It’s time for our Winter Pulse Check which means it’s time for you to tell us how you are and, in the process, take the opportunity to inform government policy.
Our quarterly Pulse Check is designed to track the progress of small to medium businesses and their owners. You keep your business going and we are here to keep you, the business owner, on track, motivated and equipped to cope in our current times.
Your insights ensure we continue to have the right resources to help you and, by listening to and understanding your perspectives, we can better support your needs. We also make your views heard by sharing your perspective with Government and policy makers who have shown a keen interest in what you have to say.
Last month, Hon. Stuart Nash, Minister for Small Business said of The Alternative Board’s Pulse Check series: “I find them invaluable. My thanks go to members for participating. It informs a lot of what we are doing and gives us insights we wouldn’t otherwise have”.
Now, as we arrive at the mid-winter mark, it is your turn to let us know how things are. You’ll find the Winter Pulse Check here and you can let us know how you are managing, the challenges and opportunities you face, and what would help you and your business in the months ahead.
The survey will be live until 1 August 2021 with the results available soon after.
There’s no doubt that the shifting economic sands are eroding resilience among business owners.
Insights from our members show that mental wellbeing has suffered immensely with owners feeling increased stress while running their enterprises. Many business owners are exhausted, anxious and living in a constant state of uncertainty which is undermining mental health. Instead of leading their business, members report they are back working on day-to-day operations, existing on disrupted sleep, taking fewer holidays and increasingly disconnected from their family and friends.
This is not a good state of affairs – and not one that is sustainable in any shape or form. COVID19 has affected everyone in some way and over the last eighteen months we’ve observed some sectors thrive while others have unravelled. Now we are starting to see the longer-term impact of COVID on businesses that have worked long and hard to keep going but with owners who are beginning to feel the heat of rapid change and relentless challenges.
Our regular Pulse Check monitors the wellbeing of business owners and we’ve seen how stressors such as employment issues, skills shortages, rising input prices and shipping delays have increased pressure on the small to medium business sector.
My message to you today is to reach out for support. You can’t take care of your businesses if you don’t take care of yourself. Our members have said they wouldn’t have got through this period without the help of other business owners in The Alternative Board network and they’ve been actively encouraging others to follow their lead and help each other.
Members report that pre-COVID, their confidence was high, they were able to lead their businesses, sleep was regular and they were connected and present when with their families and friends. Today, their state has shifted to feelings of anxiety, they are back working in the business, dealing with constant uncertainty with their sleep disrupted and fearful of the next challenge.
So don’t neglect your own wellbeing – if the business owner isn’t right, the business won’t be right either. We’re in for a long haul yet so get proper support in place. If you have been struggling through on your own – stop. Have an informal chat with us, come and see a board in action and how business owners like you help each other tackle challenges, solve problems and find ways to ease the pressure. You don’t have to do this on your own.
The most talked about subject at recent board meetings has been the skills shortage that has really started to bite in New Zealand. Many sectors have been affected by shifting government policy regarding immigration but members are now finding it is inching beyond the hospitality, agriculture and health sectors and into most other skilled professions.
I’ve listened to many heartbreaking stories of families separated because of visa delays or refusals, actions that have left husbands and wives, parents and children, partners and friends stuck and alone on different sides of the world.
Many are now considering whether the promised work and career in New Zealand is worth the pain of separation and, as other countries begin to ease their border controls, the very people we need to retain are preparing to head elsewhere so they can be reunited with their loved ones and obtain well-paid, rewarding employment.
Policy changes at government level are proving challenging to say the least and at our regular board meetings we have discussed what businesses might do to influence or at least highlight the need for action at government level. Then the talk turns to what we can do as business owners to retain the skilled staff we have got – and how can we help them negotiate the maze of red tape that now envelops both the business and our employees?
With those conversations in mind, here are six suggestions that might prove to be a starting point if you are struggling with the skills shortage.
Pay. In the last month hospitality workers have said that there isn’t a skills shortage in their sector, there is a pay shortage. Minimum wage jobs do not meet living costs for many workers who face sky rocketing rents, accommodation shortages and rising prices. It may be worth running a skills audit within your business so you can determine if you have a skills shortage – or a pay shortage. Undertake a competitor analysis, compare sector pay rates and look at the cost of living in your region. Offering competitive pay may be the first step to retaining your workers – or attracting new ones.
Purpose. When was the last time you considered your business purpose? Today’s employees look for employers with whom their values align and a business purpose that resonates with their beliefs.
Place. What’s it like to work at your place? Is there a healthy workplace culture? What do you do to foster an environment where people want to come to work? Take a long look and see if it matches employee expectations.
Potential. Is there room for growth? Will you develop your employees’ potential and encourage their development? Is there a pathway to learning or will their skills stagnate? What can you do to ‘home-grow-your-own’ employees as a way to combat the shortage?
Participation. Do you offer opportunities for participation and collaboration or are you stuck in the ‘command and control’ systems of the past? Employees – particularly the new generation – are looking to be involved in the business, contribute ideas and innovate.
Policy. How good are your employment policies? And, if you have employees separated from their families because of COVID19 restrictions are you prepared to go into bat for them at government level?
There’s no doubt we are in difficult times and we are likely to face more difficulties in the next couple of years so discussing the issues, working on innovative solutions, developing strategies and strengthening the small business owner’s voice at government level are some of the steps we need to take if we are going to knock the skills shortage for six.
Standing on the side-line of my 16-year-old son’s school rugby team last week I was really impressed with what I saw, and I’m not just talking about the rugby.
Choosing to look at the team through a different lens it was the structure and process they have in place that really impressed me. Let me explain.
Firstly, they had a starting team of fifteen, each of whom played a different position depending on their skill set and what the team required. They had four subs who they could bring on when fatigue set in, performance dropped, or to cover injury. They had the right people in the right places with a robust succession plan.
They had a game plan, which was based on the conditions, the opposition, and the style of rugby they wanted to play. They had a shared vision and a clear goal.
The players prepared well. There was a lengthy warm-up, they practiced their moves and their set plays. They had a pre-game team talk where they reinforced the game plan, they spoke about representing their school with pride, playing for each other going into the game with the right attitude. They were focused, committed, and aligned.
They lined up for the referee who checked their sprigs and mouthguards. He spoke to the players about his zero tolerance for high tackles or foul play. Everyone understood the Health and Safety protocols and the consequences of any breaches.
Every player understood the game plan and the contribution they would need to make in pursuit of victory. They were given the freedom to make decisions and play what was in front of them.They had clear expectations, delegated authority, autonomy, and accountability.
They spent time on attack, scoring points through well-executed plays that breached the opposition line. They were resolute on defence, refusing to have their line crossed. They played as a team, with resilience and a competitive mindset.
They had a Captain and Vice-Captain who both led through their actions, rather than their words. They played hard and fair, and the rest of the team followed the example they set. They had strong, inspirational leadership.
They played with intensity, heart and to the limit. If they overstepped the mark however, they were penalised or yellow carded. Those players let the team down and were held accountable for their actions by the referee.There was a fair and transparent process for dealing with adverse behaviour.
At the end of the game they shook hands with the referee, the opposition team and then thanked the supporters. They had values, played with a spirit of fairness, and showed gratitude.
There was a debrief after the game where they spoke of the things that went well and the things that didn’t. They talked about ‘work ons’ for the next training session. They celebrated success but always had a mindset of constant improvement.
So why is rugby so successful in this country? It’s because as Kiwi’s we have an inherent expectation of success on the rugby field, the coaches create a platform for these players to excel and the players are empowered to execute in pursuit of victory.
If you’re a Business Owner or Leader and you can resonate with this thinking, get in touch with us at The Alternative Board and let’s start developing your game plan.
We’re deep into rugby season and, just as the first All Blacks team of 2021 was announced, I had the good fortune to find myself sitting with legendary former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry. He was in town to speak with the team at PCL Contracting and, before he shared his wisdom with us all, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about team culture and motivation.
I shared with him a description of a slide I’ve used for many years when I talk with businesses and peer board members about culture. It is a picture of Wayne Smith with the caption ‘Vision Driven, Values Led’ – very much the All Blacks approach and one that aligns closely with the business world.
He elaborated on this, telling me that in a values led organisation, success is driven by the team – not the coach. Culture has to come from the top down with the leaders in the team upholding the agreed values. When behaviours reinforce those values they need to be acknowledged but when behaviours are at odds with values, that’s when the difficult conversations have to happen. If no action is taken and bad behaviours are ignored, those bad behaviours become the norm by default. He also said that one of his most empowering moments was the realisation that success is down to the team, not the coach. The coach harnesses the collective knowledge of the team – knowledge that exceeds that of a single coach.
We do know that what works for sport often works well for business and harnessing collective wisdom is very much the business of The Alternative Board. Our board members are drawn from all types of businesses and together they address – and find solutions for – the challenges and opportunities they face. We can take the team approach back to our our own enterprises too – as business owners if we constantly take full responsibility for everything we will be permanently exhausted and our employees will not achieve their potential.
The message then is let the team lead. As a business owner – and coach – you facilitate the harnessing of collective wisdom, monitor behaviours and their alignment to your values. You encourage the team to be guardians of the vision and values that have been agreed and in doing so, you’ll give them great opportunities to develop – and be the best that they can be.
Employment issues were one of the top stressors for business owners identified in our recent Pulse Check and, while we know letting people go is hard, taking people on can be even more difficult, particularly in times of rapid growth.
I recently ran a session for twenty of our members with Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and other business books. We discussed the process of employing others during growth periods and how – in our rush to fill the jobs – we can end up taking on the right people with the wrong skills or, as Patrick described it, the wrong type of ‘working genius’.
To precis his concept, there are six types of working genius we all possess split between two things we are born to do, two things we are capable of, but require us to make considerable effort and two things that leave us completely frustrated. Some are born to ideation, some to activation and others to implementation and, as employers, we need to balance this mix of abilities to get the best from our teams.
During the recruitment process we should turn our attention to what the role needs rather than rushing to get people in the door as we might be putting them in a role that leads them to frustration rather than allowing their personal genius to bloom.
Rapid growth in business can be hard to manage – US company research indicated that 50% of bankruptcies follow a year of strongest growth. Rapid growth comes with cash flow pressures and employment issues as the business owner tries to meet demand.
Following on from the session with Patrick, we mapped out jobs and opportunities that have emerged through this ongoing COVID19 period and the types of ‘genius’ that would help develop growth and maximise the opportunities. We also looked at how the wrong people in the job would lead to the business getting stuck and, from this, decided that in some cases it is better to leave the post vacant than have the wrong person in the role.
The lesson learnt for us all was to pause and reflect, particularly during our growth periods. This might seem to contradict accepted business norms which have been inclined towards increasing staff numbers but biggest isn’t always best. What’s best is to understand what’s needed, what we want from the role, define that and then find the right genius for the job.