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Harness your people’s enthusiasm, loyalty and creativity

De-mystifying ‘people management’-speak, sharing practical examples of great practice in action and showing how getting all the elements right internally translates to a strong external brand for your business, too. IIP Practitioner Alan Morris sets the record straight.

When we manage, support, encourage and develop our people well, we create a business that employees are proud to be a part of and will give their all for. But the language the HR sector uses to describe the key elements that go into ‘great people management’ can often be difficult to understand – let alone implement.

“You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”  Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Gaining the enthusiasm, loyalty and creativity of your people comes down to the way you manage them. What does that look like in reality? Let’s unpack the HR-speak and get down to business.


Vision and values - building it from the roots up

This isn’t simply the MD writing out his or her personal vision and values and telling people that’s how it is. Where it works is when there’s a process of engaging with people from all reaches of the business and inviting them to contribute to defining your organisation’s vision and values.

When Investors in People Gold accredited Magenta Living, a not-for-profit provider of affordable housing, left the public sector, their workforce was split into building service workers and administration workers. There was a gap between the two parts of the organisation, which the leadership and management team was trying to close – but it just wasn’t working. Many felt that the building service workers were unwilling to move forward to a more customer-focussed way of working.

But speaking to employees, I got a sense that it was all a defence mechanism, a way of resisting change – they were just frightened. That was quite a revelation for the management team, but one that really spurred on positive change. They engaged staff, customers and stakeholders to agree on a new set of values and held staff and manager focus groups to develop behaviours based on those values. This then fed into a re-brand internally and externally.

It took two years, but has transformed the organisation – which is now successfully working as one. It’s because everyone has contributed to it, from the bottom up. Having that ownership really gets people on board and engaged.


Behaviours - putting values into action

Values like ‘honesty, trust and respect’ trip off the tongue quite easily, but what do they actually mean? How can your people live out, act and behave in line with your values, both internally and on a customer-facing basis?

One doctors’ practice I worked with had a challenge when a long-serving member of staff in a customer-facing role was behaving in a way that wasn’t really appropriate to meeting patient expectations. It’s obviously a difficult thing to approach, especially with someone who’s been in a role for a long time. But after everyone – including doctors, partners, practice managers and receptionists – sat down together to define how their values could translate to everyday behaviours, the employee’s behaviour changed instantly. It was amazing.

Engaging employees in the process of defining what acceptable or desirable behaviour is will mean they’re more likely to take responsibility for modifying their own actions.


Workplace culture - "The way we do things around here"

Colourful beanbags, ping-pong tables and stand-up desks may be all the rage. But workplace culture encompasses more than just the physical workspace – it’s about people’s attitudes and behaviours and the shared ethos of ‘the way we do things round here’.

Another challenge that Magenta Living faced was moving premises. They created a cross-department relocation project team around the move so people were able to contribute their thoughts, air concerns and have their needs met. It was really important to unpack their values into how people should interact with each other – both as part of their working roles/ tasks and in their breaks/ ‘downtime’ too – to ensure the new office environment stimulated a really positive, productive and collaborative working culture.

Now when you walk into the staff restaurant in the new building, you see people from both areas of the organisation sitting down and having their lunch together. They’ve worked really hard and broken down those cultural barriers. A strong employer brand is about so much more than just visual branding; essentially it’s about a sense of shared ownership.


Performance management - looking forwards, not backwards

The very mention of the word ‘appraisal’ used to be enough to send shivers down people’s spines – from managers who didn’t want to implement them, to people who didn’t want to be appraised. Now we’re seeing a change away from the annual appraisal towards a more forward-looking process.

For one large, multi-sited organisation in the manufacturing sector, the fast-paced nature of their work meant having performance reviews on an annual basis wasn’t valuable for people. So they’re now piloting a scheme around a competency framework. By selecting relevant competencies to work with throughout the year, they’ve changed their approach to performance management to be more about future goals and improvements than past performance.

Appraisals can have negative connotations. Shifting the focus turns performance management into a form of development review, making people feel more valued.


Effective leadership - embodying change

Rather than just leading from the front in a process-driven way and telling people what they should be doing and how they should be behaving, effective leaders have turned things on their head, working with people to understand their different needs.

When a plastic manufacturer, employing around 250 people, was faced with the challenge of managing change, the management team knew they needed to do something different to get buy-in from the shop floor – but they weren’t sure what.

Through a series of focus groups and employee interviews, it became clear the directors had been trying to communicate from the top down. But to get the shop floor on board, they needed to change their approach and demonstrate that things were changing. They started by adapting the way they shared performance information. Instead of sitting down once a month in the conference room with charts, graphs and PowerPoint presentations, they introduced a more dynamic, interactive approach. Middle managers and shop floor staff were invited into the training room to walk around and give feedback on the performance figures on flipcharts.

It took 12 months to roll out the scheme, which involved training managers to give them the skills they needed to facilitate interactive sessions and draw people out into discussion and take that to the shop floor. The goal was to find a different way to ease the change process and it worked tremendously.

If you can engage with your people instead of issuing orders from the top, performance improves dramatically and people are prepared to go the extra mile. 


Tying it all together

When we get it right, all the elements add up to engaged employees – which not only equals a strong sense of internal brand, but has a positive impact on the bottom line.

Jolly Good Van Hire is a relatively new car and van hire company. As a former hotelier, CEO Mark Hughes understands the importance of customer service – and how getting that right has a direct impact on customer retention and repeat business. He understands that’s all about values. Anybody joining the business can be trained up with the knowledge and skills to do the administration of car and van hire quickly, but what’s key is engaging them in the Jolly Ethos. A Jolly brand ambassador carries out employee training and the induction begins with the company’s branding, values and vision. It’s about having the right people behaving in the right way, providing the right service for the customer.

Jolly Good has expanded from 450 vehicles to 1,000 vehicles in a few years, and from four to 10 depots in the last two years. The goal is to get to 20. Mark understands the key to achieving that is getting his people fired up about doing it too.

By really living their Jolly Ethos internally, they enjoy business success externally. And the results speak for themselves.

Taking on a values-led approach in your own organisation, getting everyone inside the business working to a set of principles everyone believes in – and feels ownership of – is a sure-fire way to achieve lasting business success externally too. From loyal customers to a soaring bottom line, I guarantee you won’t look back.