way of working does take people time to adjust to. “It’s a behavioural change and a process of unlearning what they have experienced before,” he said. “Our culture is built on unlocking peoples passion and potential because it creates better results.”