26 February 2017
It didn’t always look like this at UKFast. UKFast is a culmination of ideas, a pastiche of discoveries from businesses and entrepreneurs across the globe.
We had quite a rocky start. Neither Gail or myself had a blue print or experience of what we really needed to do. I had a number of ideas from my short stint at Granada of what I didn’t want to do; I’d worked there after they acquired my first very small music business.
Its also safe to say the world was a very different place too. The ideas of unlimited holidays, birthdays off, kennels, a week’s extra pay if you are getting married, would have been laughed at by experts back in the 90’s.
But if you want to do something different and build something that stands out, which is our goal, you can’t do what everyone else does. And so we set about looking for a formula.
Our first discovery and the first thing we did right, was we looked for friendly people. Purely because we had a tiny office and we thought, we’d better get people we get on with and enjoy working with, or things will get very cramped! This strategy helped us enormously in the early years until we tried to scale up and accelerate our growth. We deviated away from our winning formula, recruiting the occasional highly skilled person based more on their qualifications. The results were disastrous. They didn’t work out. What we learned is we’d developed a business full of like minded people and that it didn’t matter how qualified a person was, if they didn’t fit our values, they didn’t fit in.
There is a blog on how we discovered our CORE VALUES quite by accident, but well worth a read. I will add the link in later.
Once we knew what we were looking for, it was much easier. We introduced a psychometric test which proved invaluable which highlighted the exact traits we value and whilst it takes longer to find the perfect person, its worth the wait.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I am married to my business partner. Many people joke saying that it would be their worst nightmare, but truly I love working with Gail. The big advantage is that wherever we go, we are always discussing, considering, thinking about work or people within the group of businesses we are developing, even our kids get involved.
So many of our ideas come from our travels, where we’d appreciate great service and start to look deeper into how a place might be training their team. One such place, where we have just returned from is Rangalli Island in the Maldives. We first went there on our honeymoon and the service is always exemplary. There are two islands and no matter where you are, every staff member knows your every detail. It turned out this was a careful blend of software and good old fashioned standup meetings.
Its safe for me to say that we have at least one great idea from everyone of the great entrepreneurs we have had the pleasure to meet and there are a few like Sir Richard Branson and James Timpson who have boundless energy, ideas and its impossible not to be inspired by them.
But often the greatest ideas of all come from within. People are smart and they can instinctively feel exactly what a company is missing. It is so important you take time to listen to your teammates. Leaders who enjoy the limelight, holding court and being the centre of attention often are the ones that take the biggest tumble.
As we started implementing more and more of the ideas being generated internally, the business really did start to propel faster and faster. I stepped further and further back, no longer trying to control the minute details and instead started listening to what people really wanted and needed to do their jobs effectively.
It’s far from perfect, but we’ve come a long way and pretty soon various clubs were being formed, running, yoga, football, netball, skiing, even a gin club and yes whilst we contribute to these in some form or other, these are all dreamt up and managed by the teams themselves. It’s not uncommon to go in to the gym at UKFast and see 20 people from all departments taking part in a KettleBell Class or a Spin Class. This type of interaction is key if you want to deliver world class customer service. Instead of people working in silos, teammates at UKFast are truly collaborating at a whole other level and I am convinced it’s the social side of UKFast that is encouraging this.
The Office Environment is key to a happy work force. When we moved to our first bigger office we brought in our dining room furniture from home. This remains a recurring theme, but as long as the office feels right, that is our priority. Any of the old timers will remember my big blue couch from my apartment. Paula would always have 40 winks at some point during the day, it was right outside my glass office, but I loved the fact she felt so comfortable at work.
I suppose what I am trying to highlight is that it’s not rocket science and that anyone can do it.
Being highlighted as Manchester’s No.1 place to work and 5th best company in the UK is a tremendous honour, but Best Companies is more than that for us. It is another form of feedback.
They’re not just awards; we receive invaluable feedback and a detailed analysis of our business that doesn’t pull any punches, showing us a number of things from how we are motivating our team, how we can improve and where we can make a difference. We’ve used this feedback for a number of years to grow and evolve. It’s driven key changes including improvements to our maternity package, the introduction of our creche, extensive training, dedicated teachers, the list is endless.
I have no doubt Jonathan Austin’s company Best Companies is a catalyst in helping us improve and grow as it gets us focussed on the right areas.
When we get this years report we will sit down and work out the areas where we are doing well and put on our thinking caps for those areas where we need to make improvements.
UKFast is still very much a work in progress too and I hope always will be. There is always more to learn if we are to continue to build and improve every aspect of the business. That is what makes it such an exciting challenge.
Now that you know its not rocket science and if two kids from North Wales and Manchester can do it by accident, I am hoping that more business owners will follow suit and realise a happy workforce creates a strong, profitable company. A happy team provides better customer service too. Our Net Promoter Score is more than 40 times the sector average.
If there are any sceptics out there, come and see for yourselves. A happy team means happy clients and vice-versa! It’s really as simple as that. I’ll happily organise a show around and give you a behind the scenes tour of our inner workings.