1 November 2009

After a focus group with fellow entrepreneurs in the design, creative and PR sector recently, I left analysing why so many businesses were owner operated and they relied on the owner for everything.

Bank managers, strategic advisors accountants, business consultants have all said to me at some point, all small businesses are about the “owner-operator” and take them away and they fail.

I have always hated this attitude and could never understand it. Until today and after sitting with fellow business people and for a change I was the MD of the biggest business there, I could see how they arrived at their theory.

We were discussing training. A subject I am passionate about and one I do not feel I am an expert at as I have so much more I want to learn. Nevertheless I have helped shape a training department at UKFast which seems to be pretty unique.

The general consensus from these owner operators was that you should outsource your training, do it once or twice a year at the most and do it externally.

This pretty much summed up peoples unanimous opinion.

When I explained my position, people were horrified. I explained that I agree with taking people away, and I am such a fan of this we bought a hotel in Wales to conduct intense training and team building programmes.

I seemed to strike a nerve and a few of the woman attacked my philosophy one saying “I wouldn’t want to work for your organisation if it were the last in the world” and another stated “you cant make people go up a mountain.”

I was amazed as Tony Fogett of a very successful web design business said  “none of may staff would ever do team building” as though it were an alien exercise. He laughed saying “we just go to the pub!”

I explained that this was a team building exercise too, the only difference was his involved alcohol and ours involved fresh air and adrenalin.

Ironically one of my team members who was a massive fan of our Snowdon trips (long before we bought the Castell Cidwm estate and Llyn Cwellyn) went to work for Code, Tony’s business. She had discussed with me coming back to UKFast however sadly this is against our company policy, she cited the team spirit as one of the best things about UKFast and one of the things she missed 

But the regular sessions in the pub obviously work for Tony as his business in my opinion is incredibly successful especially for the creative market place.

I realised though the vast difference in outlooks around the table seemed to be in direct relationship with the success of peoples businesses. 

The other business owners dismissed my theory as “inappropriate” as UKFast has over 100 employees. Even though our businesses were similar ages and Gail and I started UKFast with just the 2 of us and no staff!

The difference is simple and businesses who adopt this principal grow, businesses who don’t run the risk of failure when they grow.

‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” There is another great quotation from someone (I think Jim Collins of Stamford University) “people respect what you inpsect.”

Measuring training is imperative too. We test staff before and after their training sessions so we know how much they have learned, this enables us to measure the trainer’s performance.

We have a TV department, which films all our sessions. Each film is edited and placed in their personal dashboard where they can download them on to their company supplied ipods.

We include funny (not for public consumption) videos too of office parties, charity events and people tipping over in canoes at the training camp.

Two things are important to me. Alignment and engagement.

We start, believe it or not with engagement, hence the team building stuff where everyone gets to have fun, cry, break bread together and get what we call cyan coloured (UKFast) blood. The second is just as important and that is aligning everyone to the common message. Whatever department you are in at UKFast  you need to understand that excellence is the standard and nothing else is acceptable.

We were once described by a competitor who rang me up to complain about a member of my staff who had telephoned and emailed a customer of his, as a sales and marketing organisation. I think he meant it as a dig, however I was deeply complimented by this.

I have always felt we were weak in this area and therefore slow off the mark, however he and other competitors had begun to notice more activity in their sector from our team and from prospects talking about UKFast.

All this energy and passion came from training. The same training that enabled us to recruit 30 graduates in one day and have them up and running in less than 1 month.

I believe your best training is in house. You will already have champions in a variety of areas. Use the resources you have around you, have focus groups and share knowledge. You don’t have to spend huge sums of money with consultants. Often the best sessions are the simplest ones even impromptu.

A study from the writers of the book “the extra mile” cited training as the single biggest reason why people stay and leave organisations. Recognise this and act on it and I’ll see you out on the battlefield.

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