Building high-growth businesses through a focus on your number one resource: Your people.
Tim Legg and Desere Orrill have built their digital media company, Ole Media Group into a R60 million business by concentrating on laying the right foundations.
They’re expecting to double their turnover in 12 months because of their focus on the scarcest and most valuable resource of all: People.
“We’re nice people to do business with,” says Orrill. “It sounds like a cliché, but the reality is that the only clients we’ve lost over the years have been through acquisitions, where the buyer has had a different provider, or different provider rules. Every other client has continued to do business with us.”
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Orrill believes this is partly due to the quality of output that the group and its various companies deliver, and partly because clients have direct relationships with each division within the group.
“We’ve grown from a small entrepreneurial company to a diverse group with multiple offerings, but we’ve maintained the personal focus of a much smaller business,” says Legg.
“There’s no anonymity with clients. Our response times are fast. And we’re close to them and their businesses – we live their challenges, solutions and wins with them.”
Growing a business that is so dependent on relationships requires a focus on people.
Here are Legg and Orrill’s top five tips on finding (and retaining) top talent.
1. Choose your top talent wisely
Many business owners make the mistake of assuming best is most expensive,” says Legg.
“We made this mistake. We were growing, I was too hubristic, and we appointed three senior execs. They all came with big salaries, under assurances that they’d also bring in big deals. Only one managed to do so. It was such a big drain on the business that we needed to scale back on our office space to accommodate the extra spend. We overstretched, and it wasn’t necessary. The spend didn’t justify what we got in return.”
Orrill adds that today, Ole Media hires for talent and attitude, with a view to growing its business heads within the organisation, or purchasing businesses and giving the team the support of a larger business with great systems and processes already in place.
2. Give great people the autonomy to do what they do best
“You have to hire based on a good cultural fit, but you then need to trust your team, especially your team leaders. Our success is not tied to us, as business owners. Our clients don’t insist on only doing business with Tim or Desere. They’re happy dealing with our people, because our people deliver. They can’t do that if they don’t know they have your support,” says Legg.
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3. Hire for cultural fit; skills can be taught
“This is an oversimplification, but skills are of course important, but cultural fit should be your first priority. We know the kinds of people that we work well with, and who fit into our culture. Our business heads in particular are generally well-travelled, world-wise and most have lived or travelled to foreign places.
"We’ve learnt that a person who wants to learn about the world, is interested in people, and can hold engaging conversations is an incredibly valuable resource. We’ll sometimes even hire someone and find them a position later, that’s how highly we value cultural fit,” adds Orrill.
“And never discount word-of-mouth referrals,” says Legg. “We’ve found them to be the best resource we have.”
4. Be a good company to work for
“This is about so much more than salaries,” says Orrill. “When we bought one of our companies, TEAMtalk, we found a team who were skilled and astute, but stifled. That weekend I personally painted the walls and gave the office life, so that when they got to work on Monday they knew they had employers who cared – about them, their work environment and how much they enjoy their jobs.
"It was a small gesture, but it laid the groundwork for a new office environment, where hard work and fun are balanced. Today, if the site goes down on a weekend, the team will volunteer to help. It’s not grudge assistance – it’s willingly given, because everyone cares about the company, our success and delivering on a promises.”
5. Don’t let bad apples spoil the whole bunch
“Even though we are very careful and specific in our hiring processes, we do occasionally hire someone who is a poor fit for the company. This could be an attitude, delivery or quality issue,” says Legg.
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“In each case, we encourage a career change,” continues Orrill. “The conversation generally follows like this: ‘I can tell you’re not happy. If you’d like to resign, we’ll be generous. We’ll give you two months to find something new and give you a good payout. If you’d like to stay here and achieve more, we’ll help you perform.
"Performance management starts on Monday.’ To date, no one has chosen the second option – who wants to be performance managed? They leave, and we can find a better fit. There’s a huge cost to keeping the wrong staff member. We’d rather start fresh.”