29 November 2010

UKFast is continually being hailed as a great company and I’d be barmy to challenge people dishing out fantastic compliments. On the outside, it is easy to look a great deal more polished. But if you were to ask your clients, “honestly, hand on your heart now, just how good are we as a business?” Would every single one of them reply with absolute certainty, “your business is flawless!”

Certainly not, and there starts our journey.

A little like Jim Collin’s theory on ‘the Purpose.” A business needs an unattainable goal to aim at for the rest of their days (eg. Disney and Walt’s “Purpose” To Make People Happy).

Just like a purpose, we need another goal, STANDARDS. We can do this easily from the comfort of the boardroom, where quite often we are protected from a disillusioned customer or team members who might challenge the status quo.

It is maintaining the standards that is the ongoing challenge. Anyone who sells a business and stops work, quickly finds out that they are bored. This is because maintaining high standards is more than a full time job, it’s a vocation, where you are never allowed to settle.

Before I explain, I want to set the record straight. I am a big believer that UKFast is an awesome organisation but do we have challenges maintaining our highest standards? Absolutely, every single hour of every day!

So, how do you maintain standards? And what are standards?

I believe “you get what you tolerate.” So, whatever you tolerate becomes the level where you will settle. If you tolerate poor standards you will get poor results.

It’s when you choose not to tolerate something that the complications kick in. If you are unhappy with a standard and you refuse to tolerate it, you need a driver to influence future behaviour.

There are only 2 driving influences you can use, Fear and Praise.

Fear is a negative driver, resulting in pain when something goes wrong.

Praise is a positive driver resulting in positive emotions such as empowerment, confidence, joy.

If you are successful in a negative environment and you have been fearful of failure, you immediately feel relief. Relief is an important emotion, but it is not a motivator. In fact it is the opposite. Once you experience relief it is far easier to switch off than re-engage. If you are no longer fearful and you have been trained to respond to fear, you sit back and savour the feeling of comfort.

If you are successful in a positive environment where you are encouraged, it is highly likely that the emotions created from praise when you do well create positive emotions, such as joy, happiness. These emotions don’t allow you to settle. Quite the opposite. They build momentum and determination. They provide rewarding feelings for everyone around and people feel included.

In an office environment, if you berate someone in public, imagine what this does for the person you are embarrassing and also for the rest of the team. Everyone gets demotivated.

It gets more complicated too, as most business owners use a blend of both fear and praise. Some choose to use just the one. In my experience it is far harder to manage both fear and praise well. It’s predominantly the business owner who focuses on one of the drivers, fear or praise, that usually has the more extreme results. I use the word extreme, not better, because unless you try the opposite way for a sustained period, you have no measure of just how successful your business might have been if you’d adopted the opposite strategy.

The reason why I believe fear and pain is difficult to balance, is because people like consistency.

When people know a business is managed with an iron rod, they are able to plan to avoid the implications of doing something wrong. The fear is a great driver, (argued by many business people as the greatest of all drivers) as people will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid pain.

If you predominantly rule your business with an undercurrent of fear, but you try a different approach for a time and start praising people, it has no impact. People are still fearful. Now you are just viewed as inconsistent and people don’t know where you draw the line.

There is no right answer. You have to find the balance for what works for your work force. In my encounters, it amazes me how many more people use fear as the driver over pleasure. Personally, I think it is counter productive. I think you get short term results and high staff turnover which, in itself, is costly. Life is to be enjoyed and who are we to spoil the party?

We only have a 3rd of our lives to ourselves; we sleep another 3rd and the remaining 3rd we spend at work. I regard it is my duty to ensure that I create a space where everyone has as much fun as humanly possible.

We all have our own ways, our own styles and it’s important to respect each others’ values but I love influencing others to improve their environments because so many people benefit. We have a healthy profit margin because people work significantly harder for UKFast than they might for a previous employer. I know this is true, yet people often say to me, “it’s easy because you turnover millions and are very profitable.” Well, we didn’t always, yet we have always invested in the team and their morale. And when I use the word invested, our biggest investment was our enthusiasm and passion for people. All people, colleagues, clients, prospects and even competitors.

I have lost great staff who have been poached because they wanted to try something else. It doesn’t take long before the phone rings and they are discussing jobs with us again. People who were once successful, inspired and driven beyond belief simply drift in the wrong environment.

I come back to the thought I wrote earlier, “You get what you tolerate.” If you read between the lines with this statement, who is at fault? The person you are tolerating or you for tolerating them?

If you want to be successful, raise your standards, stop tolerating and keep praising. This applies to everyone, not just business owners. Managers, mums, dads, everyone!

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