How entrepreneurs can get the most from their staff

IOL economy arrows Filomena Scalise

Judging by the reaction on social media, the last episode of The Big Break Legacy was quite exciting for viewers. And one of the things they found most exciting was the fact that we mixed up the teams. As I tweeted on the evening of the broadcast: “Entrepreneurs need to learn to work with anyone. You don’t always get the chance to work with people you like.”

But there’s more to it than that. In order for an entrepreneurial venture to succeed, you need to learn to get the best out of the people you work with, offering them the same as you offer yourself. Not just a way of making a living, but a way to live fully, doing exciting things and stretching yourself to your full potential.

In this week’s episode, we challenged our top eight entrepreneurs to demonstrate their skill in doing just that. We asked them to work on a corporate social investment project in Alexandra township, using their entrepreneurial skills to uplift the community. But, most importantly, we asked them to identify, use and develop local talent and skills.

Effectively, what we challenged our contestants to do is to demonstrate a skill that all entrepreneurs need to develop in order to grow their businesses. When you start off, quite often it’s just you, and possibly your romantic partner or a family member. But eventually, in order to grow, you have to start employing others. This is one of the reasons that small, medium and micro enterprises are so often identified as the solution to unemployment.

This is your hard-earned money that you are using to pay salaries – so you need to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth, in the same way you would with any other supplier. And how do you do that?

You manage your human resources effectively by ensuring that they understand your company’s strategic goals and objectives, which will improve your business performance. Your attitude towards your staff will determine whether or not you create an organisational culture or community that fosters innovation and flexibility. It’s up to you to make sure you create a happy working environment, which in turn will create happy staff, and ensure you are getting the best “bang for your salary buck”.

This concept is a powerful one if applied correctly within your organisation. By having a strategy that places emphasis on recruiting for a comfortable fit with your organisation’s culture, as well as internal staff development, you allow yourself to plan for future growth, respond to changes that may occur and create real advantage over your competitors.

Ronald Sims, the senior professor in the Graduate School of Business at the College of William and Mary, states it clearly when he writes: “Successful organisations in the future must closely align their human resource management (HRM) strategies and programmes with the external opportunities, competitive strategies, and their unique characteristics and core competence. Organisations that fail to… (to do so) will not be successful.”

When it comes to hiring and retaining staff, you need to ask yourself some key business questions:

n Do I have the necessary workforce to successfully achieve my business goals?

n Am I hiring quality people? Do I know where to find quality people?

n Am I developing my existing staff to enable them to meet the needs of my business as we continue to grow?

n What is my return on investment for staff training? Is the training I do what my staff wants and needs?

Something that is often quite hard to understand is that, although you are paying a salary, people do not belong to you. So remember that the people who work for you expect and deserve to be treated with respect. People respond negatively to being treated like children or numbers.

Something else to bear in mind is that it’s quite hard to motivate people externally – you can give them as many incentives as you like, but if those incentives aren’t something that already matters to them, they will have no effect.

The same principle applies to the actual work they are doing. A good entrepreneur needs to identify what his or her staff like doing, what they will put up with doing if they still get to do the interesting things and what they hate doing so much that they will become unproductive. Placing your people effectively and using their talents properly will help to ensure that your business grows.

Something else to bear in mind is that you don’t necessarily have all the answers. What you want is not necessarily to get the people who work for you to do what you want in the way that you want. It may be that your employees have better solutions and if you don’t listen to them, you are reducing the possibility of your business performing exceptionally.

To quote Les Landes, the president of Landes & Associates, the question you should be asking is: “How can I get the best that people are willing and able to contribute to the success of this organisation.”

Some clues to doing that are:

n Make sure your staff have the appropriate aptitude, skills and knowledge – aptitude is what you hire for, while skills and knowledge are acquired.

n Make sure you set clear goals and outline your expectations and the responsibilities of your staff.

n Explain why you want people to do something – if people understand the thinking behind your requirements, they are more likely to buy-in to its importance.

n Have well-defined systems in your office – processes designed to make things easier for the staff rather than simply adding another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.

In the end, what it comes down to is stifling your own ego and the need to prove yourself and emphasising the importance of team-work and creating an environment in which you benefit from the intelligence and capability of all those working in your business, or on a particular project.

As this episode showed, by maximising local talent and abilities, the entrepreneurs were able to create a project that uplifted a community, not just for a day or a week, but for the foreseeable future – and that’s social entrepreneurship at its best.

Ezra Ndwandwe is the chief executive of Dual Point Media and the creator of the SABC 2 reality TV show, The Big Break Legacy.


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