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SME Leadership: Have You Got What It Takes?

What actually is a leader? If you asked 10 people for a definition you would probably get 11 answers. One of my colleagues once commented that (in relation to a leader we both knew) “he may not always be right, but he was always certain!”. And it made me wonder how leaders could be so sure of their ground.

For business owners, the first step in creating your new business is a leap of faith and hopefully a solid vision. This automatically qualifies you as a leader. But things get a bit tricky as you start building relationships and partnerships with others. It can be your own people or it can be suppliers or trusted associates that help at critical times – the point is, you need every person acting like a leader in their own area of specialism. And they also need to be thinking like a teammate even if the “team” is not strictly delineated. Since the start of this century, the trend towards partnerships has paved the way for a more collaborative style of leadership, but it can be a hard style to master:

It All Starts With Crafting A Great Team

Margaret Mead, American social anthropologist (1901-1978) was famous for saying “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

But how many people would it take? With only one person, it’s hard. But when you put that one person with four or five more, you have a force to contend with. All of a sudden, you have enough momentum to make almost anything that is imminent, actually real.

The hit 90s children’s TV series Power Rangers was based on a band of teenagers who possessed individual  super powers and came together to defeat any villain. A compelling case for encouraging diverse skills and talent if ever there was one. And it’s the same for you: orchestrating the make-up of your ‘dream team’ is the smart way to excel.  

Collaborative Leadership Starts With You!

Being a collaborative leader means juggling the balance between respecting and valuing the differences of a partner or colleague, whilst smoothing out some of those differences in the interests of making the relationship work.

The leadership principles listed below will help you achieve this balance consistently. Modelling self-leadership is the most powerful way to embed a technique and it is further reinforced when you mentor or coach others.

These are the habits of self-leadership:

  • Practice, don’t preach.
  • Observe and listen.
  • Stay connected to your intention for change.
  • Stay with the conflict – don’t avoid it. Resolve it…help creative options open up.
  • Follow your heart-do what you love, love what you do.
  • Keep connected to THE big picture. Talking spiritual may be a step too far for some but the idea is – it’s a big universe of possibilities and serendipity has worked its magic already – make sure you keep connected.
  • Nurture your own space of reflection that supports your life journey.
  • Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Your focus will improve as possibilities emerge.
  • Use different languages with different stakeholders.
  • If you want to change others (other stakeholders), you need to be open to changing yourself first.
  • And never give up!

Practical Tips for Collaborative Leaders

  • Develop in collaboration, a common agreement about the objectives and how the relationship will operate.
  • Facilitate enthusiasm – and if necessary, make this a focus to get things started.
  • When things go wrong it’s important that you have created open relationship communications to discuss and resolve difficult issues.
  • Charismatic leadership is not the only way – collaboration is more about helping all voices be heard and agreements reached before acting.
  • Yes, it takes longer but creates stronger bonds to complete the goal successfully.
  • Finally, collaboration is about sharing control. Think about the consequences of too much control and aim to lead with a light touch.

For more tips on achieving leadership across your teams, theHRhub team are ready to help. We are the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs – providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. Like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag! Find out more about us here.

Photo Credit: Valentin Delaye

HR Horrors: Managing The Underperformance Of A Longstanding Employee

When we think about underperformance we predominantly relate it to new or nearly new employees, when issues can be put down to recruiting the wrong person or mismanagement in those precious first few months . After all, the process of finding the right member of staff can be tricky, and there are many things that you need to do to ensure that you’re giving individuals everything they need to hit the ground running.

But what if you have a member of staff who has been with you for quite a while, someone who previously has always made a solid contribution, and you suddenly start to notice that their performance is slipping?

These circumstances present a unique set of challenges. And if you find yourself in this situation, it’s really important that you know exactly what to do to address the problems and get things back on the right track.

It’s essential that you don’t panic. Read on – we’re going to walk you through absolutely everything that you need to know:

Don’t Pretend That It’s Not Happening

If your member of staff has previously met their goals and made a strong contribution to the company, then you might think that the best approach is to just wait and see what happens. After all, doesn’t everyone go through patches when they’re feeling a little unmotivated?

Take this approach and you may well find that things fix themselves. But this is absolutely NOT the thing to do though if you’re serious about growing a strong and engaged workforce. The wider team will soon notice if you start treating certain individuals differently and you’ll run into problems sooner rather than later. Perception and trust are important. You need to act with integrity and in a timely manner.

Nobody wants to have difficult conversations, especially when it’s with valued members of staff who have been with the business for a long time. As a leader though, it’s your duty.

If you’re struggling to bite the bullet and take action on the situation, take a step back and think about things objectively. Emotions can overtake your common sense, and no one’s expecting you to be a machine. How is this person not meeting your standards exactly? What impact is this having on productivity, profits, and relations within the team? Often, you’ll quickly realise that you have no other option.

Get Together For An Informal Chat About The Situation

You don’t need to blow things out of proportion. The beauty of being proactive is that you can often nip problems in the bud and get things back on the right track without any hassle or fuss.

As a first port of call, arrange an informal meeting with the individual in question. Raise your concerns about the problems you’ve become aware of. Speak to them about what they feel is going wrong, and find out if there’s anything that you can do to support them.

There’s a whole host of issues that could be at play. Pinpointing precisely what is going wrong is the first step in getting things back on course. It could be the case that they’ve been working on the same projects for a very long time, and they’re struggling to stay engaged. They may have problems outside of the workplace that are having an impact on their performance.

Don’t jump to any assumptions before you’ve got all the information, and be sure to act on the details that you take away from the meeting. Almost all leaders and managers will say that they listen to their members of staff, but all too often, they’re just going through the motions. Make sure that you don’t make this mistake.

Put An Improvement Plan In Place

Once you’ve spoken with your employee and you’ve agreed that changes need to be made, it’s absolutely vital that you create a structured and detailed improvement plan. Simply telling the member of staff that they need to make changes is not enough. It’s ambiguous, it’s open to interpretation, and it’s not going to help anyone.

Instead, set objective goals for the individual to meet. Make sure that your employee agrees to them, and get them down in writing. From here, you can arrange to have follow-up discussions to assess the progress that is being made.

It’s important that the plan will help you to get things back on track, but don’t expect miracles overnight. Consistent, small changes are often more sustainable, and will be easier to manage.

Provide The Necessary Support

It’s not enough to agree to the necessary changes and then assume that everything will fall into place. You need to ensure that your employee has the support that they need. Of course, what this will look like in practical terms will depend on the individual and the specific circumstances in hand.

It may be the case that extra training is required. It’s worth noting though that going down the more formal route is not the only option, and there are many things that you can do within the workplace on a day-to-day basis that will ensure your staff feel supported.

For example, you could allocate mentors and coaches, arrange regular catch-up meetings, and invite plenty of feedback around what you could do to help staff to reach their goals. Again, listening is essential. Remember that your workers are individuals, with differing needs and preferences, and a one-size-fits-all approach will rarely create the results that you’re looking for. For more on this check out our article Learning On A Shoestring: How To Develop Your People Without Breaking The Bank.

Act In Accordance With Your Policies And Procedures

Your policies and procedures exist to uphold standards. They ensure that you act in accordance with the law, that your staff are treated fairly and equally, and that everyone is working towards wider goals and objectives. So make sure that you’re using them! 

Sometimes though, you can find that your policies are no longer fit for purpose. They may be outdated, or you may realise that you haven’t been implementing them in the way that you initially intended. You may find our article HR Policies: Everything SME Leaders Need To Know  a helpful read here. 

If you have concerns about how equipped you are to manage underperformance, then we can help. Get in touch today at or by calling 0203 627 7048 to arrange an initial, no-obligation consultation. We’ll pinpoint any potential issues that are at play in your workplace, and give you practical advice around what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: The ultimate HR support for startups and SMEs.

Photocredit: Flickr Spadge6868

Step Away From Being Ordinary: How To Invest In Your Talent As An SME

As an SME you should have a high concentration of talent and it’s vital to your business’ success that you retain that talent. And that means investing in it. Don’t make the mistake of putting the onus on the individual to provide their own path to personal and professional development, although your immediate focus is to grow the company, the fact is that if you’re not investing in your people then you’re not investing in the future of your business.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that if you spend too much time and energy developing your employees that they will become more valuable in the marketplace and jump ship. With this approach, your talent management strategy is one that could do more harm than good and virtually guarantee you the very outcome that you are trying to avoid!

Remember that investment in your talent can mean a lot of different things, ranging from personal development to financial incentives to activities – it’s not just about the traditional training opportunities. The point is that you want to show genuine care for your employees, and in return, they will take care of your business. It really can be that simple.

So, how can you invest in your team’s personal and professional development and ensure they stay the course?

Invest in employees personal and professional development:  Help them set and reach both short and long-term goals, both personal and professional (as the 2 are closely linked). This doesn’t need to be over engineered and can be as simple as getting your employees to ask themselves “Where am I now, where do I want to be, and how will I get there?” Follow up with regular check-ins – if you aren’t helping your employees consistently track against their goals, then they won’t make any real progress leaving them feeling disengaged.

Offer the perks and benefits that matter to them:  Be seen to invest in what matters to employees.  In order for your perks to be effective in keeping your employees happy, they need to be tailored to their specific needs and desires. Consider running a short internal survey to understand what types of rewards your employees would like to see offered and, where possible, launch these across your business.

Feeling valued is one of the greatest strengths that small businesses have over larger corporations, so you should take the time to find out what your staff want for their futures, and individualise incentives and career plans to suit each member of the team.

Give them an opportunity to earn something extra: Offer a commission or bonus based on the achievement of a specific goal. As Dan Pink (author of Drive) argues, autonomy is 1 of 3 major human motivators. Offering commissions gives employee a sense of ownership in their outcomes, and is an excellent way to help them grow and take responsibility for their own and the company’s success.

If you’re growing your business with plans to eventually sell (although you may not have thought this far ahead yet), consider some form of share option scheme. This is another great investment that will give your employees a real sense of ownership in the business and can act as a motivator as well as retention tool with your top talent.

Make employees feel loved:  Still, the most common reason why employees leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated at work.

Remember that being recognised for hard work goes a long way and to really succeed in creating an environment where employees consistently feel appreciated and invested in you need to remember to say well done and give employees a pat on the back.  Something as simple as a weekly team meeting to recognise achievements can work wonders.  You should also consider celebrating work anniversaries with something personal or a meal out with a Director.

Working conditions trump pay and reward:  Businesses with good working conditions are, in most circumstances, not only more successful in attracting talent but retaining it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this type of investment relates just to employees’ office space and who has the most modern technology – it doesn’t. It includes flexible working opportunities, opportunities for personal development, a grasp of what appeals to a multi-generational workforce and a strong sense of values and purpose.

Create a healthier work environment: You would be surprised how many employees consider health and wellness offerings as important at work. Research show that employees with high wellbeing are more attached to their organisations.

UK productivity and engagement figures remain low. Compared with other Western economies, the UK has not fared well with regard to employee engagement and productivity. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), during 2015 UK workforces were 31% less productive than those of the US and 17% less productive than the rest of the G7 countries. This is despite employees in the UK working similar hours to these regions.

Invest some time creating a healthier work environment to help boost productivity and think outside the typical fruit basket approach. Throw down a challenge like the mile a day challenge (who can collect the most 1+ miles run in 30 days). Challenges and contests are a great way to get people involved in wellness programs, especially if there’s an extra incentive for winning (like a gift card or prize).

Give time to volunteer during work hours: Today’s workers (especially Millennials) want to work for companies that benefit the greater good, so invest in ensuring your company has some sort of social tie. Even if your product doesn’t directly give back, there are ways you can help your employees feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves such as allowing them a few hours a month to volunteer for a project in the community.

Investing in employee’s social interests is a quick win which will cost you nothing and it’s also something you can shout about when recruiting.

Invest in team building activities:  Having friendships at work helps to boost employee satisfaction and while you obviously can’t force friendships in the workplace, there are ways you can foster it.

Team building events don’t have to cost the earth and are a worthwhile investment. Things like the spaghetti/marshmallow challenge or a company rounders competition are simple and cheap but effective. Events like this require people to work together to achieve a common goal (just like in your business).

Consider holding an annual offsite event which includes some office awards. Off sites give your team a chance to step away from the day-to-day work and build camaraderie. Plus, it gives employees something to look forward to each year.

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to investing in your talent.  Whilst some employees will want formal training and promotion prospects, others will see it differently.

In a previous blog, Richard Branson said that “business is all about people, people, people” – a view, no doubt that you will agree with. Having a belief that your organisation’s success depends on your people is the first step in effective talent management. As an SME, you may not have resources at your disposal to invest in detailed talent management strategies but this shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance, rather an opportunity to think more creatively.

Investing in your talent really is beneficial for you and your business and you’ll increase staff confidence in your organisation. If employees are positive about talent management practices of the organisation, they are more likely to believe the vision of the organisation. The result is a workforce that is engaged, committed and determined to do what is best for your company.

For more details on this or any other HR challenges you might have, drop us a line at or call 0203 627 7048.

For more reading on giving your own leadership style a bit of a kickstart , then download our new eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

Photo by Kris Krug

Easy (& Cheap) Ways To Do Team Building Events

We all know that successful teamwork is the key to productivity in many aspects of work. And whilst most teamwork is found through generic work practices and sound motivational and leadership actions, there comes a time in the year when people need a bit of a gee-up. And this is when the suggestion of some sort of ‘team-building-thing’ is often thrown up.

A big fan of these in principle, I find it’s best to approach the design of these however with extreme caution. After all, a weekend in the Yorkshire Moors may sound like a whole load of fun when leafing through the brochure in July. But is hauling Dave in sales out of the Malham Tarn during a gale in October really the ‘bonding’ you’re hoping for?

Hideous memories of off-site events I’ve attended in the past also colour my view on what is a ‘good’ event… It’s fair to say that I don’t like my ‘fun’ forced on me. I’ve also never knowingly wanted it to include the words ‘boiler suit’ and ‘telegraph pole’ either. So, early in my career, having been shipped off to a forest somewhere off the M3 with 30 or so other colleagues dressed like prisoners, I spent over an hour sweating profusely after seeing the 40ft wooden structure we were told to scale, weighing up my two options: escape or tears. Tears won. And after lots of (half-hearted I have to say) encouragement from the facilitator, I dissolved after the second rung, only to feel like a total d*** in front of my colleagues. Thanks team building!

So here are a few suggestions which should avoid tears and tantrums, not to mention a large bill.


Simple, easy, cheap and works far far better than you would expect, my go-to team building activity is to get a few Lego kits together. Choose kits which are not over complex ( the Millennium Falcon, for example, is probably a tad excessive here…), split up the teams and ask them to work together to build.


Or rather a variation of one which is more close to home. Ask the team to provide obscure facts about themselves (famous people they’ve met, embarrassing moments etc) and incorporate into the questions to inject a bit of “You did what?!” to the event.

Lights, Camera, Action!

The days of iphones and ipads have brought movie making within reaches of all of us. Split out into teams, choose a series of themes (which may or may not correspond to workplace situations) and give them two hours to come up with a production.


There’s few self-respecting start ups which don’t have some form of table tennis/ football table they can use here, however if you’re lacking in this department, you can pick one or more of these up on the internet for small change. Simply set up and create a league table of pairs.

But at least my experiences were never as bad as those conveyed by my oldest and dearest friend, who, upon landing her new swanky and very senior role at a national pub chain, skipped off merrily to attend a two day event with her new management team. It turns out that one of the obligatory ice-breakers was placing a spoon between her cheeks (yes, those ones!) and walking (waddling?) across the room without dropping the spoon…. I can’t imagine what the facilitators of this torture were trying to achieve with this exercise, but I’m sure they hadn’t got in their objectives the words “termination of contract”….

To find out how else you can promote great team work in your business or for details of any other HR challenges you might have, drop us a line at or call 0203 627 7048.

TheHRhub: The ultimate online support for startups and SMEs.

Join us here and get all the HR advice, tools and software you need to grow your business.

For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

Photocredit: Bogdan Morar Teambuilding

Poor Performance Or Poor Communication? Know The Difference

One of the most common complaints I hear from employers is that one of their team isn’t performing in one way or another: not pulling their weight, not getting it, or simply not delivering what’s been asked of them.

Sometimes (often) we are all quick to judge the performance of others, before first considering our own part to play in our team’s performance. But communication is everything when it comes to performance and so follow the tips below before jumping right in there and hauling someone over the coals (or worse…).

There is no one single way to get great performance every time, but there are some simple steps you can take to make the path clearer for your team:

  1. Set Expectations From The Outset: From up to date job descriptions to quality time during the interview process and discussing what success in the role looks like. This stage is critical.
  2. Support Them When They Do Join: Don’t just leave it to chance that they’ll ‘pick it up’. Spend time with your new recruit on a regular basis outlining what you expect from them and when. Like to be updated on a weekly basis on how the product is progressing? Tell them. Show them. Share with them how you do it. Try it all.
  3. Focus On WIIFT: For you it’s probably very clear what you get out of their high performance, but What’s In It For Them? Learn what motivates them and push those buttons to get the most of out of your team.
  4. Return The Favour: Give them feedback on how their doing. Do it immediately and make it real. A well-timed comment along the lines of “That campaign you ran totally hit the mark in terms of coverage but the signups we were after didn’t materialise. Let’s analyse it together and see how we can do it differently next time” is far more supportive and constructive than leaving it a few months to the end of the probation to tell them they didn’t get the results you were after. You’ll have missed valuable time for them to improve and will look as though you were too incompetent to raise it beforehand.
  5. Keep Talking: Few people like to work in a vacuum, so keep the conversation flowing. It builds relationships. Makes giving feedback (good and bad) much easier. And makes people feel involved.

You know what you mean. You might think everyone understood what you said, but when you play it back in your head did you really summarise everything clearly? Did you involve them in how they might deliver what was being asked? Did you check to see that they understood what you had asked? And, crucially, did you do this in a way that works best for the whole team? Because each team member is likely to hear different things. Your role here is as a coach, helping them to see how they can achieve the goal in hand, providing the support (and environment) so they can deliver with aplomb and inspiring them to want to do it.

For more details on this or any other HR challenges you might have, drop us a line at or call 0203 627 7048.

For more reading on giving your own leadership style a bit of a kickstart , then download our new eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

Photocredit: uncoolbob

Brainfood: Smart Ways To Grow Your Tech Team

A recent study from CultureAmp found that the no.1 reason for staying with a technology business was the opportunity to grow. But when you’re short on levels of ‘management’ and don’t have the funds to invest heavily in this area, how do you carve out the kind of opportunities a technologist might stay for? And compete with the likes of Google/ Facebook/ ANother Startup-Down-The-Road to get employees’ development on track?

Here are our top tips for growing tech talent:


Yes, I appreciate that this word ranks up there with ‘low hanging fruit’ and ‘reach out’ in terms of business terminology that’s had it’s day – and is therefore tempting to ignore – but the literal meaning of working together to achieve results is something we should all be doing. And collaboration is something that is truly valued by most developers I’ve ever worked with. The chance to get stuck into something, to share the problems and even to out-do each other with solutions, is motivating in itself.

Pair Up

Pair Programming has proved popular in many tech businesses, mainly because of it’s ability to increase the quality of code as the output of such exercise. In this type of work, two developers are set to work side by side on a project, playing different roles (writing or observing) and switching them frequently. Although increasing the (wo)man-hours needed to deliver on a project using this style of work, the benefits of increased motivation & quality may be worth it.

Perform (and help others do the same)

I’ve been told in the past (by managers mainly) that developers don’t ‘do’ performance reviews: that they don’t believe in these kind of structured process; that they have no value. Hmmm, that’s interesting. As whatever collective behaviours may be exhibited from one employee group to another, I’ve yet to meet an individual or group which didn’t want feedback….. So if someone’s saying that to you, maybe it’s because they don’t ‘doyour performance review. So shake it up a bit. Try to to do them little and often and for gods’ sake, include some sort of peer review.

The speed of technological change makes it very difficult for tech companies to keep employees’ skills up to date – but a recent Upwork survey found that 89% of IT professionals would consider leaving their job for better training somewhere else, so it’s worth making the investment. Their development needn’t cost an arm and a leg – so for more ideas on how to inject some growth to the team, check out Fleur Winter’s great article ‘L&D On A Shoestring’ for some other cost-effective ideas.

For more great tips on how to grow your own skills as an SME leader, in our FREE eBook : Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Step by Step Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader

TheHRhub: The ultimate online support for startups and SMEs.

Join us here and get all the HR advice, tools and software you need to grow your business.

Photo credit: Scott, Jell-O-Brains