Building your business for growth

But one of the conundrums that crops up is that, despite the current relatively high unemployment rate, getting good staff is frequently mentioned as a top concern by the MD’s.

In my experience from working in and with both large and small companies, staff issues are normally symptoms of other problems, so I’d like to share my top five tips for ensuring you’re building for growth in such a way as to prevent staff issues from occurring in the first place.

As more headlines come out forecasting doom and gloom on the economic front at home and abroad, it’s easy to get lulled into a negative mindset. However, lots of SME’s I talk to and work with are continuing to plan for growth. One of the conundrums that crops up is that despite the current relatively high unemployment rate, getting good staff is frequently mentioned as a top concern by the MD’s.

In my experience from working in and with both large and small companies, staff issues are normally symptoms of other problems, so I’d like to share my top five tips for ensuring you’re building for growth in such a way as to prevent staff issues from occurring in the first place.

Ensure your business processes are clear – map out what work actually needs doing in every area of your business – from generating customers, closing sales, delivering the orders, to managing the finances. Working with a start up in the energy sector, we’re actively working towards ISO 9001 which involves doing just this.

There are companies such as UKICM (www.ukicm.com) that can help you work through what’s required. The benefits are that you have to set out what your key processes are, how you’ll measure success, and what training will be needed. Some people might regard it all as being too bureaucratic. However, if you can’t explain the activities involved in running your business in a succinct way, it’s no surprise if staff end up under performing as they try and figure it out themselves.

Develop work packages – these will ultimately become role profiles or job descriptions. The challenge here is to see if they are realistic – not just from a work volume and time point of view, but whether the tasks fit with the kinds of people available.

For instance, working in production management at Rover Group in my early career, the role of “Cell Manager “was developed from input from a University. The theory was great – they’d be a mini Managing Director responsible for all aspects of their production cell. The only problem – individuals with the necessary mix of people and technical skills were in short supply – and over the next seven years, the job slowly morphed back to the traditional foreman/superintendent type roles with separate technical support.

Another classic I come across is expecting analytical roles to be able to be super sales people as well. It’s not impossible, but you may need to develop “needle in haystack” type searching skills or a long term training and development programme.

Source and select people to do the roles. This could be through recruiting direct employees or by using some form of outsourcing such as contractors/freelancers/consultants. I’ve written about “Bringing in the wrong people” as being one of the top mistakes that can kill your business (http://www.bmmagazine.co.uk/Are-you-killing-your-business-Mistake-5-bringing-in-the-wrong-people.1282) so it’s well worth taking your time over this step. I worked with an architect to design a simple selection process using an interview, but also a short presentation and a relevant technical task. These additional elements revealed precious insights about attention to detail and focus – or rather lack of!

Manage the performance. Often people assume this is just about setting up annual appraisals – though even those get overlooked. Good practice will include much more – such as setting and agreeing expectations from the start, giving frequent feedback and even more importantly, asking for feedback. These apply just as much for external suppliers/contractors as for employees.

Finally, your overall intention is crucial here – I recently heard this comment, from joint partners in a company, who’d recently promoted two members of staff – “we don’t have the confidence in them yet to give them more” – hence they were still doing too much themselves. Think about ways you can give confidence to your staff or contractors. If they sense you’re out to catch them making a mistake – guess what – they’re not going to take any risks. And as I learnt on early practical machining training as a Mechanical Engineer – “the only person who didn’t make a mistake is the one who didn’t do anything”.

Manage yourself. Managing others, whether internal staff or external suppliers – needs time. Hence you need to free up time – or be prepared to invest extra time for a period – to get new people started. So things will probably get worse before they get better. If you fail to recognise this you could end up with the worst of all situations – you still do all the work (because you haven’t made time to delegate it), whilst you’re paying others to sit around – who then get fed up and probably leave – wasting precious cash in both salaries and recruitment costs.

There are many other aspects to successfully growing a business – bringing in additional customers and clients is the obvious one, but don’t just focus on the obvious. Make sure you have a good structure in place so that the work you do to attract new customers actually helps the business grow, rather than swamps it and ultimately overwhelms everyone involved.

As you plan for a successful 2012, remember to ensure your whole business infrastructure is capable of supporting the growth.

About Hilary Briggs

A management consultant with over 15 years of industrial experience having held senior management positions at Rover Group, Whirlpool Corporation and The Laird Group plc. For the last 10 years, she’s worked with SME’s to improve their performance. Hilary is Managing Director of productivity specialists R2P Ltd.