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Surefire Ways to Bring Out the Best in Your Staff

When I started my company, Journyx, 13 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't have the experience needed to effectively manage people, so I had to learn these skills through trial and error, and quickly, in order to keep the company going.  After all, human resources are a company's most valuable asset.

Over the years,  I've lost sleep when we were close to missing payroll, watched as competitors copied our software bit for bit, and then celebrated along with hard-working employees as we achieved success.  Today, Journyx has 50 employees and several million dollars in sales with absolutely no outside investment.  Here are some of the things I learned along the way about managing and motivating employees to reach their highest potential.

Hire Diverse

Businesses today face fierce competition on all sides.  The only way to survive in such an environment is to be relentlessly creative.  New products, services and ideas are the best way to outshine the competition and win market share.  

In order to keep creativity alive in a company, you have to surround yourself with different types of people.  Forget partnerships, listen to your customers, and hire high school kids, foreigners, people from other races and religions, and Martians, if you can find them.  Different people bring different perspectives to the table, something you need not only to succeed, but merely to survive.

Here in Austin, we have the luxury of proximity to the University of Texas (UT). From this well of intellect we continually draw for ideas and young energetic labor.  Not only do they bring a fresh perspective during their internships, but if they're a good fit, they can remain with us upon graduation and become a long-term asset to the company.  If not, they can at least get a letter of recommendation and some real world experience to put on their resumes.  It's a win-win situation.

Build People Up

I've learned that I can only be a mentor when I know what I’m talking about, which is not everywhere.  Having said that, I’m good at lots of things and when those things are relevant, I try to step in and help. I’ve found that when I'm there to aid an employee who needs some help, they see that I care about them and in turn, that makes them care more about the company and the job they’re doing. It's important to let people know when they're doing a good job, as well.  I like the phrase, "catch people doing something right" because it expresses the best way to mentor.

Think Outside the Box

One of the most difficult tasks for a manager is to keep employees motivated.  It can be especially difficult to do this when money is tight and bonuses are not an option.  A couple years ago, I got a little creative. I bet the sales team that they would not exceed their quota for Q1 by 33% and promised that if they did, the leadership team would dye their hair. Well, the sales team blew the doors off and beat their numbers by 45%. We held up our end of the bargain and dyed our hair neon blue for a week, and I have pictures to prove it. It’s also important to remember that you can’t take yourself too seriously. 

As you can see, there are many ways that managers today can keep employees happy and their performance high.  All it takes is a little understanding and the willingness to try new things.  The investment for such initiatives is low, but the return just might surprise you.

Read More In: Human Resources

Tips & Tricks from Software CEO Curt Finch

Tags : hiring practiceshrhuman resources

Discussion:    Add a Comment | Comments 1-2 of 2 | Latest Comment

November 11, 2010 7:29 PM updated: November 11, 2010 7:31 PM

Curt, congratulations on your success with Journyx. As the owner of a couple of businesses myself, I understand some of the challenges that you and your team have overcome to achieve your current level of success. And thank you for taking the time to share some of your secrets of success. I'd like to add a couple of thoughts and get your feedback on them as well.

I can see the benefits of hiring diversity. And I think that we sometimes rely on outward appearances (such as race, age, and gender) to identify diversity. It seems that what we really want is diversity of thought, and that is much more difficult to identify. Just because two people look alike/different does not necessarily mean that they think alike/differently. A good interview process with a few of those weird questions we all hate can really help to uncover unique thinking.

Also, it occurs to me that there is a time for airing differences of opinion and there is a time to execute towards a single vision. In my opinion, it is up to the leader to make time for and clearly identify which is appropriate at any given time. For example, a leader may open a portion of a meeting for brainstorming, then make a decision, and finally ask the team for their support. To continuously receive differing points of view on that decision may not help the team to move forward.

Your other two points are strong lessons for leaders and remind me of a couple principles from Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
#4 Become genuinely interested in other people.
#21 Throw down a challenge.

Best wishes to you and your team.

-- Chris Arnold, Engineered for Leadership

November 16, 2010 5:51 AM

Chris, that is a very thoughtful response. I agree with everything you said. I have an advisor that is great at understanding how people think and communicating his thoughts to me. Recently we instituted a personality assessment in our hiring process that gives me similar results in a more structured fashion. This is a great tool to help you understand people and what makes them tick. But it's not magic. There will always be an art to understanding people.

I think their culture and language and background is relevant in some way but the personality assessment test doesn't seem to find a correlation there that I have noticed. The test helps us avoid hiring clones of ourselves. We're a bunch of engineers here and if we're not careful we'll just hire more people like us. We like people like us. That's dangerous.

Discussion:    Add a Comment | Comments 1-2 of 2 | Latest Comment

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