How to get the most from your people

How to get
the most from
your people
Evolution is the key to success
Adapt to your
A business cannot rest on its laurels,
no matter how successful or well
regarded it may be. To do nothing
is to stagnate.
Those who claim they are too busy
to plan ahead or waste time trying
to predict market conditions are
merely making excuses for a lack
of ambition. To drive a business
forward, you need a direction. So
how do you get people on board?
The state of the global economy and the prospect of continuing
austerity measures and spending cuts in the UK mean that creating
more jobs and growth is likely to remain a tough challenge for
the foreseeable future. At the UK Commission for Employment
and Skills my fellow Commissioners and I strongly believe that
sustainable growth in the UK will be created through the skills and
entrepreneurship of people. Lots of others share our view, and there
is lots of evidence to support us.
We know that successful businesses value their people. When
care and attention is given to the way in which staff are managed
and organised business productivity and competiveness
significantly increases.
Where leaders and managers take some simple steps towards
becoming a high performance company they are on the road to
doubling the amount of profit they make per employee.
I am sure that most businesses want to be seen as a ‘good
employer’ – to motivate their workforce to perform well, impress
customers and gain the respect of their peers – but even so research
shows that only around a fifth of employers implement policies and
practices specifically to get high performance from their people.
So what are you waiting for? There’s lots of support available but
it’s up to you to mind your own business!
Scott Waddington
Chief Executive, SA Brain and Co Ltd,
Commissioner – UK Commission for Employment and Skills
It’s a balancing act
Minding your own business is a balancing act. How do we make the
best of what we’ve got, drive down costs and keep customers happy?
It is often said that ‘People are our greatest asset’. People can spot
new opportunities, work out how to do things better and eliminate waste.
Attract the
high flyers
But we only get the best out of our people by demonstrating that we
value them and actively communicating with them to seek their input.
High performing businesses know this and drive the business
forward by:
■■ Motivating and involving their people
■■ Making sure their people have the skills they need
■■ Organising work to meet the needs of the business and its people
■■ Developing great leaders and managers
Each of these things is important, but getting them all aligned can
pay real dividends.
Becoming a high
company can
double profit
per employee
in t
right s
r i g Pe o p l e w i t h t h e e
ht at t itud
case study
firmus energy is a medium-sized utilities company, established
in 2005 as a subsidiary of gas company BGE. firmus distributes
and supplies natural gas and electricity in Northern Ireland.
Customers in towns across Northern Ireland have traditionally
used oil as the main fuel and, with no previous supplier of natural
gas, firmus had to break into new territory to win business.
Cost has been a factor, however their competitive differentiation
comes from customer service and delighting the customer.
A belief in the potential of their people is central to firmus
energy’s approach. Recognising that understanding and
responding to staff needs has a positive knock on effect to
customers, listening to employees is viewed as vital. This
happens in various ways including one to ones, quarterly
company briefings and staff suggestion boxes – initiatives such
as more flexible working hours were introduced as a result of
staff suggestions.
People with
the right attitude
Engaged employees have a personal commitment to their work
and to the business; they will do their best to help it succeed.
Engaged employees are loyal, they stay committed in difficult times
and are 87% less likely to leave the organisation, reducing staff
turnover and its associated costs.
Understand how to
meet customer needs
Average sickness
absence (days per year)
This approach has brought significant benefits.
So how can you engage your people more?
The staff are highly motivated. People have clarity about what is
expected from them and feel both trusted to make decisions and
confident they can ask for support if required. People feel that
they can speak openly where any issues occur and that they will
be addressed. firmus was recognised as a UK ‘Great Place to
Work’ in 2010 and 2011.
■■ Share your plans for the business. Two-way communication
builds trust and confidence, so inspire your people with your vision
and listen to what they have to say. What excites you and is special
about your organisation, its products and services; what are your
hopes for the future? Can your people relate to it; what interests
and motivates them; what frustrates them and could be changed?
Over 44,000 homes and businesses across Northern Ireland
have signed up to firmus with excellent customer satisfaction
levels. They haven’t had one Consumer Council complaint in
over 6 years of operation, and 96% of customers would definitely
recommend firmus to friends and family.
■■ Create opportunities for problem solving. Ask your people to
come up with new ideas about how to do things better; grow
existing business, acquire new customers, improve products
and services or cut costs. Build loyalty and commitment by
implementing and celebrating at least some of them, showing
that you respect their opinions and ideas. Consider setting up a
problem solving group.
Find out more about firmus energy here or visit delni
■■ Recognise and reward the Right Attitude. Highlighting those
who have made significant contributions, shown extra effort or
delivered beyond expectations will provide a real boost to morale.
Reward doesn’t have to be a cash bonus.
case study
At Pyronix, an SME manufacturer based in Yorkshire, we have a
history of recruiting young people, as we believe that they bring
real benefits in terms of performance, loyalty and business growth.
The company collaborated with Sheffield Hallam University
to offer a 3-month graduate internship. One intern started off
working in the marketing department and quickly became
a valuable member of staff. Her language skills in particular
contributed to our expansion as she was able to market the
company in Germany. At the end of her internship she was
offered a full-time position. After 2 years she left to progress her
career, creating an opportunity for another young person. He has
brought a new skill set in social media allowing us to improve our
facebook, twitter and LinkedIn presence and his creativity and
fresh outlook has helped in developing an Italian website which
helped to increase sales by over 200% in 2012.
“ As a young person I was given the opportunity to train as a
legal secretary and it changed my life. Someone believed in me,
which gave me the confidence, motivation and skills to better
myself. Pyronix has a long history of recruiting young people
and I have seen real benefits to my business.”
Julie Kenny,
Chairman and Chief Executive,
Commissioner – UK Commission
for Employment and Skills
National winner of the First
Women Award for Engineering
and Manufacturing 2012
People with
the right skills
Investing in your people’s skills is good for business.
Businesses that don’t train are on average two times more
likely to go out of business than those that do.
The returns to investing in the right skills include:
To ensure you have the skills you need, why not:
■■ Review the skills of your people. What skills do your people
have that you are not taking advantage of? What skills does
your business need now and for the future? What are the skills
opportunities and risks for your business?
■■ Set aside some time and a budget for training. Investing in and
giving your people the opportunity to learn shows that you value and
believe in them. Training doesn’t have to mean going on a course.
Consider job shadowing, mentoring or coaching. Set aside a
training budget and use this where people can show how it will help
them to help the business. Why not retrain someone for that hard to
fill vacancy? People are more likely to stay with your business if they
are learning new things and can see opportunities for progression.
■■ Adopt a youth policy. Taking on and developing young people
secures flexible, tailor-made talent for your business, allowing you
to Grow Your Own. The vast majority of employers who do this find
young people well prepared for work. Shorter term opportunities
such as work placements and Internships can also bring big
benefits for both the business and the individuals.
case study
In 2003 Geoplan was making a loss of nearly half a million
pounds a year.
The company was grappling with a structure that didn’t work and
in which all roads led back to Managing Director John Taylor.
With help from Investors in People, Geoplan overcame a series
of technological and market challenges, growing the business,
boosting their performance and developing a self-managing
structure so that anyone – rather than just John – could lead
a project.
In 2011 Geoplan made a profit of £400,000 and productivity
had gone up from £56k per head in 2002 to £93k per head.
John Taylor now has a business he can be proud of, and feels
he’s got his life back along the way.
Read more on this story here
or see John tell his story on YouTube
People in
the right jobs
People get greater satisfaction and a sense of achievement
from a challenging job which gives them responsibility.
A good job uses and stretches their skills and gives them clarity on
the contribution they make to the business. Anything less is a waste
of talent.
of employees surveyed say they have more skills
and talent to offer than they are currently asked for
To create better jobs you might want to:
■■ Review the skills of your people. Do they have untapped skills,
knowledge and experience that can benefit your business? When
did you last ask them? They may be able and willing to do more
than you think - so delegate. This will free you up to manage
important customers or find new ones, to plot the future of the
business, or to take an evening off!
■■ Review the quality of jobs in your business. Well designed
jobs provide people with a sense of purpose, achievement and
belonging – so talk to your people to make sure that their tasks,
responsibilities and working relationships are clear, efficient
and productive.
■■ Develop your managers and supervisors. You can then
empower them to work with and across their teams to organise
work in the most efficient way, minimising bottlenecks and
frustrations and making the most of their people.
case study
When opening a second showroom for her Accrington based
estate agency, Buy-the-House, Lesley Swinn needed to increase
her employees from three to fourteen. However, used to dealing
with just three employees, Lesley found herself under constant
pressure to carry out individual on-the-job coaching, with little
time left to lead the business.
To address this, Lesley:
■■ closed her business for one hour per week to carry out group
training based on masterclasses Lesley attended as part of her
participation in the LEAD programme at Lancaster University;
■■ renamed appraisals “good chats with good people”, recognising
that her business did not match formal appraisal methods, and
started to use them as an empowering opportunity for employees
to contribute ideas and question the business owners.
Lesley has seen this approach generate bonding and a culture
of interdependency, as employees began to coach each other,
creating a stronger and more-informed team and allowing natural
leaders to emerge as candidates for promotion. From this
Lesley has created a more tiered approach to the organisational
structure, allowing her to delegate most operational activities
and adopt a more leadership focused role. Buy-the-House
has become the only company ever to score 100 per cent for
customer service by the independent company commissioned to
help measure the success of the changes.
Read more about Buy-the-House here (p109)
Great leadership
and management
To get people with the right attitude and the right skills in the right
jobs requires good leadership and management. Why would you
trust an untrained manager to drive your business?
Three quarters of staff waste up to 2 hours each week due to
inefficient management – on average this equates to around £900
per employee per year. Increasing leadership and management skills
will help you build a higher performing business that people can be
proud to work for. To raise the level of management and leadership in
your business you could:
■■ Continue to develop your own skills and knowledge.
Few challenges are truly unique, so what can you learn from
what other successful businesses are doing? Why not join a
local business, industry or professional body to find out? An
external mentor or coach may be more expensive but can provide
invaluable insights and guidance. Build your own leadership by
investing time and being more visible. Have an open door policy;
welcome concerns and suggestions; make time to walk around,
talk and get to know your people’s skills, jobs and interests. Share
your vision; how people can contribute to it and what they’ll get
from it. Being seen to lead builds trust and confidence.
■■ Take ownership of the skills in your business.
Responsibility for the performance of all business assets, including
its people, starts at the top. If you want your business to be
successful you have to plan for the development and utilisation
of the skills of your people. Support is available from a range of
organisations and peer networks to help you do this.
■■ Train your managers. They are the key to unlocking the
potential of your people. Professional organisations can help
identify cost-effective management and leadership training. Job
shadowing, mentoring, or coaching with somebody from outside
the organisation (e.g. a business contact you admire) may be a
cheaper alternative.
Helping you to Mind
your Own Business
Go online to find lots of information and free advice. It’s sometimes
difficult to know which of it you can trust, but here are some sites you
might want to try:
Taking action need not cost money or require vast amounts of time
and effort. There are some simple steps you can take to help you on
your way and there’s lots of support available.
■■ Managers has a range of practical resources for managers, such as
best practice guides, checklists and e-learning
Networking is a great way to meet people and discuss what makes
a good business – hearing from someone who has ‘been there
and done it’, or sharing experiences with others. There are many
organisations providing networking, advice and learning opportunities
that are willing to support you in making a difference to your business.
These include:
■■ Engage For Success has ideas and tools to help effective
employee engagement
■■ CIPD has HR information and factsheets
■■ Business In You is a partnership between private enterprise
and Government highlighting support for start-ups and growing
■■ Growth Accelerator provides coaching and know-how to small
businesses with high growth potential in England
■■ Local business organisations
(such as Chambers of Commerce)
■■ Leadership Lab hosted by Scottish Enterprise, helps businesses
of any size in Scotland develop their leadership culture
■■ Business representative organisations
(such as CBI, FPB or FSB)
■■ Alongside support for employment engagement, Acas have a free
online tool – the Acas Model Workplace – designed to help you
check how good your organisation is at people management and
identify improvements.
■■ Industry bodies and
Trade Associations
■■ Professional Bodies
(such as CIPD, CMI or ILM)
■■ Trade Unions and unionlearn.
One or more of these may be in
your professional network already,
but if not then you are missing out.
One-to-one advice need not be
difficult or expensive. A professional
advisor such as your accountant may
be able to help, or you could contact
Mentorsme to get connected with
mentoring organisations that can
support and guide your growth.
Business development tools can deliver real results.
■■ Investors in People is the UK’s leading people management
standard. It specialises in transforming business performance
through people, based on a flexible framework of best practice
that can be tailored to your business priorities. Over a third of the
UK’s workforce uses Investors in People today, and employers
do so because they see a number of real business benefits.
See Investors In People for more information or to contact your
local Investors in People centre.
■■ The EFQM Excellence Model is Europe’s leading management
framework and has already been implemented by over 30,000
organisations globally. Unlike more prescriptive standards, it
provides a structured path for improving business performance and
profitability by streamlining operations and increasing productivity
and efficiency. See BQF for more information.
The main thing is to do something to get started – perhaps something
suggested in this booklet, something identified from talking to your
people or something learned from your professional network.
Learn More
All of these organisations, and more, are working together to support
‘Mind Your Own Business’. Check out their websites or follow them
on twitter.
Get your
claws into
new business
The UK Commission has
published a number of reports
that provide insights into
business performance.
For more information visit