We often hear people proclaim that they ‘just can’t find good staff’. I said it many times myself early in my career. One day, after letting go of my third employee in as many months and cursing the work ethic of young people, I caught a glimpse of someone in the mirror. Someone who was central to the continuing theme of ‘employing crappy support staff’.
It suddenly dawned on me that it had absolutely nothing to do with all of the people I had tried to employ in a support capacity, the ‘crappy’ person was in fact me and I needed to dramatically change my approach to building a great team and creating a sustainable support structure.
More often than not we have the right people, the right strategy and the right resources but we’re not achieving our business or financial goals because we have not invested the time to properly define how we work as individuals and as a team.
Ask the following questions related to your team
- What work/tasks do I perform and what work/tasks do I need each member of my team to perform in order to achieve success?
- Do they have the right skills for the job? (they may be either over or under qualified)
- Do team members have the right characteristics for the job?
- Do team members understand what I need to achieve each week and how they can best help me to achieve this?
- Do we all clearly understand what success looks like for our team?
If you don’t know how to answer these questions, it is even less likely that your team will know. And if you do know but have not communicated the answers in a clear manner to your team, they are still unlikely to know.
Your Right Arm
Support Team members are regularly described as the boss’s right arm. ‘Meet my Personal Assistant Karen, she is my right arm’. This is actually a good analogy for support staff. The question is, how are you using your right arm?
Are you using your right arm to keep all the balls in the air, to assist you to stay on top of your workload?
When trying to keep ‘all the balls in the air’ two hands are definitely better than one. You work together to catch and throw. This scenario requires little to no planning as you work reactively. The right arm instinctively follows the left. That is until the pace (workload) dramatically picks up and someone drops the ball.
Playing Beautiful Music Together
Are you using your right arm and left arm to produce beautiful music together?
When playing the piano the left and the right arm work together to produce a complicated rhythmic piece of music but the left and the right hands are doing different things. They support each other but each has its own defined responsibilities and purpose. In this scenario, everyone is clear about how he or she contributes to the team’s success and, just like sheet music, has a documented set of rules to get there.
Sitting down at a piano and just banging away very rarely produces a great result (with the exception of the likes of Mozart, Handel or Beethoven). To create a melody or rhythm we follow sheet music. Producing sheet music for a high-performing team starts with defining the notes we need to play. For your team, that means documenting what each member is responsible for and breaking that down further into specific tasks.
RESPONSIBLE FOR DIARY MANAGEMENT:
- make new meetings
- make meetings as requested by clients (sales meetings)
- change meetings as required by clients
- create agendas for meetings and distribute to all parties
- confirm the week ahead using CRM system
This process ensures everyone is clear about what they are responsible for achieving, as well as safeguarding that there are no crossovers or double ups. Or in a musical sense, no one is trying to play the same keys at the same time.
Hitting the right notes
Now that you know the notes each person has to play, the next step is to define when each note needs to be struck. If the left hand is way ahead of the right hand, the music is still not going to sound very good. As the business leader you need to set the pace and then manage the tempo and rhythm of the entire team. In business terms this is about resource allocation. For example, if your Perfect Week overview involves sales meetings on a Monday, then your support team will allocate time on a Tuesday to develop sales proposals. If you produce team reports on Wednesday then each member assigns time to prepare their individual reports on a Tuesday. This process ensures each team member knows how they should be allocating time to specific responsibilities and supports the team in achieving its overall goals. The sum of the parts creates a much greater whole.
What if someone is playing hip-hop or rap?
If you have written a piece of music that is meant to be played in the classical style and one of the team is playing it as hip-hop, the melody might still work on some levels but it does not produce the result you had in mind. If a team member is playing hip-hop then you need to ask yourself whether you have clearly defined the characteristics/attributes you need each member of your team to exhibit. They may have all the skills and knowledge they need to do the job, but if they are not honest or helpful or passionate then they may not be approaching the job the way you want them to. This is where a set of Team Values can help. Developing a set of Team Values ensures the attributes you want each team member to display are transparent and explicit.
Trust the right hand to coordinate with the left
To play the best you possibly can the left hand needs to be playing independent of the right hand. You can’t always be stopping to check up on the right hand, or even worse trying to play their part at the same time as yours. One of the hardest yet most essential things for business leaders to do is let go of the job they used to do. The key to letting go is building trust. Building trust within support teams is primarily about two things, clearly defined rules and effective communication.
Set the rules and daily behaviours you want your team to follow. We call this a Team Code. This can include anything from the way your team manages their email, the format and structure your meetings take, right through to the way you take your lunch breaks and annual holidays.
Your team members are not mind readers. Make yourself available for a set time, say 10 to 15 minutes at the start and end of each day to help your team prioritise tasks and answer questions they may have about the work you have assigned. This process stops you from worrying that they are not focusing on the right tasks, that they are missing important details or that they are working in a way that does not reflect you positively. But what if it’s still not sounding right?
If you have defined job descriptions, Perfect Week, Team Values, Team Code and communicate to your team on a regular basis and you are still not getting the results you desire, it may be that the team member does not have the knowledge they need to perform their job.
Ask yourself whether you have trained them properly in all aspects of their role. If yes, then they just may not be the right person for your team. If no, then take the time to map out what they need to learn over the next couple of months so they can excel in their role. We call this a Learning Ladder.
Now ask yourself the following questions about your team again?
- What work do I do and what work do I need each member of my team to do? – Job Descriptions
- Do they have the right skills for the job (they may be either over or under qualified) – Learning Ladder
- Do they have the right characteristics for the job? – Team Values
- Do they know what I need to achieve each week and how they best help me to achieve that? – Perfect Week
- Do we all know what success looks like for our team? – Team Code
Great teams have great support staff
Creating a high-performing team that works in unison like a beautiful piece of music requires time and energy. Great support staff require great leaders to help nurture, develop, teach and inspire. The long-term rewards from this short-term investment will pay for itself over and over again. Take some valuable time to pause and reflect about how you can support your team to develop it’s very own operating rhythm.
Andrew May and Christie Coleman