26 July 2010

“Why should I invest in my staff? I already pay them very well. I dont want to socialise with them, they work for me!” These are some of the common responses you hear from business people. And there lies the problem. The “them and us” philosophy. A manager is someone who manages and evaluates peoples KPI’s. Dross! If you are part of a well organised unit, a manager will know his or her team inside out and will be socialising with their team regularly. I don’t mean at a token Christmas Party, I mean a real togetherness. And yes when you do celebrate something together, do it in style. We had our UKFast 10 Year Anniversary and held it at the Palace Hotel, Manchester with a sit down black tie dinner. We reinacted every part of our wedding reception which was in the same building 7 years earlier, with the exception of wedding attire. We thought, what is the best party we’d ever been to? Our wedding, was the obvious answer. The result; lets throw a humungous party for our team, their families and our friends of UKFast. What a party!

We even had Clem Curtis and the Foundations as the band and the entire squad of Sale Sharks players, girlfriends and wives came too. Clem celebrated his 69th birthday that day and still rocked the house like he did back in the 70’s.

This years annual party is even bigger. To celebrate an amazing first half of the year and for just being in business together, we are having UKFest. Yes that is UKFest and not a typo. It stands for UKFestival. We are throwing a weekend festival for friends and family of UKFast down in Wales on the Castell Cidwm estate, and if I can convince the farmer behind to borrow his field, we can squeeze in some extra tents and portaloos and invite even more guests.

But its not just parties and nights out. Your team mates need constant training, their environment needs to be just right. People are sensitive. Quite often, new starters bring with them associations of what businesses are really like. It’s their first hand experience from a previous job and they have the association firmly set in their mind that management equals pain and inconsistency and all businesses are the same.

Sometimes you can never break that association and people go through their lives really not enjoying their job.

We are currently in the process of kitting out our office with a huge amount of greenery. It is partly to celebrate the start of a brand new business venture with a friend of mine who has been in the world of trees and horticulture for 17 years with his lovely wife Clair. It’s also a great excuse for me to have fun and reinforce that by creating a fun environment.

So once you’ve created the Best Place To Work, what then?

I am a great believer in working with people to get them to be their happiest they can possibly be. But you know what, sometimes you just cant please everyone. If you have an individual who doesn’t quite get your core values and what you really stand for, they will probably work against you. Not necessarilly deliberately, but nevertheless, by them not “buying into” your culture and philosophies, they can cause a huge amount of damage. If that person is in a senior position, you have even more trouble.

I read a book called The Extra Mile that focusses on alignment and engagement. The 2 buzz words of corporate HR.

Objective number one is go get everyone aligned with your way of thinking, then get the most engaged people into positions of seniority (as long as they fit the mould) and then work towards getting every individual engaged.

Easier said than done and it is an ongoing quest when you have hundreds of staff. But it is possible. UKFast is living proof of it and although we are more a work in progress than the finished article, we are having fun learning about each other in the process.

The same book states clearly that if you have a manager or someone in a senior position who is either disengaged, or engaged but not aligned, you are in for a rocky ride, but there’s enough to discuss on that topic to warrant a dedicated blog.

I love puzzles. Getting your team right is the ultimate puzzle. It is like doing the rubiks cube in the dark!

So do people really understand the importance of alignment and engagement? I think not. It amazes me how many office environments I see or hear about that are simply not places I’d want to work. And working from an industrial unit is not an excuse either. I went to see James Timpson’s offices in Wythenshaw. Apart from the fact James was building a swimming pool off the staff canteen area, everything about his office was simply a “Wow!” And that being said, I don’t think you could find a managing director who places people and their well being higher on the agenda. James is a credit to British business and an example to other business men and women who want to build something extraordinary. He not only followed in his father’s footsteps, he strode on ahead and paved the way for a new era of “upside down management.”

And so after my FD at UKFast put it so succinctly. “We have colourful staff, but the office is a bit grey” I thought it time to take our “fun initiative” to a new level and start living some of our values! You can always do more, and if you ask yourself that question, can I do more at every stage, you will normally get better results.

So does it pay to invest in your staff? Absolutely! Invest in the workspace, training in every aspect of people and career development. I am just beginning to see the fruits of our labour, and it is worth while. It is difficult to quantify human emotion, we all understand monetary values, but when it comes to effort and passion, we don’t have a scale to measure it. As a result, I think it falls by the wayside in order of importance in 21st century business.

With regards to the office environment, when people ask “what is the rationale behind such a beautiful office?” I simply  say, “when I come to work I want to feel a million dollars. I want my team to feel te same.”

If you have any comments or ideas on how we can continue to develop at UKFast, I’d be very glad to hear from you.

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