Big organisations should bottle the essence of people management as found in many small businesses
Managers in larger organisations and human resource professionals in particular, have a wonderful opportunity to learn from small businesses about how to gain maximum people performance… but few do.
There is a belief that best practice comes from household name, bigger business and from professional managers. In some ways, this belief is understandable, because small businesses don’t write down and disseminate what they naturally do well.
A few can hardly write and most wouldn’t see the point. They certainly rarely do any form of ‘management speak’.
Take, for example, superb customer care (or, colleague care, which is just as important). Neither care type happens just by common sense, or every small business would do it.
Small businesses produce far better examples than large companies. Why is this? I think it’s because the pride and passion in being ‘in business’ and doing the best one can, are better communicated by owner managers to their people.
This communication takes place through informal chats and actions, with the owner manager leading by example.
Last week my co-director and I came to an arrangement with another company, where we provide them with some money, in return for the opportunity to offer our clients an excellent range of display stands and exhibition/conference graphic solutions.
The company in question was no bigger than ours, but we made the decision to invest in and work with them because they look after staff and customers well, to the point where it makes everyone feel good. We know they’ll look after us and our clients / customers.
If everyone feels good, it leads to more productivity and happy staff leads to happy customers and colleagues. Feeling good leads to confidence and confidence is essential if everyone is to take responsibility for handling each customer flexibly, in the most appropriate way.
Responsibility, accountability and integrity are a given as key attributes of staff in most small businesses. For example, absenteeism is lower in small businesses because everyone knows the cost to the business if they are away. Consequently most people are only absent when they’re genuinely too ill to be at work. This gives rise to the situation where it appears that owner managers are the healthiest people in the UK, since they take fewer days off from sickness absence than any other occupational group!
A credible, written down mission or vision statement, communicated informally day by day; a thorough induction programme, stressing the corporate values; loads of skills training and coaching linked to ‘how we do it our way here’ and providing freedom to think and take decisions (right or wrong), are all substitute ways of trying to get to what the small business achieves naturally.
It is still essential that we all work hard to find some pride, passion and belief, because that’s what makes the communication and the motivating environment credible. Anita Roddick, of Body Shop fame, stepped down today as co-chairman with her husband, Gordon. Her words to summarise this era included:
“Being an entrepreneur isn’t something you learn and it certainly isn’t primarily about making money.”
“Entrepreneurs are obsessed with freedom – we’re outsiders, which is why immigrants often make the best entrepreneurs. We’re obsessed by the vision of an idea and pathologically optimistic. We’re
not excited by processes, plans or strategies. I never meant to be a big boss but somehow we – that includes, staff, customers and franchisees – created something that spread to 2000 shops in nearly 50 countries.”
It’s a pity Body Shop don’t bottle this passion, this essence of the owner managed small business, because it should be a compulsory purchase for HR managers and managers of teams in bigger organisations!