Jim Aitken’s first enterprise was selling papers, magazines and cigarettes from a window at Penrith railway station. Today his businesses include real estate, restaurants and gift shops and employ over 200 people. We asked Jim to share some of his people management experiences and insights.
Management is knowing your staff and knowing your business, the rest is logistics. Many businesses today are rapidly losing power to create a future.
If the business is to project itself into the future and have meaning the managing director would do well to focus on three immutable truths:
1. Give the personnel a sense of ownership
Each person in the business at Jim Aitken & Partners has a sense of ownership. The acceptance of personal responsibility is what separates the superior person from the average person.
Personal responsibility is the pre-eminent trait of leadership and the wellspring of high performance in every person and every situation. Accepting ownership of that part of the business in which personnel are engaged and accepting responsibility for the part of the business they “own” means that they take responsibility for their own results with absolutely no excuses.
They are responsible partners in the business and the degree of responsibility accepted determines the degree of growth.
2. It’s not a sin to have a problem
For some staff, problems are overwhelming. Most problems in businesses can be solved and the best way to solve a problem is to share it immediately with the manager and that manager must evaluate it and share it with the rest of the organisation. This sets up a risk framework which allows any problem to be dealt with. We do not escape responsibility by attempting to pass it off on someone else.
Having a problem and making excuses, or blaming someone else, weakens the staff member and weakens their resolve by turning control over to other people. They become passive and resigned rather than powerful and proactive. Instead of feeling on top of the world, they work as though the world is on top of them. This is a dead-end road which this company refuses to travel.
The only sin about having a problem is the sin of not sharing it. Sharing and resolving are growth factors in any company.
3. Ensure the company becomes a learning company
It has been thought for some time that the future belongs to the competent. In my view the future belongs to the omnicompetent. The future belongs to the people that are very good at what they do and who are getting better every single day.
To earn more you must learn more. You must add more value. Staff must be developed to become better, to be developed to their highest competency and to make better and more important contributions.
This is not a one sided view of management. When a business competes with like businesses, the consumer sees similar products and similar services. Why should a consumer choose my business? The answer must be because we have better people. We want people who can move from a selling mode to a management mode and the consumer to see the obvious difference in management skills. To give the consumer confidence that their affairs are in professional hands. In the hands of people with superior knowledge and skills.
This is not only good for business but character developing for staff. When we become excellent at what we do, our lives change completely. Self-esteem, self respect and personal pride all increase dramatically. Staff feel good about themselves. They will be respected and admired by their clients.
A key factor in management is to nurture this type of growth and personal development in staff. The rewards will be a growth in business.
It is a fact of life that the personality and characteristic of a person defines what work they will give themselves to with all their energy. Why are some people more successful and effective than others doing the same work?
The most important point for any employer is to understand the future employee and determine from them at the interview what it is that they really want to achieve in their lives.
Many employment programs have been heavily competency based. What is of the most benefit to an employer is the pleasant smile and the can-do frame of mind.
Any job may be accomplished adequately but the negative waves and passive resistance brought about by poor attitudes can create a great threat to productivity.
Success in life is not just about ability or knowledge but about attitude. When looking at a prospective employee it should be remembered we can only study the past but we can design the future. If we are going to design the future of the company we may as well do it with attitude.
Management was always about corporate planning, strategic planning, implementation and feedback. Today psychologists have discovered that the very act of observing behaviour tends to change that behaviour for the better. This is a breakthrough in understanding personal performance. This critical discovery contains the key to dramatically improving the quality of life and I wish I had realised this long before I did.
Much earlier I would have closely monitored every action of staff and set specific measures and goals. We have Key Performance Indicators which point the way business is moving, but these KPIs are not called in for review at regular enough time frames. The upgrading of staff knowledge and skills must not be ad hoc. Monitoring results, goals and performances must be on a daily basis. In other words, appraisals are a daily fact of life. This, in effect, is monitoring areas of excellence.
Without such monitoring it is easy for staff to fall into the trap of spending more time on the 80% in areas which are not productive to themselves or the company. By daily appraisals we focus of the 10 or 20% of the activities that account for 80 to 90% of successful results. We examine the tasks that that yield the highest returns and rewards relative to the cost and effort of performing those activities.
Daily accountability and monitoring results is organising work life so that more and more higher value tasks are pursued.
The most rewarding aspect of my business is to know that it is achieving its purpose. The purpose creates the context for everything the business does. Everything it does should relate or contribute to the fulfilment of that purpose.
To be most useful, a company’s purpose should describe the benefits that are delivered to the client when they use our product or service, rather than simply describe what the products and services are. My business does provide a quality of life for over 200 people and brings a return on investment.
I believe value is based solely on our clients’ opinions and only our clients can tell us whether or not we have been successful.
In the light of this the most rewarding part about business achievement is simply my mantra; Profits are not the end in themselves. Instead they become a a measure of how successfully the company is fulfilling its ultimate purpose.
It is a customer-focused company guided by a “What more can we do for them?” philosophy. The company develops a deep understanding of the daily experiences of the clients which in turn leads to new thinking which may better serve the client’s needs.
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