22 March 2015
I wrote this week about the importance of listening when running a business.
It’s one of the things I realised as I develop is far more important than it might first appear. As a young man, enthusiasm often overshadows common sense. I know it did in my case.
In marketing it’s a known fact that you should engage with customers and find out what they like about your products and services. This listening helps you mirror their requirements and deliver the service to the right person.
This applies to all areas of business and most definitely in the boardroom.
By listening to the people in the business who have a better understanding of the changing landscape and the needs of the customer, you improve quicker.
The higher up the ladder and further from the coal face you are the better the listener you need to become.
It’s not always the case in business and often the more demonstrative people can rise to the top, certainly in middle management. But businessmen and women who believe they are always right invariably end up with a one dimensional business and its that ceiling that suppress ideas and collaboration that consequently hold you back.
I wonder where I’d be now if I’d adopted this earlier in my life? In a world where you are desperately trying to make a difference, it sort of made sense that the person shouting the loudest would make it to the top.
One of the most memorable moments when I remember shutting up and listening was during my first trip to Necker Island when I was invited to go for a run by Sir Richard Branson. I remember not sleeping the night before as my head was full of questions. I knew UKFast had potential, but I also knew I had to evolve and learn from far smarter and more experienced people than me if I was to give UKFast the chance and oxygen needed to really develop.
We set off running. He spoke and I listened. Occasionally when there was a long pause I’d ask him one of my questions and then listen intently whilst pounding the rugged tracks around Necker. It was truly a life changing moment and these few weeks running gave me an insight into one of the worlds most extraordinary individuals.
What did I learn? Well that’s for another blog or perhaps a chapter for the book I am writing.
I still have my journals from that holiday. I’d come back from a run and before I joined Gail and my girls for breakfast, I went to my room and scribbled furiously writing down everything I’d learnt.
The insights I gained that vacation, changed our lives and I’m forever indebted to Richard for sharing his ideas, experience and thoughts with me. But that’s Richard, he’d do it with anyone, he’s just a born communicator and as you’d expect a brilliant listener too.
What I can share with you is that we made a complete U turn in the way we run our businesses since that point. It might not have been evident to everyone involved at the time, as things take time and confidence to deliver massive change.
Richard gave us the confidence to keep the business small.
When he explained he’d chop his record companies in half when they reach a hundred people. It was the understanding I got from why, and what he was trying to retain whilst doing this that was invaluable. And even though we’ve not completely followed all of his advice the letter at UKFast, his influence helps us protect the culture by keeping a “small business mentality” in everything we do.
So whats changed? Well the business has undergone the biggest change of our 16 years, but thats partly market driven. The explosion of Cloud in our market place forced everyone to rethink their offering. But it is the changes we are making to how we manage the business that makes the real difference.
But its a chicken and an egg scenario, where you need people engaged and working smarter in order to get more profitable. The best way to do this is to make people feel genuinely valued.
Ironically we have invested into some crackpot schemes, and yet we are profitable. It has many accountants perplexed and me too, but I would never change this model as I am convinced its right.
Whenever I am asked “how do you make a profitable business?”
I answer, “profit is directly linked to effort. So the question is how do you make people want to try harder?”
Here are some of the things we do to help people see we genuinely care.
SOME OF THE THINGS WE DO:
- 5 year club (get £1,000 tax paid)
- 10 year club (get £10,000 tax paid)
- End of year (Christmas Party) celebration with awards (including comedy ones)
- Birthdays off as a paid holiday *
- We have a bar upstairs outside our auditorium and people can help themselves to drinks on Fridays
- Trips away skiing and team building in Switzerland (we bought a hotel in Verbier to give our team the very best team building experience imaginable)
- Trips away to Vegas to reward for great effort
- Regular team building events to our own Outward Bound Centre in the Snowdonia National Park
- Training Centre with 2 full time teachers who are there to help you obtain accreditations and actively encourage you to develop and learn
- Friends and Family Open days where people related to the company come and eat and drink with us at Christmas
- Company News letter sent out each month via post.* Anyone can add extra addresses too so their parents and friends receive this too, anywhere in the world
- We have a Creche at UKFast and it is also available and used for parents who want to throw a Birthday Party for their littles ones
- Compassionate leave, for a variety of unfortunate circumstances
- Hardship Fund to help people in their darkest moments to ensure they are protected at all time of their lives. *
- Summer BBQs and Garden Parties at our home
- UKFest a festival with live bands, free food and drink for the entire company, friends and family. This event is described as a mini Glastonbury and this year we are expecting over 400 attending.
- Fully equipped Gym at UKFast with steam room
- Gaming area
- Multiple Lounges and chill out spaces,
- Quiet and inspirational spaces (one with indoor ponds and bridge!)
- People getting married can use my car! *
THINGS WE ARE COMPLETING IN 2015
- Dog Kennels
- £4000 software skills bonus per annum for anyone writing software that can be deemed as useful to the business or clients
- Share Scheme for the entire business to make people feel rewarded and connected
- Pension Scheme with significantly higher matched contributions
- Full pay for Maternity Leave for first 16 weeks
- Full pay for Paternity Leave for the 2 weeks
There are a great many more things we do behind the scenes too. UKFast is a family of very close people who work incredibly hard and deserve the very best. I travel far and wide searching for the answers because I am inspired by the team who I believe deserve the very best.
UKFast is a 24hr business and therefore requires absolute commitment, its only fair that in return we take care of the everyone involved and their dependents too. One day I believe all businesses will do the same once enough businesses demonstrate the benefit of creating long lasting loyalty.
If you have any ideas of things we could add to improve our culture, please speak up. We are always looking to improve.
So if you are trying to grow your business, the answer is “keep small, have fun and your business will grow.”
Good luck with it and if you ever want to visit UKFast and have a walk around and see what the Internet looks like behind the scenes, we’d be honoured to give you a quick tour.
Best of luck on your journey of discovery ad thanks for stopping by.
Whilst Branson helped me to see that there was a better way, James Timpson MBE and his dad John Timpson inspired these changes as they do these and a great deal more as standard in their amazing business Timpsons.