Happiness is key
Managing staff is hard and, with the rise in flexible work patterns, some say it’s getting harder. Entrepreneurs and business thinkers offer their best advice Entrepreneurs aren’t always the best managers. Ask any what their best skills are and they’ll often refer to their technical know-how, sales ability or industry knowledge. Few will claim to be a great manager or really good at HR. And, as new technologies emerge and remote working and flexible practices become the norm, some business owners feel increasingly at sea. However, entrepreneurs should see such changes as opportunities to improve their productivity and working culture. For that to occur, a new way of thinking needs to be embraced. Here, innovative business owners and management thinkers offer their advice.
1. Reward results
Smart working focuses on results and productivity, as opposed to the hours clocked up. Managers need to stop looking at what time their employee is leaving the office and focus instead on what they are achieving. “Why should someone work hard if they are getting paid by the hour?” asks Peter Thomson, a fellow of Henley Business School. He says business owners need to focus on results and success rather than face time. “Paying for hours is dumb working as it encourages low productivity,” he adds.
2. Be flexible
One of the big benefits of flexible hours is that it means staff can avoid the busy, stressful commute. Thomson argues that this can benefit employers, too. “We’ve tended to look at home working and flexible working as an employee benefit, but what it should be about is having more productive employees. If it takes someone an hour to get to work and an hour back, that’s 10 hours a week of unproductive time, and they will be more stressed by the journey,” he says.
3. Create trust
Good employees don’t want someone breathing down their neck, watching their every move. Yet many bosses still practise this type of management. Instead, companies need to create a culture in which people instinctively understand how they should behave. Staff must understand what’s expected as well as understanding the norms and values of the business. Sinead Hasson, owner of recruitment consultancy Hasson Associates, says regular internal communication and a shared ethos is key. “As working structures become more fluid, taking steps to invest in a strong corporate culture will ensure that staff remain ‘within’ the company, satisfied with their role and fully engaged in their work,” she says. “Using popular tools such as Google+ hangouts can bring remote workers together and create an inclusive environment.”
4. Become a strategist
Business owners need to hire people they can trust to get on with their work. This is crucial as the business grows and close management becomes unfeasible. Ed Molyneux, of online accountancy provider FreeAgent, says his role has changed considerably since he co-founded the company, and he is now able to focus on big-picture issues. “We’ve grown the company from three to 50 staff in the past five years. It’s been very much a case of learning on the job and hiring the right team so that it’s not necessary to manage them closely,” he says. “I try to set a clear strategic direction and then be collaborative about the details. My role has evolved to progressively make more time for big-picture issues such as strategy and culture.”
5. Keep talking
Companies can evolve rapidly as innovative technologies come online and new markets emerge. This can be unsettling for staff, who will wonder how changes may affect them. Arnab Dutt, managing director of Texane, a manufacturing company that makes wheels for tube trains, says regular conversations are key to keeping the confidence of employees. “It’s all about keeping lines of communication open, and often that means relaxing a bit. Some of the best-run companies I’ve seen are run on a more informal and fluid structure than is conventional,” he says. “We’re currently investing in new machinery, so I’ve been making sure everyone knows what’s happening. Otherwise, the arrival of this new equipment could make them wonder if their job is about to be automated and they’re going to be replaced. I’m explaining how we’ll be working differently but better, and that they’re going to have all this fantastic new kit to work with.”
6. Offer lots of praise
Everyone likes to be told they are doing well, but too many managers focus on the things that have gone badly when trying to improve their employees’ work. Unfortunately, too many negative comments can de-motivate people, whereas praise has the opposite effect. The business thinker and writer Stephen R Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, writes that employers should treat staff “as they want them to treat their best customers”. He adds that praise should occur immediately after good work is done and should be given to the employee personally. It must be specific, sincere, proactive and, most of all, “thoroughly positive”.
7. Happiness is key
Creating a happy place to work is one of the key ingredients of being a great manager. It seems obvious, but if staff like where they work then they’ll want to come in and are more likely to stay. Dominic Monkhouse, managing director of online hosting company Peer 1 Hosting, takes this message to heart with an office that includes playful features such as slides, swings, a putting green and even a tree house. “Happiness is absolutely fundamental. I can’t envisage getting great customer service from people who don’t enjoy what they are doing,” he says. “If you’re happy, you take a sense of pride, rather than it just being a job. You’ve got to make sure that people never feel they are just a cog in the wheel or that their contribution isn’t valued, so people continue to be engaged and positive. A happy team will achieve the best results for the business.”