If you are a good boss, you will build a loyal team. You automatically inspire loyalty in others when you are loyal to them. I give loyalty and expect loyalty back. I don't believe you can be the best possible company without that kind of relationship with your team. It can be a delicate balance sometimes. A team is made up of individuals and each person on the team will have their individual opinions. It's important to listen to all those opinions and allow people to challenge each other. You have to give everyone a voice; but in the end, compromises will be necessary and decisions have to be made. Part of being in a strong team is honouring that decision and making a commitment to it.
The football world was really shocked when, in February 2019, the Chelsea goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, refused to go off during the League Cup final against Manchester City. Tensions were running high as it was during the last minutes of extra time and everyone was nervously anticipating that the game was going to be decided by penalties (which is exactly what ended up happening with City winning 4-3 on penalties). Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri, had called his player off thinking he was injured. But Arrizabalaga insisted he was well enough to continue. Sarri stormed off and confronted the player later. They eventually agreed, publically, that it had been a misunderstanding. And according to IFAB (International Football Association Board) rules, the player was within his rights to stay on. However, what I saw was a team member not showing loyalty to his boss. That seriously rocked the boat. In my book, you don't do that. No matter how he felt he should have gone off and disputed the decision later (I am sure many players have done that in their time). To stand on the pitch on live television and simply refuse to go off was extraordinary for someone who was supposed to be part of a team. It was completely disrespectful. I had certainly never seen a player do that before.
When you are in a team, or a family (which should also be a team), you resolve your differences in private; you put on a united front in public. It's not about you; it's about the team. You don't put your own needs before the team. You always put on an outward show of solidarity.
Communication is key to the success of any relationship, including the relationship between a boss and his or her team. As well as being available, as much as I can be, to my employees on a daily basis, I ensure that I schedule regular formal meetings for us to discuss plans and issues.
We have a monthly sales meeting to review performance, discuss the markets and update staff on developments within the business. The whole sales team attends, and we pay special attention to any newbies. In their first sales meeting, new recruits have to stand up and participate in games that help us all get to know each other better. These are all in good humour and tend to be fun themes like “truth or lies” (a little like the Would I Lie To You game on TV), where the person in the hot seat has to give a “fun fact” about themselves and the rest of us have to guess whether it is true or false. This can get a little racy at times, but we try to keep it clean!
We also have a version of family fortunes that we play in teams, which can be incredibly funny. The purpose of this is that it's a great ice-breaker and an opportunity for newbies to experience our unique company culture.
We have three quarterly meetings every year (on top of the annual January meeting) in April, July and October. These meetings involve the whole company. We also play games at the big company meetings and ensure that any newbies get a chance to interact with the rest of the team. We don't force anyone to participate if they don't feel comfortable, but we make it fun and most people end up getting involved on some level. They all usually say they enjoyed it in the end, even if they were a little nervous at first.
One of the most important objectives is for people to know the names of the people they're working with, so before each newbie sits down I get them to identify other team members by giving them a name and asking them to point that person out.
Our biggest meeting is our annual meeting in January when I will set out that year's goals to the whole company. I try to share the vision for the company and tell them where I see us going. It can be hard to explain decisions, but I try to be transparent and explain my reasons for making the choices I do. At the end of every team meeting, I ensure that we have a Q&A so that everyone has the chance to ask me about anything they want. Some people really don't feel comfortable speaking up in public, so I make myself available at the end of these meetings. To be a good boss it's essential that you are approachable. I think many employers don't appreciate the value of explaining their decisions to their employees, they don't take the time to communicate their reasons, they think, “We're in charge and we make the decisions so there's no point in having discussions.” But I believe that if you want to build stronger relationships, and gain the trust of your employees, you give them as much information as you can.
I always try to answer questions that anyone has about the decisions I make.
As I've said before, being a boss is not unlike being a parent! Your job, as a parent and “team leader” is to make your children feel safe because they are not in control of all the decisions that are being made; decisions that deeply affect their future. The same applies to being a boss. You are in control of decisions that affect your employees' futures so it's your job to make them feel safe.
At our annual meeting at the beginning of 2019, I had to explain my reasons for rebranding the company. People were definitely a little nervous about the fact that we were going to be changing our name (to Dynamo) and positioning, but the more I explained why we had taken that decision, to help us stay current and competitive, the better they felt. I try to ensure they understand the long-term vision and how the decisions we make now will positively impact everyone's future.
The launch was a huge success in the end. We had a big launch party in April 2019, to which we invited senior lenders from the banks and key personnel, industry leaders and my senior management team. We had a celebratory lunch and took everyone out to play mini golf. We followed this with a champagne reception during which I made a presentation about how excited I was about the new branding.
You build a loyal team when you lead by example. I don't ask people to do things – whether they are business related, extra-curricular activities or even domestic chores – that I wouldn't be prepared to do myself. Even when we were moving offices, I was carrying boxes and cleaning, sometimes even getting down on my hands and knees to pick up rubbish that had to be cleared. I want to stay involved and be on a level with people; I'm not the type of boss who is going to be off playing golf while other people are moving my office around. Obviously, it is more efficient to hire people to do the bulk of the hard labour, but I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty and it is a good team-building exercise.
Not so long ago, we had a leak in the male toilets and it was flooding the office. I was in there with my premises manager, helping to mop up the overflowing water until the plumber arrived. I would never consider myself “below” doing a certain job. And I wouldn't want anyone working for me who wouldn't make an effort in all areas, too. I want them to look at me and think: “If the boss can clean the toilet floors, then so can I!” I feel I need to lead from the front. It creates a positive environment. I've always been very hands-on where I can. You obviously have to delegate if you want to grow your company, but with the exception of some specialist IT roles, there are very few jobs that I haven't done. Because I have grown my business organically, I have literally done almost every job in the company. I've done the photocopying, the admin, the sales, the HR, etc., so when people need to talk to me about their challenges in these jobs, I can talk with authority, I can empathize with them. I've been on the battlefield, and they know this.
I have also developed a business model that hasn't changed significantly in the 13 years since I started the business. We may have scaled up, but we still get leads and sales in the same way. We have obviously streamlined the operation and embraced technology, but the basic business model is the same. It's the way I set it up and so I know exactly what's involved.
One of the ways I ensure consistency is by being involved with training the newbies myself. And I will lead by active example. I will pick up the phone to a live customer and show them how I approach and navigate a sales call. I am not just explaining what to do out of a textbook; I'm in the field. I show them how I do it and then train them to do it the same way. Again, not every boss will do that; not every boss can do that. Some enter a company at a certain level, even as a managing director, and so they can only understand each role in the company from a theoretical point of view instead of an experiential one. Even with the IT jobs – the specialist programming jobs that I haven't done – I learn as much as I can. I ensure I have the best working knowledge possible of every role, even those few I haven't performed myself.
The success of my company doesn't just depend on my employees' relationship with me, it also depends on my employees' relationships with each other, and that's why I get everyone to interact with each other on a regular basis. I also think it's important that we all participate in the same things.
I mentioned earlier that I have been doing a “spidergram” every year, in order to set out my personal and professional goals (four of each) for the next 12 months, and that I announce them to the whole team in order to be accountable. I also get everyone on the team to do one, too. They don't have to share them with others, unless they want to, but I always share mine at our annual meeting at the beginning of every year to help inspire everyone to stay committed to theirs.
When we share our spidergrams, we become accountable to everyone; it's a great bonding experience. I definitely benefit from becoming accountable to my entire company. I try to pass on my best practices to my team. They have helped me be successful in work and life, so I believe they will help others to do the same. When newbies join us halfway through the year, I get them to do a spidergram for the remainder of that year. If they've started in March or April, for example, I don't want it to be an entire year before they do their spidergram.
Like me, some people also like to draw lines on their spidergram between personal and professional goals, so “become senior manager by end of the year” might be linked to “go skiing for the first time” because the first would give you the money to do the second.
I also encourage my team to keep their spidergram to hand, as I do, so that they can regularly check on their progress – as long as they are not on their desks at the end of the day.
We have a CLEAR DESK policy in the office. When you leave at the end of the day there should be nothing on your desk except for your keyboard, mouse and phone. It's not just because that looks nice (although with almost 200 people all in one open-plan room, aesthetics are important… if everyone had clutter on their desks it would look terrible and would not be very conducive to a good working environment!), it's also vital for compliance. We are dealing with a lot of confidential information on a daily basis; we can't have client records sitting around on desks – everything has to be locked away in safekeeping to ensure privacy.
I strongly feel that it is best to work in a structured and organized environment at all times. I believe it is better for your mind when you are doing a numerical job like assessing customers for mortgage eligibility. If you have paperwork everywhere, you are more likely to make mistakes and lose documents. You have to have that level of structure in a procedural environment. Of course, people who work in creative roles need more freedom and often thrive on some degree of disarray. But we are not artists; we are businesspeople with some serious responsibilities. I believe in “clear desk, clear mind” – which is necessary to perform at your best in business.
One of the hardest parts of being a boss is when you have to let a team member go. This is the one area where being a boss is not like being a parent. (You can't fire your kid – no matter how much you might want to on occasions!)
You have to be quite ruthless at getting rid of people when you run your own company. If you allow people to stay who are not performing, you affect the whole company negatively. You have to do what is best for the team and right for the business.
It is easy for us to measure whether people are working hard in our business because it's a numbers game and we have an open-plan office. We also monitor calls. We give people a lot of tools that should make it easy for them, including the brand name and the training. If they can't make a success of their job, there's a problem. We can't afford to “carry” people who can't deliver. Part of being a grown up is that no one is going to give you a free ride in life, you have to uphold your end of the bargain, which is working hard and doing a good job; delivering results. People who don't put in the effort will be dropped; we can't ensure the security of people's jobs if they don't work hard enough and don't have the right attitude.
But as with any responsibility, as a boss, you have to communicate it in a way that causes the least disruption.
Ultimately, the thread running through all of this is that communication is key; I literally have a glass office, an open-door policy.
Everything starts with good communication; that is the foundation upon which every healthy and productive relationship is built. When you are a boss, you have to communicate your vision to your team. You secure loyalty when you involve people in your passion, and make them see their value in the big picture. When you share your vision, you allow people to become invested in that vision, and that helps the whole process. You can't build a business without a vision, but you won't realize your vision if you don't share it with everyone involved in building that business. It doesn't have to be their vision, but you need them to see that vision or they won't help you achieve it. You also have to show them how they will be rewarded for their contribution to that vision.