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AM Executive Breakfast Club: Recognising the stars in your workforce

The soft skills of management are often overshadowed by the raft of critical business performance indicators and the need to plan and forecast.

Organisations frequently focus on the numbers, because they’re the way the business is kept in check.

However, the success of the business is down to the team within it, and a successful team isn’t all about the numbers.

Neither is it simply about getting together a bunch of people, members of the AM Executive Breakfast Club were told at its recent meeting in Simpsons in the Strand, London.

It was a view from Jeff Grout, an expert in building and managing effective teams. Until 2000 Grout was UK managing director of Robert Half International, the largest specialist recruitment consultancy in the world.

A graduate of the London School of Economics, he joined Robert Half International as a recruiter at the age of 28, and in 21 years built up the UK operation from two offices and 12 staff into a business with a domestic turnover of £65 million, 19 offices and more than 350 staff.

He’s since worked with Sir Clive Woodward when Woodward managed the England rugby union team to victory in the 2003 World Cup and former England rugby captain Martin Johnson, and now holds several corporate advisory and executive coaching positions.

“There are three vital things to high performance: the people in the team, the motivational climate, and the way those people work together,” Grout said.

Assess individuals in the team

He recommended that managers look at their team closely every six months, and assess if it is able to reach its goals.

Identify the star performers, the highly competent cynics, the underperformers with good attitude and the incompetent uncommitted.

Fire the fourth bunch, train the third, identify why the second have lost motivation, and reward and recognise the first, he said.

After that, any team member should be a star performer within six months.

The problem for many businesses is they put off firing the incompetent uncommitted, and that damages performance.

With recent starters, extend their probation period, and be tolerant of their development, but intolerant of poor performance,” he urged.

“Where a manager delays decisive action, they’re communicating to the rest of the team that under-performance is okay there,” Grout said.

Equally important, to avoid the best people leaving, is to check whether star performers know they’re considered a star, and whether they feel like a star.

Every six months sit with them to explore their options, and check whether their rewards are in line with expectations.

Make everyone feel like a human being, show interest in them as a person.

Grout recalled that, as BBC director general, Greg Dyke said people’s lives distill into 10 significant days, such as marriages, births and deaths, and it is important for leaders to acknowledge, celebrate or commiserate these

days. As a testament to Dyke’s standing as a leader, employees walked out and wept when he was forced to resign from the BBC in the wake of the Hutton report.

Another of Dyke’s strengths was to ask staff for one thing they could do to improve the service to customers, and for one thing their manager could do to make their life easier at work.

Implementing those changes showed he listened.

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