INSIGHTS

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Magnificent 7: The Key Attributes of High Potential Employees

At some point, your growing business will require you to do some restructuring and introduce one or more levels of management. This will open up a great opportunity for you to develop a small proportion of your people into team leaders or managers – perhaps even into managers of managers.  Recruiting new managers from within is a powerful way to show your commitment to career development, it’s motivating for your staff, and it’s an opportunity to think about the kind of culture you want to encourage by appointing managers who exhibit the right behaviours and mindsets. Recruiting internally also reduces the risk of appointing someone who isn’t the right cultural ‘fit’ for your organisation. But it’s still a risk – assuming you’re looking at people whose management capability is as yet untested.

So what qualities to look for?  Somebody who reminds you of yourself?  Undeniably tempting, but fraught with obvious risks.. Someone who is super-smart and knows your product, or market, like the back of their hand?  Perhaps, but good managers need other skills too, right?  

Right.  But what skills – what exactly should you be looking for when spotting leadership potential and thinking about moving people into their first management positions?  What is ‘leadership potential’ anyway?  To save you wading through a load of leadership tomes, here are our top 7 qualities to look for:

1. Results-Orientation

This is a good place to start. In order for your business to succeed, your people need to perform. This means everyone understands what they are there to do and they’re focused on doing as good a job as they can, with your best performers keen to achieve ever higher levels of performance. While recognising that not everyone in your organisation will take this to extremes, an overly relaxed approach to performance standards and deadlines hardly sets the right example.  So when thinking about who to promote into a management role, look for people who are really driven to deliver results and move the business forwards. By this I mean they can point to a strong track record of delivery, rather than simply talk a good game.  Strong results orientation obviously should be tempered by..

2. The Ability To Get The Best Out Of Others

The very best managers are skilled in getting the best from their colleagues: they support their peers, inspire their teams, develop their people and regularly give feedback to people on how they are doing.  They are ready to praise and give credit for others’ great performance.  These are the people who show a genuine interest in others, work hard to create a sense of team, and motivate people through their enthusiasm and positive outlook. They are also the people who can..

3. Effective Communication Skills

High potential employees instinctively think about keeping others informed, like to build their networks, and recognise the importance of communication channels. They are skilled in adapting their personal style to the needs of their audience, listen well, and at the same time are prepared to communicate difficult messages constructively and sensitively.

While you can spot skills in communication and getting the best out of others in those with little or no previous management experience, this is obviously a multi-faceted human quality and few of us tick every box!  It’s not the easiest quality to master if it doesn’t come naturally but honest feedback and coaching will go a long way in helping people with leadership potential understand their strengths and take action on any weaknesses in these broad areas of interpersonal and leadership skills.  Another intrinsic personal quality for you to consider is..

4. The Ability To Put The Interests Of The Business Before The Interests Of Themselves

Managers must have integrity.  Do your employees base their decisions and actions on what will most benefit themselves personally, or what will benefit the wider team and the business as a whole?  Integrity, values and commitment to the success of the business matter: you need people you can rely on, and your employees need to see the ‘right’ qualities being role modelled and rewarded.  It can be highly demotivating for staff to see a colleague motivated mainly by self interest promoted to a position of responsibility. Look for people prepared to support colleagues, collaborate and compromise for the greater good of the business.  Finally, try to identify people who are…

5. Commitment To Their Own Learning And Development

According to Morgan McCall, one of the most influential thinkers on leadership development (check out his book High Flyers) learning underpins personal growth. It is, many leadership theorists believe, essential to career success, and particularly important is the ability to learn from experience. So try to identify people who have shown they can do this, and apply their learning to future new situations, building their professional capability as a result.  Look for people who have the confidence and ability to step into unfamiliar situations, who can quickly identify what information they need in order to perform well – and how to find it.  These are also the people who have the confidence to take calculated risks, yet are humble enough to ask for advice and listen to feedback. They are the people who reflect on both successes and failures and learn from them.  

6. Proven Adaptability Under Pressure

Business (and customer) needs can change overnight. You need people who can respond quickly to changing circumstances, think on their feet and change tack while keeping a cool head and bringing others with them. Self-regulation is not something everyone can do effectively  – and it’s a great way of sorting the wheat from the chaff ….

7. Show Strong Evidence Of Self-Leadership

Effective leadership starts with the individual themselves. Punctuality, for example, shows the person values their own time and that of others. Effective diary (and desk!) management indicates good organisation skils. Doing what they say they will builds trust with colleagues and key stakeholders. Also, keep an eye out for someone who has passions away from the office. It takes self-discipline to really nurture and develop interests outside of work and a healthy work-life balance often makes people happier and more effective in their roles.

Fundamental for you in this area of learning capability is the ability to recognise what skills they will no longer need to perform well as a manager. Too often employees are promoted to team leader positions on the basis of their past stellar performance as a team member – without understanding that many of the skills that led to their previous success and promotion are, if not obsolete, then certainly far less important to their future success as a new line manager.  It will be the key management skills of business awareness, strategic thinking, resource planning, objective setting, giving feedback and coaching and so on which will determine their success in their new roles as managers. Ram Charan’s The Leadership Pipeline is brilliant and goes into all this in far more detail.

Promoting people into their first line management role is a critical decision – not only for your newly promoted managers, but for the teams underneath them and your business as a whole. Get it right and you will start to build a capable and inspiring management team committed to growing both your business and its people.

For more tips on effective management and development 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: Don LaVange

P.s – If you’re secretly wanting to give your own leadership style a bit of a kickstart and want to take some action on it, then download our new eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.

 

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 hello@thehrhub.co.uk 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 hello@thehrhub.co.uk 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.

Playtime

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.

Pub-Quiz

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.

Mini-sports

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 hello@thehrhub.co.uk or call 0203 627 7048.

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Photocredit: Bogdan Morar Teambuilding