Richard Branson’s Secret to Success
Not only is Richard Branson one of the world’s richest men, he is also one of the world’s most recognised people – literally a walking brand name. However, unlike many of his peers Branson did not inherit his millions. He started his business empire with a few pounds in his pocket and boyish dreams of success. So I think we would all do well to pause briefly and give consideration to what he has to say about how he has reached and stayed at great heights.
In a speech he gave to The Institute of British Directors, here is what Branson said in response to what makes him and his businesses so successful:
“Our priorities in managing the business do not appear in most textbooks or most British companies. We give top priority to the interests of our staff; we give second priority to the interests of our customers; and third priority goes to the interests of our shareholders.
“Working backward, the interests of our shareholders depend upon high levels of customer satisfaction, which enable us to attract and retain passengers in the face of intense competition. We know that the customers’ satisfaction, which generates all important word of mouth recommendations and fosters repeat purchase, depends in particular upon high standards of service from our people; and we know that high standards of service depend upon happy staff, who are proud of the company they work for. That is why the interest of our people must come first.
“Poor performance by demotivated and antagonised employees erodes service quality and customer satisfaction and in the end the long term interest of shareholders is actually damaged…Success depends on people’s enthusiasm, their dependability and their effectiveness.
“My people work at their best when they are valued as individual human beings, not mere numbers on a payroll; when they have ready access to the chairman and the top managers; when they have a product they are proud of in every respect; and when they are praised and not criticised.”
Clearly, Branson is saying that as a business owner or manager one of your most important priorities, if not your number one priority is your people. The idea is to recruit and then retain good staff and many things will take care of themselves including the all important customer satisfaction and word of mouth recommendations. Branson goes on to argue that it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, your most important priority is your people.
The challenge for business owners and managers is to implement procedures and workplace behaviours that will both attract and retain great people. These challenges come in many forms including, and especially, our own personal behaviours as managers of people. Simply put, effective managers tend to ask “What can I do to improve my performance?” and “How will this decision impact upon my staff?” while less effective people managers tend not think about staff motivation and performance levels when making decisions. Less effective managers also have a tendency of blaming staff when things go wrong.
It’s very easy to pay lip service to the importance of people in our organisations, but another thing altogether implementing sound people management practices. In smaller businesses staffs’ motivation and performance levels are significantly influenced by the owner’s/general manager’s behaviours and their 2IC. Research consistently shows that the number one reason people leave organisations is because they don’t like their managers. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but often it turns out to have a negative impact on customer service and productivity levels. If you’re losing good people because you’re failing to manage them properly then you have a problem. Even if you consider yourself a relatively good manager of people, chances are that you can improve. Check out below what you can do to improve.
Five practices of effective people managers
1. Listen to staff’s concerns:
Effective managers make time to REALLY listen to their staffs’ concerns. Note that I said REALLY listen. Good listening is much more difficult than many of us think, especially when we hold different points of view. Poor managers practise pretend listening skills. They pretend to listen and then promise to take action but rarely do. Highly effective people managers not only REALLY listen to their staffs’ issues but they make sure that they structure regular times during which staff are given time to express their views free from any form of intimidation.
2. Consult with staff before making decisions:
Whilst it is unrealistic to expect staff to be consulted on all decisions, effective managers consult their staff on as many decisions as possible BEFORE they’re implemented. Consulting staff gives them an important say in how the business is run which in turn gives them a greater sense of ownership as well as a feeling of importance and contribution. Staff who have a say in how things are done tend to care more about results!
3. Provide on-going feedback:
Effective people managers provide staff with non-threatening and honest feedback designed to improve their performance and motivation levels. Savvy managers ensure that staff do not feel threatened or belittled by this feedback, but see it as constructive and positive. Poor managers on the other hand either provide no feedback or do it in such a way that staff feel and react badly.
4. Firm but Fair:
Ineffective managers fear being unpopular amongst their staff, so they often implement decisions designed to make them popular. Trying to please your staff in this way can turn out to have very costly repercussions. Studies show that the most respected managers are viewed by staff as firm but fair. Staff members do not need you to agree with managers all the time. Don’t be afraid to say “no”, but be prepared to give your reasons. Staff may not agree with you, but they will respect you for standing up in your beliefs and giving them the courtesy of explaining your reasons.
5. Provide deserved recognition:
Effective managers are always on the lookout for good performances from their staff. When staff do something that is special good managers are quick to praise the action. All the research indicates that timely recognition of good performance of staff is one of the most powerful motivators a staff member can receive. It is important to note that staff who go above and beyond their normal duties and do not receive recognition for their efforts are likely not to make the effort again.