People, potential and turnaround

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“Who’s upset you now Alan?”. “People. Just people” – Alan Partridge

Everyone working in a company has to confront a key question. Am I on or off of this bus?

Am I willing to invest my time, energy and enthusiasm to make this business successful or will I just hang on here until something better comes along or I get sacked for being shit. Similarly, business leadership requires tough decisions to be made about the investments you are making in people verses the return you are getting.


In reality this is not a binary on-off decision. Brutal reality is this. There isn’t an endless supply of high calibre employees out there. In fact most businesses are in the market bun fight to get and retain the most talented people. This means you ultimately have to make compromises.

The compromise looks something like this




The closer the outcomes and goals of the employee and the company are shared,  the more ‘on the bus’ they are.

In the right seat?

But in a further twist this alignment can be changed by the role they are actually doing. In fact I’ve been shocked on occasions by how a role change dramatically shifts peoples attitude and alignment.

Julie was one of three secretaries that supported the Internal Audit department I worked in at Tesco. Getting Audit reports typed up and meetings scheduled was always a bit of a lottery. It seemed largely dependent on who you chose to ask and what mood they were in at the time you asked. Julie was about the worst of the three by a very long margin. She was often late, regularly sick and when she was at her desk a fair degree of her time was spent complaining. Even the senior managers and director seemed to avoid her.

One day Julie applied for a different job in the company. It was to set up and run an Administration team for the Human Resources department. If anyone was going to be good a recruitment and selection you’d expect it to be HR. So you can imagine the giggles and smirks that followed the day she announced she had got the new job.

After she had gone life became a lot easier when it came to getting things done. Julie’s job was in a different building and so it was a few months before, while on my way to an early morning meeting (very common in Food Retailing) I bumped into her. It was a shock to see her collecting a coffee in the canteen at 7:30am (I didn’t think she even knew such a time existed). I asked her how she was getting on and what she told me nearly knocked me off my feet.

Julie had been working between fifty and sixty hours a week whilst she was recruiting and setting the team up. She told me there was a lot to do but she did feel like they were turning a corner. But it wasn’t the hours that shocked me. It was the enthusiasm in her voice and in her demeanour. She talked excitedly about what she had achieved and, even though she rolled her eyes about the hours, it was clear to me that the excitement was more than making up for it.

3.5 things you can do to get the right employees on the bus and in the right seats

  1. Find out what it is your employees actually want and what they most enjoy doing. This is not to say you can always deliver everything but having a mutual understanding will at least help you to understand how well aligned your company and its employees are
  2. Invest in the development of your peoples technical, managerial and behavioural skills. Equip your teams to achieve mastery in their roles and to continually be growing as individuals. Don’t allow boredom to set in. Your team should be constantly pushing the boundaries of their own capabilities
  3. Confront performance challenges when they happen. Don’t allow sub standard performance to become the norm and remember ‘you get the behaviours you tolerate’. Ultimately for the good of the company (and the person) anyone who doesn’t want to be on the bus should be encouraged to move on.

3.5 You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink

You are not responsible for the motivation of the individuals in your team. You are responsible for putting in place the tools, structures and culture that enable a good team to do a brilliant job. People that impact your ability to achieve this are of no value to your company. Ultimately it is an individual’s responsibility to wake up, show up and do the work.

During my time at Orange my boss (the Finance Director) was struggling to recruit accountants. Within my area I had over 200 junior employees, some of whom I knew had the capability and desire to go forward with their careers so I came up with an idea.

We ran a competition (involving an interview, presentation and written submission) to select six people that we would mentor and fund through their Accountancy examinations. Of the six we chose four went on to qualify as Accountants and are now in senior Finance roles in the company, all those years later. It is the thing that I am most proud of in my corporate career. 

There is something remarkable about taking on the people development challenge and seeing the right people wake up to their full capability. But you’ve got to be willing to take ownership of this challenge.

Ready to explore? The clock is ticking

“He’s thrown a kettle over a pub. What have you ever done?” Gareth Keenan – The Office”

What would elite performance look like to you. What would it feel like to know you,and your team, are operating at the very best and fullest reach available?

There are two places available on my nine month business breakthrough program (Owners and Senior Directors), two for the Commercial Leadership program and five for Customer Ninja program (Sales and Service team members) at the discounted rates before my new pricing kicks in at the end of April. If you want to explore whats possible for your business and to create a huge upshift in the capability of your people then now is the time to decide. Book a call with me to explore if any of these are right for you and your team through this link.