The five essential principles for keeping your staff on side
Planning, even in this febrile, ever-changing environment is beneficial. I have discussed before why we do five-year plans at Ground Control: they provide clear direction and purpose, consistent priorities across our five business units and the ability to track progress as well as make adjustments when needed.
What I have not addressed is how you make sure that the whole business understands what our priorities are. It sounds simple on the surface — just tell your people at a town hall-style meeting — but when you dig a little you realise that without embedding an understanding of your plan it will fall apart. To help us to get it right we have created a few guiding principles.
The first of these is what we call Connecting with Customers. No one has a business without customers and to keep them you have to understand what they want and deliver. To improve our chances of success we aim to work with the right clients who are aligned with the values of our business. If you do not do that the relationship will always be problematic.
It is also essential to use the right sales and customer relationship management systems so that your interactions with clients and your decision-making are based on data, not guesswork. We are now running on Microsoft Dynamics 365, a cloud-based enterprise software system, and one of the benefits is the dashboard that shows us where we are in terms of revenue targets and customer satisfaction. Improving these metrics becomes the goal, rather than being a by-product of what we do.
We describe a second principle as Gearing for Growth. This is all about people. Our plans envisage us winning more work in the future so we had better make sure we have the people and skills in the business to do it.
As part of our five-year plan process we looked at what more we should be doing to invest in our teams. By providing learning and development opportunities now, we know we will have the people to help us to hit our goals, rather than having to be reactive when new business comes through the door.
This review has led us to develop a Ground Control academy across all levels of the business. We are making a £500,000 investment in the training of our top 70 people with high potential, to increase their capacity as we grow, provide us with succession options and boost our organisational resilience. None of our team will be excluded from training: investing in your own people is always worth it.
A third principle is Embracing Technology and Innovation. This means implementing software and making changes to working practices that improve productivity. It also means looking for ways to help us to become more efficient by better integration of existing systems. There is nothing more frustrating for your teams than to have to find workarounds to make innovative new software work with your existing tools.
We have always considered ourselves to be well ahead of the competition, but to be frank we have had some problems here lately. Each of our businesses has a plan but the burden of continuous updates and legacy issues meant that the IT department was struggling to deliver all the new projects the business required. So we have restructured IT, moved some senior leadership and appointed a new chief information officer. It has been more than a year of sorting out the basics and we still have some way to go to achieving the plan.
Our final principle is linked to the one before: Driving Performance and Efficiency. We want to be an even higher-performing organisation, get better at using the resources we have and reduce costs wherever feasible without adversely affecting quality or diverting efforts away from our environmental and sustainability goals.
Much of this comes down to having good data (as with customer relationship management). We have implemented a new financial system, which is no small step forward, and also made use of the Power business intelligence platform within Microsoft Dynamics to give consistent reporting.
What I would say here is, whatever system you use make sure that all parts talk to each other and you can access the information needed for decision-making. The right data will also help project management, another key area across the business for efficiency and protecting our profit margin.
Alongside these principles there are other focus points that will apply to most other businesses too. Effective sales and marketing is essential, so each business unit’s plan addresses how they will do that. This is an area where it is really all about delivery. We have found that a few projects and campaigns brilliantly delivered are worth much more than lots of campaigns poorly landed. It is also important to measure yourself in multiple ways. Customer feedback, conversion rates and press coverage are all valuable yardsticks, as are net promoter scores and employee surveys, such as Best Companies. Our B Corp accreditation has been another important external validation point.
Then there is our acquisitions strategy. We are focused on organic growth but remain open to making key acquisitions to supplement this. In each of our five businesses we will consider the right opportunities if they could bring deeper sector expertise or help us to lead innovation to stay ahead.
Finally, the thing that in my experience binds teams together more than anything else is having an authentic culture. Ours is based on pursuing human nature at its best and caring for the environment. Staying true to your core purpose is probably the single most important thing you can do to inspire your people and achieve performance that unlocks growth.