11 July 2010

Well its been an interesting week. I have lost a few staff who grew up in London and wanted to move closer to home. There is not really a lot you can do about that except wish them well and keep the door open. I used to hate losing valuable team members, but these days I take much more of a pragmatic approach. There are so many great people out there, losing someone is a massive opportunity to strengthen the team. If someone is leaving, it is fair to say they have been off their best for sometime. I have never met someone who has left at the top of their game. Even high achievers who leave with a big bang and a great final month. There is never anything in their pipeline. They have moved emotionally long before the resignation letter arrives.

I think it is Ken Blanchard who says “people never arrive in the same demotivated state as when they leave.” He blames the management, saying they deteriorate through poor leadership.

It happens at a time when 4 people return to the UKFast team, so out with the old, and in with the even older! The common theme being, “you don’t know what you have got until you haven’t got it anymore.” I am sure it is not the case for all of the people who leave UKFast. Businesses are always on the move. The direction and speed of all businesses differ. You have to find the one that suits you the most, the one that is going in the right direction and at the right speed and is full of like-minded people. You have to be realistic though, people join you for a certain duration, often mapped out as part of their career goals. Even the most motivated of people can leave if it is part of a wider career strategy.

So how do you keep staff?

Whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur, or one that is just starting out, I believe your business need an identity. You need Core Values. Now you can copy these from other businesses, yet a word of warning. It wont work. Many of our competitors have mysteriously adopted similar or identical core values and marketing initiatives, but unless they are genuine and come from within, you will not be able to live these values day in, day out. And when you attract people with similar values that you are professing to have, they will soon recognise a pretender and once you are found out, they leave. It also creates discord amongst your existing team who will voice cynicism, worse still you wont even know about this as it will be done behind closed doors.

You need to ask all your team for the words that they like to be associated with whilst at work. Words like Honest, Professional, Hard working, etc there are litterally hundreds of them to choose from. When we did this at UKFast we used a local PR agency with a good reputation to come in and do this. We felt it essential that we did not influence the process in any way.

The results were astounding. We quickly realised that every department chose the same 5 core values. He explained the rarity of such a discovery and professed “you may be on to something here!” This was back in 2003 / 2004. The prediction was right. Our core values were set, and although up to the time of the exercise we did not know what they were, ironically we were all living them. Is this an accident? I have to say yes, as I have had no formal training whatsoever to run a business and my steep leaning curve has come from getting stuck in and not being frightened of making mistakes. The irony of finding 6 departments within the business with identical values is probably down to our recruitment strategy. I think we simply employed people we felt we will all get on with. Our early strategy (although that’s a bit too posh a word for it) was people first, qualifications second. I look back with close to a decade of experience and on hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad HR strategy.

As an 11 year old business we still recruit on a very similar basis. I am not interested in CV’s or stories of someone being the best sales person in their last job. With the right attitude and values I believe I can turn anyone into an even better one. Qualifications can often be camouflage for some absolutely awful candidates.

This is why our training centre in Wales is so important to us; Castell Cidwm. If you can get through there and you are still smiling, you’ll fit in.

So how do you identify your own core values?

I’d recommend what we did at UKFast back in the early years and split up your business into teams, keep the departments together if you like and ask everyone to write down 10 values that they hold dear. I’d then encourage them to discuss them as a group and get them down to a maximum of 7. Once they have argued which ones they want. I’d make them re-do this until they come back with 4 or 5.

A business should not have too many values. It simply becomes to complicated to manage if it does. After all, you can only feel one emotion at a time. You cant feel happy and sad, frustrated and angry, bored and vexed. We are quite simple folk at the end of the day (especially us Welsh), so simplify the values as much as possible.

It is unlikely that you will get the same result we got back in 2003 and you definitely wont get the identical list of values we chose either. I have done this now with many businesses and I have never had the same result twice. What does this tell you? Never, Never copy someone else’s. By copying others, you do yourself and your business a disservice and furthermore you waste a great opportunity to unite a team.

Now that you have your core values in place and everyone is in agreement you need to invest in your staff. (Part 2)


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