8 February 2015

How important is it, in business and in life, to have a mentor? Do people achieve more when they have someone to turn to and learn from?

It’s an interesting subject, and one that I’ve been giving more thought to recently, having seen the UKFast directors put themselves forward as mentors to the managers coming up through the ranks. As well as being heartening to see, it’s also a great way of getting a cross-pollination of ideas across the business.

Personally, I think I’d have benefitted from having a great mentor. It’s a bit of a shame I didn’t find one early on, but in the same way, it sent me looking. So I’ve been all over the world looking for the right answers. I’m lucky with some of the people I now know as a direct result, so I can pick up the telephone and ask their opinion or their advice.

I believe that, at every level, you need people or businesses to aim at and, in some aspects, to emulate. Over the years, one of the things we’ve done is to look at best practice. I don’t think any one person is the finished article so it’s useful to be able to pick up an eclectic mix from the people we’ve met over the years. One of these things is upside down management.

Upside down management is certainly not something we’ve pioneered, although it would be great if we had. It comes from James and John Timpson, who are fantastic business people.

If you have this style of management within your business then it’s the team at the coalface – the people supporting your customers – who are most important. When it comes to me, to the management and directors, we’re just a support mechanism to make sure that people can service the customer properly. As John Timpson himself said of his customer-facing staff: “We’re not telling them what to do, we are organising the support to help them do it better”.

To do upside down management well, you need to really empower that top layer.

Bill Gates once said: “As we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” and I think this statement holds true today. It’s not about having an ego or controlling every aspect of your business down to the very last dot. When you give people responsibility and let them know what you expect of them, more often than not, they step up to the mark and really astound you.

Turning things upside down might sound counter-intuitive, but what if the ‘traditional’ approach we’ve had for years was the wrong way up all along? Turning it upside down, from this perspective, actually puts things right.

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