Successful People-Preneurship: How Listening to the Front Line will Increase Your bottom Line

20 April 2010 Bev James

Bev James, CEO of the Entrepreneurs' Business Academy, shares her ideas for successful people-preneurship.

People are the front line of any business – and the most important and profitable asset. In my dual role as CEO for The Coaching Academy and the newly launched Entrepreneurs' Business Academy (EBA), my relationship with my staff is central to the successful running of both ventures. I want to share some simple strategies for successful people-preneurship that we all know in theory, but under pressure we may not apply in practice:

Downsize or right size?

In times of recession it is common strategy to trim the size of the workforce. Downsizing may be necessary, but it is unlikely to reduce workload. When roles are made redundant, the responsibilities are generally reallocated to other people. The problem is that additional tasks may cause overload, or not be a good fit for the skill set or personality.

Perhaps a sales assistant is made redundant, he was the liaison between an external sales person and the departmental administrator. As a result, the administrator has to start making outbound calls and the sales person has to do more paperwork. Suddenly both people are demotivated by work that is outside their comfort zone. Instead of one person leaving, there may soon be three.

Ask your team, "What parts of your job do you really love? If there was something else to take on – what would it be?" Involve them in assessing the requirements of the department. When you give the power back to those who are doing the work, they are less likely to resist doing new tasks and more likely to tune in to the commercial concerns of the business.

"People are the front line of any business – and the most important and profitable asset."

Don't exterminate, communicate

It's frustrating to hear managers use phrases such as, "You just can't get the people these days", "it would be better for everyone if he/she left" or "people just don't care". It's nonsense of course; people do care – but they first need to know that the management cares about them too.

Focus on communicating with your team members in a way that reflects their personal style. Are they detail orientated? Give them facts and figures to help them plan and complete their task. Are they results orientated? Give them a target and reward them with status. Are they warm and outgoing? They will be motivated by praise and appreciation. Are they methodical and reliable? Make sure there is a clear process in place for them to follow.

Encourage your people to communicate with you: "tell me what you need", "tell me your ideal solution", "if this were your business, what would you do?" Suggest they ask each other for feedback: "what do you think?"', "what do you suggest?".

A new recruit may work at only 50% capacity for the first three to six months. A de-motivated employee may function at 50% or less for six months or more before they finally resign. In combination that represents 12 months of lost work and lost revenue. Knowing that, wouldn't you rather keep the people you've got, rather than starting again?

Help individuals to appreciate each others' differences and you will build a team that delivers results. Those who work together effectively will also come up with the most efficient solutions.

Read the pressure gauge

Workplace stress and burnout is a major cost to businesses and individuals, but it is avoidable. I talk to my team daily to stay tuned in to their stress levels. We use a scale of one to ten to monitor current needs. Level one means, "I am not under pressure", level ten means "I am feeling totally overwhelmed". I value this approach because it is fast and enables people to ask for help without realising it. Many employees find it very hard to say "I have got too much to do".

Fast-paced leaders may unwittingly create an environment that is perpetually at other people's levels nine or ten. This can be a challenge for their managers and staff. Most people can work at levels eight or nine for short periods. They are being stretched, but verging on overload. I always adjust the pressure at levels eight and nine because level ten is a tipping point: the damage has already been done and your employee is potentially on the road to burnout. Take the pressure off by outsourcing the task or involving other employees to help with the workflow. Consider investing in a long-term hire if the workload is increasing permanently beyond the capacity of the role.

Stay in touch with what is really happening

Those at the top tend to want to hear good news. Leaders by nature drive things forward and make things happen. Under pressure, the last thing they want to hear is grumbling or dissent.

"When you give the power back to those who are doing the work, they are less likely to resist doing new tasks."

My advice would be: don't always avoid complaints and bad news. Schedule time each week to walk the floor and talk to those on the front line of your business.

Let them speak, listen to their suggestions, and believe the honesty of what they have to say – no matter how inconvenient. Behind every whinge, every complaint, every challenge, there is a true gem: the opportunity to do things differently, better. But if you don't hear it first hand – you may miss it completely.

That's why I continue to deliver training sessions for The Coaching Academy and attend every EBA event. If I dealt only with the people in the office, I would lose touch with the people that make up the business. I need to find out whether we are still offering what people want and where the new opportunities lie.

I am passionate about business, but I know all too well that unless leaders have a good rapport with their people and work effectively as a team, launching any kind of strategy is going to be an uphill struggle. State-of-the art weaponry and a battle plan may impress shareholders but you need to look after those on the front line and listen to their views if you want your campaign to succeed.