Each month, we feature insights and advice from industry experts on the all-important issues that could give small businesses the essential growth they need to progress to the next level.
This month, we’re talking to Naeem Arif, the Founder and CEO of NA Consulting, whose clients include the likes of SAP, Post Office and the BBC. Naeem is also a Director at United Carpets, the Vice Chair of the Midlands Retail Forum and is the author of five business books.
This extensive list of credentials means Naeem knows more than a thing or two about leading a team onto success. That’s why we spoke with him about fostering trust, improving communication and aiding employees’ vision on the path towards business greatness.
How can you encourage trust and cooperation amongst the employees on your team?
There is a saying: “culture beats strategy”. For me, it was one of the most important things that I learned when I first started my own business. The culture is not something that is framed on the wall, it is how you get things done. In that respect, being able to get your team to work together for a common good is essential in creating a successful outcome for everyone. A lack of trust across an organisation can reduce opportunities for efficiency and innovation as people won’t share with each other.
It’s important to create big challenges and goals for the overall company to buy into and focus on. Then it’s possible to show everyone in the company what role they will play in achieving these challenges, and how they are all in this together. Practically, everyone should be able to share ideas and show they can contribute to the overall goal.
I also believe it’s important to foster opportunities for friendships to form within your company. Creating more chance for people to be together in a more social environment can help employees connect on new levels, which is often beneficial for the business as a whole. Consider team lunches, monthly nights out, or even sports league activities!
It’s easy to assume that fostering communication simply means holding meetings all the time. How can a strong manager ensure that communication remains valuable among both them and their employees?
Firstly, communication should not be for the sake of it, it should serve a purpose. I sometimes see managers over-communicate: calling everyone into the Conference Room for a catch-up for all sorts of minor reasons. Really, it all depends on your situation, the size of your company and the pace at which things are happening. You may want to send out a monthly State of the Company-style newsletter to keep everyone updated, or you may want to have more frequent communication for important events or updates in between.
Communication with your team is essentially a pitch; you are asking for their attention to listen and then their cooperation in actioning it. It needs to be structured as such. You should think beforehand, what is the single key message I need to deliver and then the key points? What are the questions that the audience may want to ask afterwards - let me try and answer them over the course of speaking to them.
When employees have something to work towards, it gives their role more of a purpose. What ways can you give employees the inspiration that will compel them to better themselves?
There are different things that can be done here. Importantly we have spoken about ensuring that everyone understands what role they play in the overall success of the company. If people are working hard and keep feeling that they are achieving milestones, then it makes them even more enthusiastic in working to their next milestones. For this reason, I believe in setting big targets and small targets.
You have to create a Culture where everyone is striving to get to where they want to be in the future. You can do this by celebrating success and by celebrating those who are both investing in themselves and bettering themselves.
How much does emotional intelligence – things like self-awareness and empathy – play a role in creating a successful team?
This is an interesting point; I think the most successful people are those who are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They will play to their strengths and look to avoid exposing their weaknesses.
Being able to control yourself and your own emotions is important, this does not mean you do not have emotions, but you should be able to filter what is communicated.
People should be empathetic to their colleagues, customers and suppliers. This sounds simple, but it is really hard to get right, empathy is essentially understanding what is happening underneath. Sometimes your colleagues may have some other issues going on in their personal lives which affects their performance. The onus is on you as a manager to use your emotional intelligence to help them. Understanding how your actions can impact others is important. If you have a colleague who maybe works certain hours or in a certain way, then you should bear this in mind when working with them.
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Risk-taking and fearlessness are often equated to failure, but a strong leader will encourage bravery when necessary. What processes and methods, whether formal or informal, can a manager use to instil courage in their team?
It’s a case of being able to assess all the parameters or information you have available in front of you and make decisions. The facts are the facts, so collect as many as possible, then make decisions based on what you think is the right thing. When I get stuck, I will often make a list of pros and cons. You can even make a scorecard and rate your proposed actions based on which action you find the most appropriate.
Strong leaders can make decisions, you can’t always be delegating. You should consider your team’s opinions, but you should make the final decision yourself. Strong leaders are there for the tough times, but also there for the bad times as well.
In a growing team, how can a leader maintain balance and ensure that long-serving staff are retained and have a place?
I think it is important to put people into the places that best use their skills, so if I have a salesperson who has great skills or relationships with existing customers, I want to find a way to take advantage of that, without losing them to a new IT system or process.
I would want them to get up-to-date over time, but initially I would ensure that a way is found for them to operate effectively.
Huge thank you to Naeem for his tips and insights. If you found his advice helpful, please check out some more of our related Business Basics guides and Q&As below:
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