16 June 2019
I always love going to work. There’s a saying: “Enjoy what you do and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life.”
UKFast is a lot like that for me and yet, even though it’s great fun and hugely satisfying, every now and then you have moments where months and years of coordinated hard work starts to pay off and kick in.
This week, for me, was one of those amazing weeks.
I learned many years ago that innovation doesn’t just mean the building of new and exciting products week after week. Innovation is also about finding and applying the nuances that speed up processes and systems, eradicate errors and harness the power of teams. Finding ways to save time, energy and money to deliver the greatest level of world-class customer service is one of the most satisfying achievements you can have in business.
Over the course of the week, being thrust into complex conundrums to resolve, has not only stretched me but also reminded me of the importance of working with cross-sections of teams from all over the business to find the right answers.
When we were preparing for the IPO last year we had to carry out some very detailed due diligence – looking into every aspect of UKFast, every department and customer interaction. Whilst we chose not to do the IPO in the end, as the market wasn’t right at the time, the work we did was certainly not wasted and provided us with a great deal of intelligence.
We got a great deal of positive feedback on the business and what we’d built so far, and whilst many analysts were very complimentary about UKFast, Gail and I could not help focus on the areas where the numbers were lower.
We could immediately see things we could improve.
We have never sat back on our laurels when it comes to customer service and the experience we deliver to not only clients but teammates too. There are always things you can do better. Just as there is always a better sequence of moves when you are playing chess, the same applies to our roles in business too.
There were a couple of areas that I decided to focus my attention on personally and rope in a few teammates for help. It’s amazing how great a team-building experience something like this is when you empower people to solve their frustrations themselves.
If you are wanting to do something like this yourself with your team, if you are not sure where to focus, go into either the sales or account managers weekly meeting and ask them yourself, “if you can fix anything right now, what would it be?”
I am confident you will get something that clearly frustrates the majority and they will be very vocal. Do not do this exercise if you are not prepared to then listen and do your level best to remedy their challenges.
In the account managers meeting on Friday I did just this, I asked them “what is your single greatest frustration?” Within minutes we’d uncovered some huge time-stealers and whopping frustrations. Eliminating these time zappers always leads to massive improvements in customer service, taking us closer to that goal of the best service in the world. Also don’t underestimate how frustrating repetitive issues can be. I have known people to leave over what seems like trivial issues, but when not addressed, the frustrations compound day after day. Fixing the frustrations and removing time-stealers is hugely motivational.
The greatest improvements
Since moving to the CEO role from managing director, I have spent less and less time with the teams at the coal face, instead dedicating my energy to mentoring and supporting the senior management layers. I do like to step in from time to time, to say hello and listen to everyone’s feedback. This week was a nice opportunity to re-engage with a few teams I’d not spent time with for a while and, as usual, I got my shopping list and homework!
This is how Gail and I have always managed UKFast since the early days. We look for the thing that isn’t working as well as it should, the most broken thing. Once we have identified it, we step in to help fix it. It might be a new piece of software, homegrown to replace something where we spend a lot on external licenses, but more often than not it’s developing software to manage the way the business flows, coordinating all the departments and ensuring clients know that they are number one.
One of the changes we’re making based on this week is to treat two of our successful product lines as their own mini businesses. These two product areas are generating the same level of revenue that UKFast did in our second year of trading. So yes, tiny amounts, but with the right resources imagine if we can make each one as big as UKFast is now 18 years on.
When products start to get a life of their own, it’s worth separating them out and giving them dedicated resources. The worst thing you can do is just to let them fight for the resources internally as they usually play second fiddle to the more dominant products and therefore, they never truly reach their full potential.
It all comes back to feedback
These are just two small changes that have come from internal catch ups where everyone comes together to build improvements across the customer journey and experience.
The greatest lesson from this week though was about feedback. Interestingly, I had recorded a podcast about feedback which was released on the Monday, little did I know that the week ahead would prove exactly what I had been discussing in that episode.
Empowering your team
As a business leader, you can’t know everything in your business. You have to empower your board, your senior leaders, your team leaders and your team to make decisions about their roles and the service that they offer. And most importantly, they have to be empowered to give you honest feedback. If you are surrounded by “yes” people, you never have the opportunity to nip something that isn’t working in the bud.
Ultimately, you cannot be the only expert about your company because you are not the person delivering the service from the coal face day in day out. The experts are the team-mates who have the most contact with your customers day to day.
Yet how often do you spend time with the troops on the frontline. I know many business owners, leaders and managers who think that they are above this now and they delegate this responsibility to their generals.
Do this at your peril! Rolling up your sleeves and getting in the trenches is not only incredibly valuable and rewarding, it’s great fun too. It’s arguably the best way to build lasting friendships with your key teammates and spot the talent coming through.
Nothing beats empowering people, then and there, when you spot a genius or a moment of inspiration. I am a great believer in delegating responsibility for projects to test how up-and-coming individuals behave when faced with a challenge.
Meeting with each department this week, it was clear that empowering teams works, not just to make the improvements but to also get a handle on how the business is performing at the most granular level. It’s all very well having KPIs but nothing beats seeing people in action. We have some absolutely extraordinary people in the team at UKFast. They told me exactly what was and wasn’t working. Then with a whiteboard and some inspirational ideas being scribbled down, suddenly you are accelerating towards the results.
Leaving the office on Friday, I felt so inspired. More importantly, I felt proud of the effort and passion that I see running through every vein of UKFast. I often hear about how people appreciate our culture, but nothing beats experiencing the dynamics of the business for yourself.
I know I often preach and write about switching off from work at the weekends but I do find it difficult when I can feel the momentum building and suddenly its Friday night!
There are no two ways about it, I can’t wait for Monday to arrive!