Elevating Team Engagement and Performance for Small to Medium Businesses

By PeopleLeaders | People Leaders Podcast

Our focus for this year for our content is going to be small and medium sized organisations (SMEs), specifically, how to create high-performing teams. We're also creating programs that cater for SMEs. Watch this space for details...

There is a very different dynamic for small and medium businesses than there is with larger organisations, particularly when the owner is the leader of the business. Often these owners are what we would call "accidental leaders," meaning they didn't specifically set out to become a people leader as such, but it's come about as a natural consequence of the success of their business.

They can, of course, still be outstanding leaders, but can sometimes need a bit of extra help, particularly when it comes to creating their own leadership team, and developing a culture that doesn't revolve around the owner making all the decisions.

So, as you can imagine, we'll have a lot to talk about, and have kicked it off already with our first podcast episode: Elevating Team Engagement and Performance for Small to Medium Businesses

Join us on this episode for insights that are sure to become a pivotal part of your leadership toolkit.

Episode Highlights:

  • Aligning business objectives with individual objectives
  • Getting team engagement
  • Coaching vs managing
  • Listening as skill to develop in the team
  • Why "getting along" doesn't necessarily mean you have a high-performing team
  • Why having a high-performing team makes the business more valuable for an acquisition or merger
  • And more...
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NB: This transcript has been AI generated and may contain some slight errors. Please judge our efforts accordingly 🙂

Jan Terkelsen: [00:00:00] Welcome to 2024, Michelle. It's been a while.

Michelle Terkelsen: It has. Happy New Year.

Jan Terkelsen: Yes. so last year we really focused on new and emerging leaders and some of the issues that they have when they're, leading their teams. This year, our focus is on small to medium sized businesses. So the leaders of small to medium sized businesses who really want to create a team that are high performing.

That allow the owner of the business to do the real work that they need to do to lead the business and the issues that we've found about how to do that and what the leader of the business has to cope with, we wanted to share in the podcast and some of those small to medium sized businesses have been engaging with us, and I just thought it'd be interesting for us to, share with our audience what those issues are and some of those practical strategies that they can start to implement.

So what do you wanna share about that? Michelle, what's your experience been?

Michelle Terkelsen: Yeah, so over the last year, year and a bit actually, I've been working very closely with a, a small business that was subsequently taken over by a larger business and worked very closely with the owner of the business and the management team and the Big issue [00:02:00] for them, and I think this applies to all small businesses, cash flow is a big issue, the other one was just the pipeline, is there enough work coming in so that I can afford to pay all these employees, week after week, it's a real issue.

It can be really stressful for the owner of the business and then the people issue. Oh, there was always the admin side of things, insurances and payroll and that sort of thing and then the one that consumed the most amount of emotional time and energy and drain for the owner of the business was the people. He couldn't understand why people didn't get, he thought he was paying them well, they were educated, good at their job, however, couldn't understand why they just couldn't, meet his expectations, and basically it's because he didn't articulate exactly what his expectations were, and the argument was that, they should know,

however, they weren't in his shoes, they weren't the owner of the business, so to speak, and actually showed them, these are the finances, this is what I need to get in each month, like really gave them a seat at the table, so to speak, about what it meant to run a small business, because they would go and, buy, buy expensive equipment and and didn't realize the impact that would have on the cash flow, when they already had something very similar, like just those sorts of things.

And it caused them to be more mindful and they had more skin in the game because they knew more. When they didn't know, they didn't know, it wasn't really their fault. And then the other thing that he put into place, which I think really was a game changer was having discipline because the owners of the business tend to be entrepreneurial, want to be out and about doing that stuff, sitting down [00:04:00] on a regular basis with his key team members and going through.

what's working for you. Can I give you some feedback? Is there anything I can do to support you? just some of those basic questions and the first time he did it, it did take a long time, because people were just starving for that sort of thing. And then after a while they became, and when they were regular, oh, it just made such a difference, everyone was happier, they felt more engaged, he knew what they knew what he knew, all of those things, everything just flowed so much better and they didn't need as long.


Jan Terkelsen: mm

Michelle Terkelsen: and he could actually start to put pieces of the puzzle together so much more readily because he had, he was able to dip into the manusha a little bit and then come out. But then he could give it to them to then go ahead and run with. And so just having a little bit of discipline. And really it's, it And then what he worked out is it's not really discipline, it's my diary.

I've just got to have it in my diary. I'm going to meet with X on the first Thursday of every da and just had time in his diary. And, I tried to, stress to him, please, whatever you can, make those a priority. And if you do have to move it or, cancel them, don't cancel them, just move them.

Because when you cancel it, There is a bit of an energy that people take off, I've been cancelled, I've been,

Jan Terkelsen: Yes.

Michelle Terkelsen: I'm not that important, but when you just move it, it has a different, oh, okay, it's okay, everybody understands.

That happen.

Jan Terkelsen: I remember, and you'll most probably remember this as well, when we were dealing with a large construction company and they were having issues with their leaders and they found one of the most significant leaders strategies they [00:06:00] employed was to bring them in on the finances, really understand the profit and loss and taking them through that so they understood what the cost, risk benefits were and they made decisions around that.

Michelle Terkelsen: That's right. And so there were some people in the business that were like, no, that's not my job. I'm not interested. it was almost like too much responsibility for them.

Jan Terkelsen: Mm.

Michelle Terkelsen: and then there is a communication that comes with that. I'm not asking you to run the business. I am just sharing.

How the business is being run, by me primarily and the impact of decisions on the bottom line. Because at the end of the day, when you do work for a small business, there is a just a little bit more, yeah, risk and you need to have a little bit more skin in the game, because it does impact you more readily.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. And with that comes the advantage of being more agile and flexible and things like that. So you know, there's always that balance. And so when you said, the CEO had to really be explicit and articulate the message But also, the other flip side of that is the receiving of it. And I was speaking with someone only yesterday, so it was the director of a large business, it was a government business actually, and they were looking at doing some leadership training.

And I said to them, and this is the question we often ask Michelle, is that, If you, if everyone in the business could sign up to one behavior, would be inspired, to sign up to one behavior, what would that be that would create the biggest impact for the business or the organization? And she said, Yeah.

I wish people would just listen. I wish people would just not talk over each other in meetings. I wish they would just sit back and really listen to what that person is trying to say and not assume. And then we talked about those [00:08:00] unconscious biases and things like that. And so I think that's a really interesting paradigm is that not only do you need to articulate clearly, but you need to be able to listen to receive that.

And it goes both ways. And

Michelle Terkelsen: Without a doubt, Jan. And really, in fact, that impacts so many areas, like you think it's just, oh, just listen, but listening actually leads to a cultural shift in the organisation, because the number one need That people have it to be heard and to be understood. And you can only do that when you truly listen to another person.

And you think it's a glib statement. It's not, it runs deep and it, it can really shift an organization. I think that's a brilliant one, actually. a really perceptive of that person.

Jan Terkelsen: Oh, yes, she was a HR director. So she really had the pulse on what the issues were. And so I wanted to share a story. so you and I have in common with someone who owns a business with a 32 million revenue and over a hundred employees. And we asked them, about their issues with people, do you have any people issues and what have you done about it?

And he said, we were that type of culture that were, like we're really kind and everyone got along. However, we were a little bit passive and we didn't, give each other And part of the, the strategy for them was to employ someone, and it was like a HR person, to show them how to have the difficult conversation, how to give and receive feedback.

And he said that has made the biggest difference because now what he's doing, and is exactly what you were saying, Michelle, is he's employing that one on one coaching [00:10:00] strategy. So the one on one with, his leadership team on a regular basis. Now again, they don't have to be an hour. However, there's two fold for the one on ones.

Absolutely, you have to talk about tactics and operation. However, you absolutely have to talk about this growth because most people who are oriented to, I suppose honing accountability and responsibility, they want to grow. And when we have regular one on ones that invite that discussion, it really does lift the capability of the whole organization.

Michelle Terkelsen: That's right. And. There are some people, like in every business, Jan, that, just want to do their job, so to speak, aren't interested in the next, position, et cetera, et cetera. However, what they do appreciate is people understanding what it's like in their shoes, in their roles, and so even those, and again, listen to, listening to them, and that's what this, CEO had to do, he had to go through that cycle of just listening first, because they were starved of that, of being heard, this is what it's really like in my role, and blah, blah, blah, and he had to, take some actions.

and, but then once, he got through that, then it was clear for them to actually now focus on performance, focus on the future, focus on some of his needs and expectations for the business. But he did have to go through that little rough patch first, for him anyway, to really listen, sit there and do something about some of their, dissatisfactions that they had.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. because having a, a well oiled machine or a team, a high performing team is really one of the most significant business advantages that you can [00:12:00] have. And the reason why it's so significant is because it's rare, but it's really impactful. And

Michelle Terkelsen: yeah. Keep going, Jan. I've got some. Yeah. So what I would add to that is that because this business had a really good, management team, when they were taken over by a larger organization, it was They have the ability, capacity to ramp up really quickly. You know what I mean? They could just drop everything and move here and move there, because the communication was just it just flowed so, so well.

they were really able to, take advantage of that next shift up in terms of scale.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah.

Michelle Terkelsen: it was critical, Jan,

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. And it's really interesting, isn't it? so if you're a leader or owner of a small to medium sized business, just check in. Am I listening? Am I having regular one on one conversations? Am I asking for feedback? Am I being as clear as I can to set expectations because people do not operate well with uncertainty.

And how do you check that? You check in on them. That's how you actually know. And I was doing some research on, the biggest issues that small to medium sized businesses have. And I just want to run them through you, run them through the list. And also when we run through the list, just think about.

What could I be doing as a leader of this bit, of a business to actually shift that? And a lot of it does come down to the people aspect. And so the first one was custom acquisition and retention. And we know when you have a constructive culture, client acquisition and retention is so much more.

engaged and higher. There's, there is a real, relationship there. The second one is managing growth and scaling the business, which you just mentioned, [00:14:00] that your, company was able to do. The second one was Balancing work and life, because if you're a small to medium sized business owner, sometimes your work can, or, the business becomes all consuming because you're not delegating, you're putting out fires, you don't have someone to, perhaps, shift some of the responsibility and accountability, it all like lands on you.

the next one is managing business accounts and finances, which we talked about as well, like Allowing people to really understand what's driving the business and then the next one was improving employee morale because when you've got great employee morale, you are going to retain really good talent, you're going to grow, which will allow you to scale and then, continue and be quite sustainable.

And the last one was retaining an adequate management team. Because then it really impacts all those other issues as well.

Michelle Terkelsen: and when you can invest in, and that's what he started to do, take the management team out for half a day here, sometimes it was a big deal, to have the whole day, doing planning and strategy and that sort of thing, it made all the difference because then they got to see what could look like and then could emulate that with their teams, and because they had an experience of it.

So yeah, really focus on your. The people that surround you immediately, whether you call them that, your management team, it pays dividends.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah and you know that is listening to some of their, to their issues, listening to their concerns, and getting feedback from them. So if I was to, to manage or lead this business even, like more effectively, what would you be seeing me do more of? What would you be seeing me do less of?

What are the things that would create a really, good impact [00:16:00] on the morale of people in the business? Because sometimes you don't know as the leader of a business, you might need to ask people.

Michelle Terkelsen: so one of the things, so there was that question asked. And one of the biggest things that they wanted is, that they said from the employees, is that they loved when he would, have a meeting with all the employees on Zoom, say the people in, Tasmania and all over Australia, and just give them a rundown on what was happening, what was in the pipeline, the big picture stuff, and, some of the feedback that some of their big clients had, they loved that.

Everybody came For those sessions.

Jan Terkelsen: Yeah. Oh, that's so true, Michelle, because I ran a, an MBTI session with a, a tech company and one of the highlights for them was to hear the vision of the leader and where the business is going, because people want to get on that train. you want to be part of something that's growing and big and that impacts, more than just, like your little area.

So yeah, it's

Michelle Terkelsen: yeah, it really gives you more meaning for your role in a way, it's contributing to something bigger. Yeah, they

Jan Terkelsen: yeah. So the takeaway for us is to be really proactive in your listening, articulate as clearly as you can with your expectations because it creates certainty, perhaps be a little bit more transparent in how the business is operating, create that, that culture of openness and Any others Michelle?

Michelle Terkelsen: I don't know whether you said ask for feedback, but it's just such a game changer and, use your diary to schedule in the important events.

Jan Terkelsen: which is your one on one? if we're going to leave you with anything, start doing your one on ones. Yeah, okay, beautiful. All right, great chatting with you Michelle and I think next week what we're [00:18:00] going to do is I'm going to share and replay a testimonial from a client that I've been working with for about 10 years now and just to see the growth and some of the things that they've started doing in their business.

So watch out for that and yeah, check you later.

Michelle Terkelsen: Okay, bye.

Jan Terkelsen: Bye.