Rosemary Mashford: Good leadership and the art of retaining a happy workforce

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A few years ago, I started a management development programme with Alliotts Accountants’ Guildford office which was specifically designed to empower its managers, free its partners to do what they do best – engage with their clients – and generally energise the firm’s working practices.

We began by looking at the management structure and focused on the key people – associates and managers – those who directly support the partnership. We quickly realised that if these people could be made more effective with people management activities, the Partners would be more able to concentrate on what they did best – client business. We began by conducting a firm-wide consultation to help establish employees’ workplace motivations, attitudes and training needs. Armed with this information and a robust competency framework, we were able to shape the programme of events that were to follow.

We ran a series of training sessions with partners and managers based around seven core management competencies. One of our key objectives was to encourage the ‘sharing of learning’ between each group.

The seven core principles that we focused on were:

1.      Managing people as the situation dictates. Our objective was to focus managers on supportive behaviour and coaching, freeing Partners to direct and delegate. We worked with the management team to show them that knowing your team means understanding what motivates and interests them and what they want of their careers. Knowing what drives people and drawing on their strengths really does achieve greater levels of ‘discretionary effort’. Different people need different styles of management and it is important to know how to handle every situation.

2.      Learning how and when to let go. Our aim was to teach managers that an important factor in the success of a motivated workforce entails having the confidence to trust people, empower them and give them the independence to get on with the task entrusted to them.

3.      Communicating clearly the task and its objectives. Key to empowerment is good communication because it lets the person know what is expected of them and the part they play in the process. We were also keen to show them that communication is a two-way process and it is important to test understanding and confidence, and value the other person’s opinion in decision-making.

4.      Recognising achievement. This is a major motivator and often undervalued. We wanted to show managers that a simple ‘thank you’ shows a person that what they have done is appreciated and that celebrating major achievements can help to build team spirit and boost staff morale.

5.      Practicing what you preach.  This is fundamental and often a principle that lets managers down. We showed Managers that leading by example is key to credibility.

6.      Giving constructive feedback. This type of feedback is essential if someone is to learn from his or her experiences and become better at what they do. We urged the management team to make time to talk to staff after tasks have been completed and be even handed.

7.      Communicating honestly. Tell the truth and be consistent in what you say and to whom you say it. Telling things as they are, while being sensitive to the situation ensures that people know where they stand.

Before, during and after the managers’ programme of seminars, these seven competencies were revisited and extended to include additional training on:

  • Personal brands, the importance of how you present yourself and what your behaviour says about you as a Manager and a person
  • Assertiveness, getting your point across and achieving what you want while maintaining respect

The final stage of the process and to create a common understanding, partners and managers were  ‘paired’ – each manager was able to select a partner within the office who would become their mentor and with whom they would contact regularly to discuss their learning experiences and concerns of the firm and their work in hand.

A year after this programme was implemented, employee turnover had reduced by 3.4% and sickness absence had fallen by 23%.  As well as this, the programme has delivered significant personal benefits to its participants. Partners with many years experience have obtained new perspectives about their style of management. Managers now report themselves to be more satisfied in their work than has been the case for many years. People feel respected. Career paths are clearer and there is greater energy and cohesion throughout the firm.

Rosemary Mashford is an HR specialist at Alliotts accountants in Guildford and specialises in advising organisations on how to improve business success by adopting good leadership and governance practices

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