31 March 2019
We are only ever as good as the people around us. This week I have been reminded time and again of the incredible things that can be achieved when you’re all pulling in the same direction.
It has been an extraordinary few years. As the business has grown and new offshoots sprout up, I have had to really adapt and develop my leadership style.
As quickly as I learn to step back and find new ways to motivate my leaders, I realise there is so much to learn if I am to develop to my full potential.
Whilst the figures show double-digit growth for 20 consecutive years, it’s impossible to build businesses without the more challenging times. I now have around 15 businesses with a combined headcount of circa 500 teammates.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed.
The more businesses and the more people you employ, it’s safe to say the more potential challenges you will have. And with steep learning curves, come the inevitable stresses and strains.
You don’t get handed a rule book when you set up your business; you have to learn as you go along. It’s a little like parenting when you walk out of the hospital the day after your first child is born and you have to muddle through.
It’s hard at first. I made lots of mistakes, each time learning and improving day by day. Thirty something years on, I am still making mistakes as I am continuously striving for better results and trying my hardest to develop the people around me to be the best they can be.
And that is the answer.
In your personal life, when you want help, you look to your incredible friends and family; that extraordinary support network who are there for you no matter what. In the business arena we did something similar. When recruiting we look to choose people that share similar values. If you get a team of like-minded individuals under one roof, they are far more likely to want to work together to get the job done.
Oprah Winfrey once said: “Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher.”
Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last) talks about getting the right people on the bus – awesome characters who fit your ethos and culture. Rather than employing highly skilled people with great qualifications, look for ones that will fit into your organisation.
Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so that they can tell us what to do.”
It makes perfect sense. You could have the greatest business idea in the world but without a great team and great people around you, you’ll fail. It is that simple.
Passion and commitment
Sitting in the office at 9.30pm on Friday evening I looked around at the team who’d been working with me on a project all week and were running into the 14th hour of their working day. I’d not asked them to stay late, in fact they are driving the pace more than me these days.
Our businesses are full of amazing people who share the same passion that Gail and I had on those very first days of setting up the business. The same passion that carries through today.
Whilst I will always do my utmost to send people home on time and make sure they’re striking a healthy work-life balance, it is truly wonderful to see the commitment that so many people in the team have to their roles. Over the years we’ve had technical engineers refuse to leave the office for more than 50 straight hours. They didn’t want to go home and hand the task over, they wanted to see it through to the end for their client. That meant sleeping on the couch in our reception back in City Tower. That was actually one of the inspirations for our sleep pods at UKFast Campus!
As a leader, you can only wear multiple hats for a short amount of time. There is no getting away from the fact that in the early days of a business you have to be all things to all people. Gail and I were everything from programmers to accountants and salespeople to cleaners. However, as the business grows, if you spread yourself too thinly, you become ineffective in multiple areas. Pretty soon you will burn out. There are always people who are better than you at certain jobs. If you list the roles you dislike or feel less passionate about, these are the ones to find replacements for.
When you surround yourself with people who share your passion and commitment, being able to hand over the reins (or at least some of them) becomes really exciting. It took me some years to work this out in my first business and as a result, it never really got off the ground.
In the past year, I have seen my directors beginning to step back in a similar fashion. Neil has become our CTO. His team is colossal now and he is very different from the kid who arrived lugging his computer one Wednesday morning 20 years ago. The tech team and DevOps are an inspiration.
Gail’s leading the R&D team developing her people and our new systems and software to new levels. All the directors are laser focussed in areas to support our clients and our teams to work faster and more accurately. The result, our NPS (Net Promoter Score) is around 88 points. I am told by some of the analysts that this is the highest in our industry. And whilst is shows are clients are happier than ever, we continue to strive every day for those tiny improvements throughout the business.
When building a successful business, most people resort to trying to control as much of it as they can. It makes sense that this would be the best way, but actually, it is the complete opposite.
You do need a certain amount of control, of the standards and direction, however the single biggest thing that held me back personally and many other entrepreneurs too, is an inability to genuinely delegate and allow others to take the reins.
But you can only do this if you find brilliant people. Handing over the reins to someone less passionate will produce less passionate results. If you hand over a department to someone less intelligent than you, don’t expect great decisions. Similar things can happen too when people have less experience. But if you get people with then right culture who are prepared to listen and learn, it’s OK to make mistakes. Show me a business person who has never made a mistakes. They don’t exist, so when you are developing your team, when they drop the ball, be there to pick them up and encourage them to have another go.