Getting Engaged?

Our last newsletter introduced the idea that freelancers, and other professional virtual team members, are likely to be more “engaged” and aligned with your business vision than many permanent employees. You told us this warranted further consideration – and we agree!

That’s why our current research project includes questions which ask business owners for their views on the performance of project teams and their expectations when it comes to engagement of internal (employees) and external (freelance) team members.

Many studies over the last 5-10 years have concluded that “engagement” is the key to innovation, performance and productivity and there are some truly compelling statistics (see below) that demonstrate both the positive and negative impacts of ensuring all team members understand, believe in and take ownership of the company’s future;  the goals and the vision. Our own project will help translate this knowledge into useful insights actionable within the emerging, more fluid, employment landscape.

The UK Government’s Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned a comprehensive report on the subject of Employee Engagement, quoting some fascinating statistics from such trusted international sources as Gallup, Tower Perrins-ISR and the Chartered Management Institute.

Did you know that…

Companies with the best levels of employee engagement (top quartile) can expect to see…

–          18% higher productivity

–          12% higher profitability

–          An EPS (earnings per share) rate 2.6 times higher

…than companies found in the bottom quartile

Likewise, companies in that bottom quartile of employee engagement measurement suffer…

–          Employee turnover 31-51% higher

–          Theft or stock “shrinkage” 51% higher

–          62% more accidents in the workplace

…than companies in the top quartile

Not only this, there are many examples of British companies across various sectors that have quoted similar findings specific to their own operations and business models.

The Co-operative Group focused on developing employee engagement in their recent period of transformation, introducing a focus on engagement that changed their approach to internal communication which has underpinned the turnaround of the business.

Yorkshire based public transport provider Metro has developed an employee engagement program which has helped the company change from a traditional and bureaucratic operation to an award winning innovator with high rates of employee retention and customer satisfaction.

The construction industry was hit hard by the recent economic downturn, with sales figures dropping by 50% year in year JCB pro-actively managed employee engagement to ensure they have a sustainable business built around people who understand the strategy for ensuring they come out the other side ready to grow again.

Also the CIPD regularly quote the most recent examples in their workshops and presentations including major high street and supermarket brands like M&S and Tesco.

In my experience working with large companies, smaller businesses and as a business owner myself, generally speaking the people who are quickest to…

A – understand the concepts and strategies relating to a project/business vision
B – make valid and useful suggestions that will help refine the approach
C – get enthusiastic about action and the delivery of the objectives

…are those team members who have been business owners themselves, the freelancers who are used to thinking strategically about a range of different client business models, at the same time as completing actions to get a job done, making them both agile and adaptable. It can be far more difficult and time consuming to get a similar level of engagement (and therefore performance) from full time employees who have had a narrower range of experience with less strategic decision making – and perhaps even a focus on the security of a monthly wage, rather than delivering client value and trading on reputation.

Whether a team consists of internal employees, external consultants, freelance specialists or a mixture; the quicker you can generate and confirm alignment with the goal the sooner you can make progress against the objectives. Without a shared vision the risk of mistakes, confusion and inefficiency increases massively.

The natural process is to hold a thorough discussion with everyone involved to explore all aspects of where you want to go, getting input and ideas on how to get there and defining their role and responsibilities. It is important to test understanding in advance and along the way, so you can make decisions on whether individuals “get-it” enough to be involved.

That is the whole purpose of the task proposal and discussion elements of the Skills-Hive system. Putting people ahead of process to create more effective teams with everyone aligned to a shared vision.

“One of the key aspects of delivering great projects is making sure that everyone buys in to the goal and the vision. Only working with full-timers can be a false economy – in my experience including freelancers with the right skills can help get more done faster – as they are very delivery focussed – and often the quickest to engage with a great vision.”

Tom Ball – Founder of NearDesk “The card that lets you work anywhere”

Initial discussions with Hirers in our research project have helped us develop and refine our understanding of the importance of this element of team formulation. Building on the insights gained, we want to explore how best to take this aspect of the Skills-Hive ethos further, embedding the engagement principles deeper within the system. We can look at creating things like “alignment ratings” for Workers within the Hirer dashboard and evolving the feedback system to include a measure of how good people are at communicating a vision as a Hirer and engaging with it as a Worker, but more importantly we want to make it as easy and intuitive as possible for Hirers to communicate and explore their vision with team members, perhaps introducing mind mapping tools to aid the discussion. Any other ideas are welcome!

So, what do you think?…

Have you had experience working with freelancers on a project?

What was it like getting them on board in terms of vision and engagement?

What challenges have you faced when enthusing and aligning full time employees with the business strategy?

Maybe your experience has been completely different to what we have found out so far, we would love to hear from you! (just leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page)

Pay It Forward

When you have been fortunate enough to have found your route to success, the most rewarding thing you can do is help others to find their own path.

One of my favourite quotes on mentoring is from Sir Richard Branson. Even the most successful business people are able to admit that they received plenty of assistance along the way and it is great to hear them recognising the benefits of being a mentor as well as receiving support.

“The support of experienced entrepreneurs is a key ingredient to help build and grow a successful business. Sharing experiences and ideas is also a key requirement of being a good mentor… be prepared to learn as much as you teach!”

– Sir Richard Branson

Back in November our Hive News “Meant to Mentor” email focused on the importance of mentors in the business world and provided some tips on how to find the sort of support and guidance that’s right for you.

As we begin to launch our Job4Life and Virtual Teaming workshops and Boot Camps this summer, we are actively seeking established freelancers and business owners who have the skills and experience to support our Newbee freelancers and entrepreneurs beginning their journey in the commercial world.

The model has been designed to help participants learn about themselves in terms of their marketable skills and talents, their preferred styles of communication and natural ways of working. We then develop their ability to identify potential hirers and communicate the value they can deliver, tailoring communications to specific audiences and their needs. The programme results in an opportunity to respond to a live brief from a hiring business which could lead to their first paid work as a freelancer. Throughout the process the attendees will have access to suitably experienced mentors who can help answer their questions, providing guidance on key issues and considerations.

We are already seeing plenty of interest from undergraduate students and we are working closely with Universities and organisations like NACUE (National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs) to provide support to the most ambitious emerging talent. But age isn’t the key determinant of ambition. There are many individuals finding themselves in career transition by choice or otherwise. These people are looking at the changing face of employment and considering freelancing as a positive potential career direction for the first time.

Within the range of people considering how they can self-promote to secure freelance work, beyond the students already mentioned, are key groups like Mums on Maternity Leave who have proven professional skills and experience that they can use to bring real value to business projects as a virtual team member. Also, slightly older business statesmen (and women) who don’t want to retire while they still have so much to offer the commercial world in terms of experience and wisdom. If you provide these individuals with mentoring support that helps them shape their approach to self-employment and then blend their mix of energy and talent, there are some amazing opportunities for businesses to create formidable virtual teams to deliver fast paced business growth projects.

There is a multitude of reports and surveys about the effect of mentoring and other forms of non-financial support on businesses, here are some interesting perspectives from a 2011 report published by Youth Business International (YBI) relating specifically to young entrepreneurs…

Businesses are more successful: 55% of young entrepreneurs agree that their business is more successful as a result of the non-financial support they received.

Operational challenges are overcome: two thirds of young entrepreneurs can think of a significant operational challenge in their business that they were able to solve as a result of their non-financial support, that reduced costs and increased profit/turnover in their business.

Loan repayment rates improve: 54% of young entrepreneurs would have struggled to repay their loan over the same time period without non-financial support.

Access to finance increases: the likelihood of approval for a commercial loan more than doubles when young entrepreneurs have established a track record and benefited from receiving a range of non-financial services.

Young entrepreneurs feel more confident: 84% of young entrepreneurs feel more confident running their business as a result of the non-financial support they received.

And the value you receive from the experience of mentoring cannot be underestimated, you will be amazed at what can be revealed about yourself and the benefit of just being around such enthusiastic and creative minds.

Ketan Makwana from Enterprise Lab and Youth Enterprise Live sees huge benefit from providing mentoring and support to others…

“Mentoring is all about developing a platform for others to prosper from… not only does one have to instil confidence or guidance but also provide opportunity… I have found mentoring others extremely enjoyable, educational and empowering. For me mentoring is not just about what expertise I can bring to others, but also what I can learn from them too.”

So, if you have what it takes to help develop the next generation of business leaders, and you also want to continue to learn something new about yourself by working with young entrepreneurial talent, just add “mentoring” as a skill to the talents in your Skills Hive profile. We will be in touch with you about opportunities to get involved with our workshops over the summer.

Why not also add a video clip to your profile which tells us about your personal style of mentoring and how you specifically want to support enterprising new talent.

Deal or No Deal?

One of the main reasons we started Skills Hive was to provide an alternative to the “deals” being offered on the established freelancer marketplaces. It is becoming pretty clear that the bid based model they use more often than not fails to deliver. Continue reading

Mo’ Mo’ Mo’ – How do you like it?

I couldn’t resist this ridiculous title, seemingly cryptic or curiously random? Well – both really!

Recently I wrote about the social and ethical credentials Skills Hive could perhaps claim in the piece entitled Big Foot and it got me on a train of thought. In big business it gets called CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, but for the rest of us trying to do some good it is really just about living life as a decent human being from day to day. Continue reading

Big Foot!

While we are clearly a commercial business, Skills Hive has strong ethical and social values. We provide the tools to promote your skills and earn money, but we also actively encourage everyone to continually develop themselves and their teams, understand their talents and personality and the impact they have on others, manage work life balance, collaborate and innovate. Continue reading

Getting Tooled Up!

No – I’m not advocating violence! I just want to explore some of the resources available to help you develop your skills and performance, as you take control of your working life as a hirer or worker.

Self development is a really important part of the Skills Hive ethos. That’s why we are so focused on dynamic profiles involving video, so that you can continuously update potential hirers on how you are developing as a person. Continue reading

Profiles, Professionalism and Personality

The link through to an article on “how to pen a strong personal profile” I included in last week’s Hive Buzz Newsletter proved to be popular, so I thought I would focus in on that subject for this week’s Hive Blog. (originally posted April 2011) Continue reading