When I started out in business it was just me and my business partner in a windowless office at the very top of Queen Street in Auckland. The only thing we had to focus on was keeping our customers happy – simpler times. Although I very much enjoyed those days the business soon outgrew us and we began hiring with little to no experience in motivating or incentivising the outcomes that we desired from our team.
Our focus remained our customers, with our staff coming in a (still important) second place – we soon recognised that we had it very much backwards. In the wise words of Richard Branson, founder of The Virgin Group, “Clients do not come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. This may seem counterintuitive at first but bear with me.
For our particular business, this started with leadership reorganising financial incentives for employees to match with customer satisfaction and deliverable. Monetary compensation, however, is only one half of the equation.
The second half began with the morning meeting before we kicked off the business day, a meeting which is usually not particularly looked forward to by staff or management. Rather than management controlling the meeting however, we delegated responsibility to a different staff member each day which generally followed the same agenda with a touch of personality from each team member including dedicated time for praise and recognition for team members followed by project updates and action items. What we found from implementing this was team ownership over the goals of the company, which inevitably furthered the goals of our clients resulting in greater demands for our services and fatter profit margins. After months of these meetings we started to notice that our presence as the owners of the business at the morning meetings almost became superfluous as the team was now taking firm ownership over the demands of our clients. “At last!” we thought to ourselves as we took a step back from the business operationally and could focus on processes and procedures as opposed to delivering the service.
Although these financial incentives and meeting times might seem to have been cutting into our profits, as noted above it was actually increasing them. As Harold Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, says, “Treating employees benevolently shouldn’t be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energiser that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision”.
So I ask you small to medium business owners to reflect upon your own team as they are going to be the foundation that sustains your ability to compete at a high level amongst your peers in the market.