6 January 2013
As this is the first of my blogs for 2013, it makes sense to lay out one of my intentions for the year. I put the majority of successes in every aspect of my life down to writing clear goals. I set them in both my business and personal life, and I have goals for my family and even colleagues and friends.
There is something tangible that happens once you have written down your intentions. It helps all the more if you share them too, as you are forced to stick to your guns on whatever intentions you laid out. Most of all, it gives you somewhere to aim. When there are multiple people involved, it helps to focus everyone’s intentions on the path ahead.
This year’s goal is to ensure that every single person in UKFast gets to climb Snowdon in 2013. Why? Because it’s been at the heart of our culture since the day we set up UKFast. Long before we could afford the luxury of Castell Cidwm, we camped, but ultimately nothing stood in our way of spending quality time getting to know our team and them us. Where better than in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park, where your mobile phone or internet seldom works!
The achievement of climbing the highest mountain in England and Wales always makes people smile. Not always on the way up, but when they reach the summit and the endorphins kick in, you can see the euphoria in everyone. It’s the sharing of moments like this that bond us all and I love encouraging this.
So, to kick start the year, I invited my directors down to the Snowdon Lake House, or Castell Cidwm as it’s known locally, for a few days. They knew we’d have something unusual for them as most of them have climbed the mountain before.
We had dinner and then, as I handed out head torches to everyone, I explained that we’d be climbing Snowdon in the dark.
The itinerary was breakfast at 4am and everyone was to be ready in waterproofs to set off by 6am.
The morning went to plan and, whilst none of us got much sleep, we drove to the car park and set off in pitch black.
Climbing a mountain in the dark is precarious and preparation is key to it being a safe and fun trip. Head torches, maps, local knowledge and the right equipment are all essential.
And here is the importance of a goal. Knowing where you are all going and having a clear objective on how to get there sounds simple but when you are guiding 20 people along ridges in the rain and blistering wind, with cloud all around you, making the black of night even more treacherous, you have to measure progress constantly, counting the numbers in the party, to guarantee a successful trip.
It’s amazing how such a potentially unpopular idea, laid out as a challenge, becomes something that is incredibly exciting.
The few days were a great success and everyone got to sit around the fireplace in the house and share their business and personal goals.
As an employer, it’s all too easy to think staff responsibilities stop at salary and the usual list of standard benefits. It’s too easy to exaggerate on a careers page to lure people in.
But then what?
Yes, we can attract great candidates but eventually people are going to get despondent and pick up on the fact that they have been misled.
I have met business people who genuinely believe that they really push the boat out when it comes to staff benefits, yet if you asked their teams, you’d get a completely different picture. I was at a round table event and successful business leader Rob Cotton, said, “we all do that Lawrence!” when referring to going the extra mile with employee engagement.
Whilst Rob’s track record as a businessman speaks volumes, do business owners realise the lengths some businesses are going to and just what is being done out there? It’s not just the Googles and the Facebooks who are pushing the boat out.
I know many employers who feel, “What’s the point? I already pay them to turn up!”
And turn up they will, then switch off.
I remember hearing someone talk on the subject of staff levels of engagement some time last year. It was a global poll and Britain and the US came in at around 16th and 17th, with China and India winning with 1st and 2nd places.
The first issue an employer comes across is the challenge with the tax and the fact that any form of entertainment is classed as an employee benefit so the staff member should technically pay tax.
The second sting in the tail is that the amount you pay isn’t fully tax deductible either, so you can’t put the expense against your tax bill.
So why should we do it?
Personally, I am great believer in eating and drinking with my team, whether it be at my house for round tables or just a barbecue, or even having a quick drink on a Friday after work. I think it shows that you value people’s time when you find the time outside of work to hook up.
As the business gets bigger, how do you engage larger teams? This is a challenge that we are facing, like many other businesses, as the team grew to almost 200 in 2012.
We settled on the idea of having regular events across the year where everyone is invited. My favourite of these involved the friends and families; simple drinks and nibbles after work with mulled mine and beers, where hundreds of people turned up and congregated to see where their kids, wives, husbands and brothers work. We brought a grand piano up to the 28th floor of City Tower and I got an old friend to play Christmas carols.
Charity events are a great way of bringing people together too. You both strengthen your business at the same time as you strengthen the community. The UKFast team (including my 2 girls) helped out at the homeless Shelter at the Cathedral over Christmas. I was moved at just how many people wanted to help and what everyone brought in for some of Manchester’s less fortunate.
It’s important to understand that I am not preaching that we are better in any way than other businesses, as I know Manchester’s business community has a strong charitable nature and this is to be encouraged. Each business has its unique points and what works for one might not work for another. However, I do believe that, if you are wanting to strengthen your team or management, these are the best ways that we have found and they continue to help us make UKFast one of the fastest growing tech companies on the internet. I think it’s been a part of why we have been successful in the Sunday Times Best Companies. It would be great to see more North West businesses in the list.
Whatever your goals for 2013, I wish you the very best.
PS. If you fancy coming on one of our crazy trips, there are lots of jobs and opportunities up for grabs at the moment. Why not call our friendly recruitment team?