13 February 2011

Driving into work at 5.30am, dressed in gym gear, I pulled over to get petrol. A chap dressed in shorts got out to fill up his car. He acknowledged me with a small but firm nod and, as I left, I thought to myself, ‘he looks like a good bloke’.

I always wonder who these early morning “driven” people are? Where are they going?

I have a theory. Have you ever noticed how people seem to get more irate the nearer it gets to 9.00am when driving into work? Obviously, it’s not everyone, there just seem to be more people stressed as 9 o’clock approaches.

What I need are these other people, the dynamic ones who want to squeeze every last drop out of the day.

How do I get more of these early risers on my team?

Later that morning, shortly after 8am, whilst addressing my sales team, I asked, “How many of you have been to the gym already this morning?” A handful raised their arms. The rest looked rather sleepy. I was reminded of the chap in the black BMW. I used him as an example of someone who was making the extraordinary efforts needed to better himself and live life to the absolute potential.

I made a point of saying, “We need to find out who this person is and get more of the same.” I wrote it as an action point on the white board and thought nothing more of it.

I came out of the sales meeting and my PA walked up to me, explaining that she’d had a strange email from a mystery man in a black BMW who’d seen me this morning and wanted to meet up.

Now, is this coincidence or is there something deeper here? Something working at an unconscious level? Personally, too many things like this happen to me and have done throughout my life to think it’s coincidence. The word coincidence merely exists to service the sceptics. I believe that if you focus on something hard enough it will manifest itself in time.

One of the things we consciously focussed on from the outset at UKFast was, and still is, to recruit quality people. Bill Gates’ quote sums up the need for great people:

“A people hire A people. B people Hire C people.”

We have a grading mechanism at work that I learnt from Tony Robbins: Gold, Silver, Bronze.  After going to a seminar with my wife and business partner Gail, we decided to try the grading system. What was interesting was that everyone graded each other identically and when we listed the Bronze people, the managers all turned and said, “These are the people that sap our time and resources.”

It’s no coincidence that we now have the most engaged workforce at UKFast that we have ever had? There are still serious amounts we can do to improve it further, but understanding that we are a long way from the finished article makes us focus on the continual improvements necessary to achieve the very best possible.

If I knew the answer to recruiting the perfect person, I’d bottle it and put it on the supermarket shelves. As fast as I think I have a defined formula, I find an outstanding individual who bucks the trend.

Attracting great people is one thing but it’s only part of the goal. Keeping great staff has to be even higher on every business person’s agenda these days. With tools like LinkedIn and Facebook, if you don’t give back to your team, it is highly likely they might consider alternative arrangements.

It is a never ending conundrum keeping the balance but I believe it is an absolute must.

At last year’s Christmas party, I was also able to welcome back 4 people who had left UKFast and now returned. I mentioned every one of them and publicly reminded myself of the sort of business we’d have now if they’d never left. One of the guys said that when he got the call, he couldn’t contain himself. He’d been enticed away with a bigger salary and title with all the trappings. What he or his new employer hadn’t taken into consideration is that he was never going to fit in.

We recruit on dynamic. For us, it is less about skill-set and more about personality. If you fit in, we can teach you the rest. On the other hand, big personalities in the wrong environment can be a real disruption and need a very particular style of management.

My philosophy is to invest in the selection process from the outset. I hate having to let great people go simply because they didn’t quite fit in, or that they felt the pace wasn’t right for them. So many business people shy away from spending the money on spoiling their team members, yet spend thousands on recruitment and retraining for people that they have to replace.

By keeping people, think of the recruitment fees you save. Think of the experience you keep on your team, the knowledge and depth of understanding that develops over time. It’s not to be underestimated.

The selection process at UKFast just gets harder each year.

One of our favourite uses of our training centre in Wales, Castell Cidwm is for the new recruits and for their initiation into the UKFast culture. Over the years, I have received a fair amount of criticism for my tactics of taking newly recruited people away to a remote hideaway to take them out of their comfort zone. Our model has been described by more traditional business folk as barbaric and a waste of money.

However, if you ask the members who make it, you will only hear of the satisfaction that comes from people who exceeded their own expectations. People inspired.

And I suppose that’s what it is all about at the end of the day. Inspiration.

I love taking people and helping them over achieve; giving them roles or responsibilities they might not ordinarily earn in other walks of life. It’s often the people who were told, “you will never amount to anything” that are the most fun to inspire. They have a point to prove and they are the ones who surprise their friends and colleagues as they develop faster than everyone else around them.

So, back to the guy driving the car who contacted me. Although he doesn’t work for me, it’s inspiring just knowing there are others out there who are prepared to put in more at their own expense. It’s self-sacrifice and it’s the only way to ensure success. Set your alarm clock 2 hours earlier, get yourself to the gym and start cramming more into every single day. I believe that you will be far more useful to your team around you.

It might sound like hard work but watch what happens. A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to do precisely that, and every year I step up and add more to my schedule. It is certainly working for me and a number of other successful people I know who adopt a very similar strategy.

See you in the gym tomorrow.

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