• Dr Chan Abraham

How to effectively grow & retain your people


(Taken from an interview with the Beijing Business Community)

Beijing Business Community (BBx): I find it very interesting that you say "When people join a company, they join the organisation; when they leave, they are leaving the manager". It is so true.

Dr Chan Abraham (CA): Research in the UK over the past decade shows that the most significant person in an employee’s life is their immediate line manager. That is the person they see (or should see) on a regular basis. If that person thanks them, praises them, gives them constructive feedback (which means ‘You did this really well, well done’, but also ‘You didn’t do this so good, let’s look at the problems or why you didn’t do it so well, to see if we can train you’) they are more likely to get commitment, productivity and results. Under this kind of engagement, suppose this person has been off sick, first day they come back to work, there should be an interview (with the line manager), (asking them questions like) ‘How are you feeling? Can you come back to work? ‘What was the problem? Was it work-related? Was there stress at home?’

This approach to the work relationship means that you will retain your employees for a longer period of time. They will be faithful and loyal, and they will help to grow the business. And this approach also will grow your people. The greatest investment you can make is in someone else. If that person grows with the vision of the company, then you’ve got strength. Remember a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So every single member of a company, a business or a church, needs to be behind the vision. Otherwise, they will let you down. They will be terrorists in your organisation who will spread rumours, be negative or in some other way disrupt things.

BBx: We have had experience with organisations who think that their workers are replaceable, that human resources are easy to obtain, thus are reluctant to make the efforts to provide training and improve the way things are within the organisation to retain their employees. What do you have to suggest to organisations like this?

CA: I see that is a very weak approach to leadership, and is fundamentally flawed, because all you would do is to replace a bad worker with another bad worker. What you need to do is to strive for excellence, where you constantly raise the bar. Imagine what the Olympics would be like, say, in the High Jump, if we were only ever content to have the bar at knee level. The rationale would be, “No one was prepared to jump any higher, so we always kept the bar there.” That’s a ridiculous approach. We want to have people striving for athletic perfection. The same is true with business; we need to realise that no one is dispensable. If we have to fire a large number of people because they are not doing their job effectively, that is primarily a failure in leadership. It is not the failure of the employees; it is a failure of the company.

There are 4 stages of training and developing people that a leader should focus on:

1. I do; you watch.

2. I do; you help.

3. You do; I help.

4. You do; I watch.

So you start by being the person who does everything, and the people you are training watch you. Then you go into a stage where the people you are training help you. You go to the next stage where they do and you are helping. Finally, they do and you are watching. They are moving into a greater sphere of activity. Perhaps they are moving into leadership. That’s your principle. You try to make the way for the next person to come. That kind of organisation is continually re-energising and self-sustaining and you are growing people from within with a lot of passion about your vision.

BBx: You talked a lot about the responsibilities a leader needs to take and to grow their people. How much responsibility you think employees should take for their happiness or problems at work? How can they do their part to change?

CA: When I say the leader must take the ultimate responsibility, I mean that. But successful businesses, like the one I lead, train their employees to realise that it is their responsibility as well. I encourage people to live as if it’s their own business. I ask them, “If you owned the business yourself, how would you run it?” And you will find that people become less wasteful, and they begin to look after the work environment, make sure the place is clean, seek to minimise waste and try to ensure the organisation is as efficient as possible.

One principle in leadership, having taken the overall responsibility, is to teach people to have that sense of personal ownership and responsibility. That’s a big challenge, especially in large organisations or bureaucracies, where people don’t have a sense of ownership. You have to try to give people the sense of having their own stake in the organisation. “This business is dependent on how you work.” When someone feels significant in that way, their self-esteem rises. As their self-esteem rises, they begin to take greater responsibility. As everyone takes greater responsibility, the opportunity for things to go wrong is reduced and minimised.

Ferry boats transport people between England and France. The bottom of the boat is where they take the cars. If the doors are not completely shut and a just a small amount of water gets in, it can destabilise and then sink the ship. It happened some years ago. The ship sank and a number of people died, just because a few centimetres of water got in. the issue was, whose responsibility was it to shut the doors? I use that as an example to say to people, just as it was that person’s responsibility to shut the ferry doors, and prevent a disaster, so when it is your responsibility, you have to do it to the very best of your ability, because we depend on you for our safety and our success.

We need to find ways to give people examples. So I give you one example. In our business, we have a simple maxim, and it’s called ‘the Luminus Leaf.’ I came to Head Office one morning in the autumn, when there were leaves fallen from the trees. And a leaf was inside the foyer of the main entrance. I picked it up and I put it into the bin. At the next conference when I saw all the staff, I told them about this and said, ‘How many of you would have walked past that leaf and you left it to someone else to pick it up?’ I showed them a leaf and I said, ‘This is “the Luminus Leaf”. From now on, you will remember the Luminus Leaf. Whenever you think about it, ask yourself, “What is my responsibility?” If you walk past it, you should have done it.’ You can translate this same approach into many aspects of business life.

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