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How to build a progressive business through your people: Part I

We’ve all heard that a business is only as good as its people. But as we look ahead to 2014, what does it take to build a happy, high-performing team to drive your business forward?

Deven Billimoria, CEO of SmartGroup Investments shares advice and insights that any business can implement.

Strategy: everyone must buy in

Company-wide communication and comprehension is at least as important as strategy formulation. After all, what hope does your organisation have of optimising execution if the strategy is not understood by everyone?

Effectively communicating strategy to employees is vital but it’s not just a question of taking your staff through a slide deck of strategy plans once a year, that’s dry, boring, and static.

You need to bring it alive for them regularly, and in a way that allows them to be involved. At SmartGroup we hold weekly business briefings and everyone in the company, without exception, is invited. We talk about the strategy, how it’s working, successes, wins, things we need to realign or think about modifying.

We don’t just tell employees where the future lies – we talk about it and discuss it. This makes everyone feel invested in the company and that our opinions and actions matter. But most of all, as a result of these discussions, we listen, act and adjust continuously.

Encourage innovation: modify behaviours

People often think that artists are born with their talent, musicians have a magic touch, and that creativity is a special something in the genes that you can’t learn. And the same is often thought of innovation. Fortunately, that’s not true.

Innovation is something that people can develop. Anyone can innovate if they’re prepared to modify their behaviours. So how do you foster innovators in your business?

Innovation is a key strategic imperative for us. We use a methodology outlined in Clay Christensen’s The Innovator’s DNA. Christensen is widely viewed as one of the world’s most influential business thinkers and his methodology is working for us. Christensen’s five behaviours of innovators include:

1. Associational thinking: creatively solve challenging problems by drawing on diverse ideas or knowledge.

2. Questioning: often ask questions that challenge others’ fundamental assumptions.

3. Observing: get innovative ideas by directly observing how people interact with products and services.

4. Networking: regularly talk with a diverse set of people (e.g. from different functions, industries, geographies) to find and refine new business ideas.

5. Experimenting: frequently experiment to create new ways of doing things.

For an organisation to innovate, you need to provide an environment conducive to innovation – people need training, allocated time and recognition when their innovative behaviour creates value for the business.

Employee engagement: the foundation

We believe that ensuring a highly engaged workforce is quite simply the single most important factor that drives company performance. Without a highly engaged workforce, all other strategies are at best feeble, but more likely futile. Employee engagement should be the foundation of everything you do.

Aon Hewitt considers the following elements to be consistent to Best Employers:

1. Engagement

2. Leadership commitment

3. A compelling promise to employees

4. Connecting employees to the company and strategy

5. A differentiated high performance culture.

To be a best employer your leaders must be committed to being the best; you must offer a real employee brand and you must connect your employees to the overall strategy.

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