Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Someone once said to me, business is fun until you start hiring people.
I disagreed then, and I still do now, because sharing my journey with others has been hugely satisfying. It’s the fun part. And watching young people grow into management positions and achieve their goals in and out of the workplace is more rewarding still. But I can see how it can get some company owners and managers down.
Reality is, you need people to grow a company, especially one with numerous locations and an ongoing requirement to deliver product and expertise to the point of use. In the early days of a business, this can be achieved by appointing people that are already known to management or come highly recommended by trusted acquaintances. There’ll be times when there are people almost waiting in the wings for openings to become available, or a job is created when the right person is ready to come aboard.
That changes over time, particularly in a sector, like lifting and rigging, where there are more jobs available than skilled, diligent, loyal, professional people to fill them. As we’ve expanded into eight national facilities, the most recent of which to open is in Roborough, Plymouth, it’s been necessary to take a chance on certain personnel decisions. It’s impossible to be 100% sure about everyone we recruit, and this can lead to problems. Some people come across well, at first, but quickly show flaws in their character. Others become bored or disloyal in the heat of battle.
I’ve never been too concerned about mistakes because we all make them. If they’re repeated and down to a lack of care and attention then that needs to be addressed, but when we must act on gut instinct and be fleet of foot, we can’t get it right every time. What I look for more are core attributes that stand the test of time: loyalty, trust, work ethic, enthusiasm, courtesy, etc. Even in someone’s body language I look for consistency.
Is someone as bouncy, bright, and engaged on Day 1,000 as they were on Day 1?
If not, why not?
How can we rekindle that flame?
This is all very important because of what happens in a room of positive people that share the same goals, versus a room of negative people that’ve started to knife each other in the back.
In the first room, problems are addressed and solved early; they’re never left to grow into major issues and even in the most stressful of moments, solutions can be found. In the second room, problems are created, not avoided. Then small issues escalate quickly. Nobody looks for a solution, but they look for someone to blame. Fingers are pointed everywhere except the direction of progress and often the company itself is the fall guy.
Of course, it’s not about a CEO or director sitting back and expecting people to deliver wealth to their door. Where I’ve seen companies and their staff succeed together, at pace, it’s always been a two-way street. What’s expected of both parties should be established at the outset—and stuck to. It should be clear what tools and support are going to be readily available, what level of performance they should enable the worker to achieve, and what the rewards are for repeated excellence. Goals should be shared and celebrated, together, along the way.
Once the collective ‘we’ is lost, trouble quickly follows. Both employer and employee can be at fault here. If a company owner turns his or her back and expects someone to work miracles, the bond breaks. Similarly, if an employee expects the company to cover their mistakes or take the blame for their short-sightedness and shortcomings, everyone loses: employer, employee, business, customer, user, colleagues, and so on. It’s like a vicious circle.
This is why ‘accountability’ is one of my favourite words in business. Look it up: the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.
Help or hinder?
Success is based within simple parameters. Let’s look at three quick examples of how an employer can begin to help and hinder a person; these roles are seen throughout the lifting industry here in the UK and overseas:
Help: show support and patience throughout studies; set challenges and high standards to maintain.
Hinder: give them repeated, mundane tasks; fail to show respect.
Experienced site worker
Help: give them the right equipment and training to do the job safely and correctly; make them look and feel professional, at the top of their trade; make administration easy.
Hinder: expect them to perform magic tricks with the wrong information, equipment, and inadequate knowledge; fail to inspect vehicles and tools.
Help: support with world-class HR, sales, operations, equipment, staff, etc.
Hinder: leave them high and dry without proper support; expect unrealistic performance.
It’s simple, right?
Ok, I could’ve written much longer lists of how an employer can help and hinder each of these people do their jobs, but I don’t think it’s a complicated science. The less complex, the easier it is to stick to. Also, the less layers there are to things, the sooner it becomes clear when something is going astray. A cynic would even suggest that tangled terms and conditions are designed so an employee doesn’t know where they stand. Not only does this not help the worker, but it also probably means that management and ownership are confused too.
I never demand of any employee or colleague that a partnership or relationship lasts forever. People change and their priorities alter. My golden rules (loyalty, trust, work ethic, enthusiasm, courtesy, etc.) are non-negotiable but employees can still have these attributes and wish to choose a different pathway. These are the kind of people that work hard to their last day, leave with a handshake (or Covid-secure fist-bump) and maintain respect. These are the type of folks that you’ll chink glasses with for years to come and might even explore another avenue of mutual opportunity with in the future.
Not everyone is as honourable, however, and leaders of growing businesses especially have got to be prepared for, one, wayward employees and, two, a frosty farewell from a disgruntled former employee. These days, it can get messy because these people have access to digital data and social media, which weren’t issues in yesteryear. It’s no secret that there have been some tasty things said about me on certain platforms in recent months and it’s been a challenge to maintain my dignity. After all, my children now work at the company and my integrity is something I want them to look up to and replicate. But no good comes of mud-throwing and even less from throwing it back.
I was reading a thread not that long ago (not from our industry, actually) that was started by an employee that felt they were poorly treated. I don’t know if they were or weren’t, but the tone of their post didn’t really paint them in a good light. It was confrontational and seemingly without substance. I wondered what bridges they might be burning not so much with their old boss but, more importantly, with prospective future employers and partners. Rightly or wrongly, these days, recruitment companies and interviewers look at people’s social media profiles before they make decisions.
Would you employ someone who publicly hauled into question the morals of their previous employer? Could this be better handled behind closed doors?
For clarity, I’m a big advocate of employment rights and have the most robust systems in place to ensure our staff work in the best possible environment, but it must be a two-way thing. We want to all pull the cart together, not be burdened by passengers cracking the whip, casting aspersions.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd