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3 simple changes to get more from your team

You've probably read all about modern management styles, but how do you implement them in your organisation? I got to speak to Will Read, founder of Sideways6, about the unspoken truth behind top down and bottom-up management styles, and how to quickly implement practical changes within your business. Will revealed his three practical changes that businesses can make today, to leverage the entire organisations brain power.

Top down vs. bottom-up

There are two major schools of thought when it comes to management styles. The classic "top down" approach is when decisions come exclusively from the c-level and upper management, and the modern "bottom up" approach where everyone in the company has a route to voice ideas.

A bottom up approach is considered "modern" due to the style's proliferation within the startup culture. However, as Will explains, "In startups you don't really have much of a choice, you need to listen to people, you need to keep people on side." The lack of available man-hours means that everyone has to understand the goal that the business is working toward. Similarly the smaller knowledge pool of startups means that everyone needs to band together to find solutions to problems.

Startup culture has infected businesses and many established business owners indignantly proclaim "I've been running my enterprise like this for 10 years and we've been doing just fine!"

This may be true, and the top down approach is still the most effective way of getting staff on the same page.

"You need cohesion, especially as a larger business. You need to send the same message out to customers, potential customers, suppliers and that sort of thing. The way you do that is by delivering a strong message internally, and the easiest way to do that is to have someone decide what that message is and push it down," Will told ITProPortal.

However that doesn't mean that the message should be crafted entirely by the c-level. Will preached a message of balance and that business owners should "listen to the feedback, gather all the insight that your people have got, let them experiment slightly. Off the back of those experiments, that insight, and the knowledge that people have got shape the direction you want to go."

1. Allow communication

In an established business it can be difficult to change and adapt business processes, but in order to get the most out of your employees you need to allow free communication. "Make an environment in small areas of the business that accepts upward feedback and upward ideas. There is a place to make suggestions where you don't get shot down."

If you can't spare the space or time ask yourself "why don't my staff approach me with ideas/suggestions/solutions?" Often the answers are to do with apathy, fear of rejection, or not wanting the responsibility.

Frequently employees have brilliant ideas to improve workflow processes and relay them to a manager, who then proceeds to tell them that it's not the employees place to make that level of decision. The employee has just learned that the business does not care about their ideas or opinions, this results in apathy toward improving the enterprise.

Other times ideas are immediately shot down and a mountain of reasons to not do something are piled on and an employee learns that any other suggestion will meet a similar level of revulsion. Almost counter-intuitively some staff will not vocalise ideas through fear that they will have the responsibility of implementing that idea on top of the work they already have to do.

To facilitate free communication you need to mitigate these fears.

2. Trust your staff

Think about how much your enterprise spends on recruitment a year; the interviews, the sorting through resumes, and the sheer man hours used to find the best staff. Despite the huge investment on finding good people, does it make sense not to listen to them or allow them a voice?

"If you truly believe that you've got good people then you should be willing to listen to what they have to say and you should be willing to give them the freedom to make decisions on their own," Will continued, "If you don't feel comfortable giving them a little bit of responsibility and you don't feel comfortable listening to them, then maybe you've got the wrong people."

Make sure that you give your staff some level of autonomy, let them make a decision themselves and hold them accountable for it. For example, if a sales team member wants to explore another market for opportunities, or an engineer has an idea for running a more efficient help desk. Let them try out their ideas. If the ideas work, great! If the ideas don't work the staff member may have wasted some time but now understands that you respect their decisions and will be more engaged with the business.

Will elucidates the advantages of trusting your staff; "You gain a far more engaged workforce, on a much more measurable return-of-investment piece, you get new ways to make and save money, you gain more commercial knowledge from the insight of your people."

3. Expect more

"If people expect more, they'll get more" Will said. Instead of expecting the minimum from your employees, expect more. Make a list of traits and actions that you want from your staff, then tell them what you expect. Imagine if your staff could manage themselves; you'd free up time for your managers to focus on more critical tasks.

Set targets for your employees, if they don't hit them allow them to offer suggestions that would mean that they could hit the targets set. Similarly make them accountable for hitting the targets once they've made the own suggestion for how they'd reach their goal. Ask the staff that managed to hit the set target to give a presentation on how they managed it, and to share their knowledge.

If you expect more from your staff you need to understand that they'll expect more from you. "Workforces are expecting more, employees are on the cusp of expecting feedback upwards. A large enterprise with its view on getting ahead should be one of the first to adopt new strategy," Will explained.

The startup culture and personal empowerment that technology provides means that talented people have more options and freedom. If your business or organisation doesn't allow these talented people to flourish you risk losing them to a competitor.

If you treat your people like worker drones they'll act like worker drones. If you respect, trust, and believe in them then they'll reciprocate that sentiment, and you'll progress further.

Baby Steps

The key learning points to take away are:

  • Balance is essential: Use a mixture of the two management styles to develop your business. Combine the strength of implementing ideas from a top down perspective and the strength of idea generation of a bottom up style.
  • Trust your staff: You hired your staff for a reason, allow them responsibility and trust that any ideas they have are based around improving the business.
  • Great expectations, yield great results: Set goals and targets for your staff and ask them to set targets for yourself. You organisation is a team working toward a collective goal. Any expectation you have for them should be reciprocated and demonstrated in your own actions.

Lastly I'll leave you with this quandary poised by Will:

"Everything is measured. Take supermarkets, for example, we have heat maps, every transaction, data on what's purchased with what, and so much investment goes into drawing insight from that. How much investment goes into having conversations with the check-out staff? Or giving the check-out staff a place where they can go and submit insight that they've heard, come across, or insight gained from conversations with customers?"