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.
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.
We all know the All Blacks epitomize great team play and great team support – even on those rare occasions when they lose a game or, even more infrequently, lose a couple. We also know the mainstream media outcry that accompanies these events. Headlines chorus ‘where has it all gone wrong’ and opinion pieces call for the coach to be sacked – if the media coverage was taken at face value an observer might think the All Blacks had never won a game.
So too with media stories about business. Our Autumn Pulse Check showed that mainstream media stories continue to undermine business confidence, which although still high, has started to fray. Motivation for some business owners was also failing while others reported they were actively looking for support. How then can a business owner keep an eye on the environment and current affairs and not be overwhelmed by the gloomy headlines?
The first thing to remember is that conflict and controversy are the drivers of mainstream media stories. For the most part they are designed to trigger emotions as part of the art of hooking the reader in – a bit like getting the ball out of the scrum – so if you are constantly scanning headlines life will seem worse than it actually is.
Next, stay focused on your business. Remember what you do well and don’t let the noise around you affect the way you regard your business and your employees. When the All Blacks take a roasting the coaches know they must focus on the wellbeing of the players and, when everyone is seemingly under attack, support each other through the stormy coverage.
Of course there is still ongoing coverage of the pandemic – and rightly so. This now includes commentary about moving into a ‘new normal’ but we are not there yet. We are still operating in an environment of unexpected events triggered by the ongoing pandemic which means as business owners, looking after our staff, our customers, our families and communities, we too need to put ourselves in a supportive environment.
Over the last twelve months, many of our boards have become that safe haven with members able to help each other, sharing the lessons learnt so far and, together, working through solutions to deal with the unexpected and rapid change. Onboard a plane, the emergency drill always instructs passengers to put their oxygen mask on first before helping others. In business we should follow that advice but seldom do. Find that supportive environment, take time to shut out the noise of headlines, take a break in the day to focus on your own wellbeing so dealing with the increasing stressors becomes easier and manageable.
We talk a great deal about the importance of a strong business strategy but one thing often forgotten is that strategy is impossible without clear personal vision.
As the saying goes – what does success look like for you? And not just your business success. We must understand what our individual success looks like for us at home, at work, in society. What vision do we have for both ourselves and our business and, most importantly, are they aligned?
We can focus so keenly on our business that we lose ourselves along the way – ending up burnt out and exhausted. Checking where we are on the road to success is easy to do and the questions below will help you pause, take stock of where you are and sharpen your vision for the future.
On your personal vision ask yourself…
Are you doing what you enjoy and what is most impactful in your business?
Are you getting rewards you hope for out of your business?
Is your health going to enable you to enjoy the benefits of the work you have put in?
Do you have a business exit strategy?
Do you have time for fun, recreation, family and friends?
Do you support other community interests in the way you would like to?
And for your company vision…
Do you have a clearly defined purpose – one that goes beyond profitability? What’s your why?
Do you have a clear set of core values that underpin every action the company takes?
What’s your BHAG – that big hairy audacious goal?
Do you have a company culture that sees you attract and retain the best employees?
Is the financial return of your business going to help you achieve your personal vision?
There are other questions of course concerning the products and services you offer, your preferred customers, your area of operation, and your market position in relation to competitors, as well as your position in your industry but when it comes to really understanding how you can move forward you have to get to start with your personal vision – the things that drive you and the things you want to change.
Strategy is important – but strategy is impossible without vision. Strategy is the pathway that helps us to realise our vision.
Employment issues were top of mind for business owners in our most recent Pulse Check report and those issues come in all shapes and sizes.
Every workplace has seen tremendous upheaval in the last year and there are more upheavals to come as employers find themselves having to develop vaccination policies, infection control procedures and other measures designed to keep staff safe and their business operating.
These upheavals, complex as they are, have been easier for some businesses to manage. Why? Because their company culture has been considered, crafted and nurtured so their values are lived every day by everyone in the business.
A healthy workplace culture creates happy workers – and happy workers work better than miserable ones. That may seem obvious but it is surprising how many businesses – large and small – fail to think about the employee experience, the culture and communication.
Company culture starts at the welcome mat. A good culture eases the recruitment process as it attracts people who want to stay for the long term, rather than the job being a short step up the career ladder.
Positive experiences in the workplace lead people to stay longer with a company. This creates stability, reduces staff turnover and, in the long term, recruitment costs are reduced.
Other advantages include enhanced performance, greater collaboration and a deeper understanding on the part of the employees as to the issues facing the business – so when a crisis hits, or a pandemic breaks out, everyone deals with the situation together, often contributing beyond expectations.
Encouraging a positive workplace culture can be tough for small businesses that are growing bigger, not because there is a reluctance to do so but because it is often hard to know where to start.
At The Alternative Board we have tools and techniques to help business owners look carefully at their culture and build the type of workplace where people can’t wait to start the day. If you’d like to know more let’s talk about the ways to create a healthy, happy workplace.