How to get the best out of people: Seven errors to avoid and eight operating maxims

Posted on | March 14, 2014 | Comments Off on How to get the best out of people: Seven errors to avoid and eight operating maxims

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Entrepreneurs are often creative, driven, flexible and very good at getting to know the right people to grow their businesses. On occasion, their impatience with procedures and with people can work against the development of their team.  Yet it is this team building ability that will take their business into the next stage of development.

This lack of team building can have a direct impact on the profits of the business. This can show up in the form of:

  • More people leaving the business
  • Tolerance of poor performers
  • Less effective contributions from each individual
  • Higher risks associated with employment including potentially more claims from disaffected employees

Indirectly there may loss of opportunity to work in a focused creative way. So that people and customers turn away from your brand.

I have worked in and with a number of entrepreneurial, owner managed and SME type businesses both in multiple roles as an entrepreneur, as an HR director, as a team member and as a consultant. This blog is just my personal view gathered over twenty years. I love entrepreneurial businesses.  When the climate is right then the team work motivation and “family” feel is very hard to beat. Sometimes the business is lacking is some structure and thought. This does not have to overbearing. My contention is that creativity is balanced and enhanced by structure not stifled. The benefit of structure in an SME helps people feel included, adds to teamwork and this along with the right recruitment creates a high performing team. 

Below are my personal observations of some of the mistakes SME’s can make that can undermine effective team work. These are:


  • Treating people randomly.  If the business operates entirely informally and there are no guidelines or the guidelines while existing on paper do not get implemented then people can feel unsafe or excluded. Entrepreneurs often reject the rules on the basis that rules are meant to be broken. However this may mean the treatment of individuals is inconsistent. An example could be expecting some people to work over a weekend without giving any time off the following week while others are. This unfairness can destroy team work. The answer is to set up a simple framework to operate the fairest policies. This doesn’t have to be “Health and Safety gone mad” but a set of principles enabling you to operate within legally based rules with fair procedures and a degree of flair to encourage and motivate people. This includes ensuring you have effective contracts, policies and procedures.


  • Not having a long term consistent people strategy and culture that supports the business plan and vision.  For example knowing you are going to gain new business but not having a structured recruitment plan to back it up meaning recruitment becomes last minute and reactive. This can result in poor hiring decisions or relying on existing staff to do more and more work often without recognition or reward. Another example is developing a new product but not having sufficient productive skills to meet demand thus putting strains on the production line and the few suitably skilled staff.


  • Putting up with poor line managers – who are often appointed on the basis of long service or trust but without regard to their skill with people. The wrong person can damage severely morale and increase claims and disputes. They can be a significant factor in staff leaving. I have seen it many times that the wrong person is appointed and without support are left to manage in a dangerous way. This can include bullying and harassment and prejudice but more often is of the school of do as I say rather than do as I do school which undermines the credibility of the line manager.


  • Not putting enough effort into finding and keeping talent. Often SME’s response to someone leaving is to use unsuitable agencies and compromise on the candidate due to the necessity to find an immediate replacement. A more effective way is to trawl potential candidates ahead of time and appoint talent even if there is not always a ready- made vacancy.


  • Assuming money is the only motivator or alternatively people are driven in same way as the entrepreneur. It is my belief that the psychological factors that are involved with working are great as if not greater than the financial rewards.  These include the trust, degree of autonomy, the purpose of the business, the learning challenge, and the teamwork in the business. The entrepreneur is not in control of all these factors but assuming that key employees will stay in the business because they are being paid a market rate can be illusory. The entrepreneur should make sure these other factors are in place.


  • Not leading the team:   entrepreneurs will naturally focus externally on customers and markets as their key role. There is a danger that leadership internally is left to poor line managers will the resultant negative effect.


  • Having poor systems capability – we often find that basic systems such as personnel files, records of attendance, holidays, appraisals and training needs are administered informally and again may result in randomness and unfairness. There are very good web based systems that give the potential for employees to manage their own welfare more effectively and the business to be able to spot trends.

For those of you who do not like to focus on the negative I have turned this into a serious of operating maxims.

  • Create a safe workplace where people operate out of trust not fear and can beat their own drum within a team.
  • Communicate and act on the bigger picture by linking changes in the business to changes to the workforce
  • Appoint line managers who are good with people or teach them how to do it.
  • Invest time in finding talent by conventional and non-conventional means
  • Motivate psychologically as well as through money
  • Lead the team – be a good example yourself and don’t absolve responsibility
  • Invest in getting the systems right
  • Invest in getting the teamwork right

This last point is the icing on the cake that will lead to exceptional performance of your people with a creative and hard -working work force. You may want to run these criteria past your own business.





Comments are closed.