There’s no one single way to run a business

Three successful business owners explain their methods for managing and motivating staff, while still making a profit.

There’s no one single way to run a business

Three successful business owners explain their methods for managing and motivating staff, while still making a profit.

Business structures are changing. Hierarchies are less rigid, while teams are given more autonomy. But is it possible to grow a company with a flat structure? And, if so, will we be seeing all businesses going in this direction soon? Elite Business met up with three business owners recently to discuss this topic.

One of these owners has a method for eliminating the issue; one has minimalized it; with one opting to throw old structures and methods completely out of the window. These are their tales.

Roger Jackson started Shopper Intelligence about 10 years ago. It is a market research business operating in 12 countries across the globe, measuring the activities of shoppers. The company finds out what they like and what they don’t like, and why they are purchasing certain goods.

When he came up with the idea Roger was living in Australia. At the time, he was working with a Canadian company, and was running the Australian part of the operation. He felt that forming joint-companies with individuals in different countries was the ideal route for building up his international company. 

And now, despite being a small company, they are dealing with big corporate clients.  There is no day-to-day management input needed at any of the local companies. All sides are motivated by the same outcomes.  

This structure leaves Roger free to work on overall business strategy. For him, choosing the right partner is more critical than any individual hiring or firing of staff. He has discovered that individuals in different countries have slightly different approaches to work. Therefore, it’s all about give and take, and companies in some countries take a little longer than ‘normal’ to get up to speed.

Roger says you have to have plenty of patience, but with no massive investment required, there are no deadlines to meet. He likes the individuality of each country, and was never interested in following the model used by American fast food outlet McDonald‘s.

He has a very personal relationship with his partners, which means he gets to work with people he likes. They all get together once a year and he describes the atmosphere as collegiate.

Someone who has removed certain hierarchical layers in favour of performance and results is Ian Nairn. During the 1990s Ian used to work for ICL, and he was requested to develop a new line of revenue that would generate the business millions. He agreed to the challenge, providing he could choose his own team. Ian selected senior people who agreed to work with him, rather than for him. 

Within six years they were generating more than a billion dollars per annum. Ian felt this model was clearly the best method for undertaking problem-solving. Simply select individuals irrespective of their business position. When he set up his company C-Learning, which is a global cloud software business, he created a flat structure from the start.  

The business has always worked largely without office space, with staff reporting directly to Ian. He has now become president of the company, and has appointed a new chief executive to replace himself. However, the structure remains unchanged.

His staff members work in task-orientated teams, each with task leaders. Any titles, such as ‘manager’, handed to individuals are simply for the benefit of customers and clients who may want to contact the company. Ian says this works because everyone is passionate about their mission.

Team members can be part-time, full-time, contracted, or employed. Everything is flexible to suit them, as Ian believes people are the heart of any business. Since starting out 10 years ago, only two people have left.  

Ian’s job is to be the glue that holds everything together, encouraging communications while focusing the team on innovation and global opportunities.

Danny Matthews is the founder of Danny & Co, an award-winning branding and design studio. Danny had previously run an insurance brokerage. He tells the tale of how some people were promoted for their dedication alone, rather than on results. Such as being in the office at 7am, and working for 12 hours, and then being rewarded ahead of someone who might enjoy better results from a six-hour working day.

Danny bases his business on a scheme that was once trialled at Walmart. It is a results-led model. In this method, everyone gets to follow their own system, providing the work gets done. By 2019, the revolutionary ‘kick-starter’ scheme was up and running, so it was the perfect time to test it out. His big challenge was to create a new improved culture, but not dictate one.  

The solution he chose features a dozen principles, including some from the original Walmart scheme, with others developed elsewhere, as well as in-house. Schedules are now a thing of the past, with no one allowed to discuss the number of hours they work. Every day is treated as if it’s a Saturday ‘ which is a psychological ploy to keep staff members relaxed and upbeat.

The biggest challenge is to change people’s thinking. By adopting this method, it’s about everyone taking personal responsibility. Danny says everyone’s brain has had to be re-wired, and he hopes his people will spread the word on how daily working life has suddenly much improved.

Jan Cavelle
Jan Cavelle

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