Director The Survey Initiative
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Do you challenge your staff out of their comfort zone?

3rd Jun 2015
Director The Survey Initiative
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Gary Cattermole explains why taking a step out of your comfort zone plays a fundamental role in continued business success.  

As an employer I want my staff to enjoy what they do for a living. I know that a more engaged workforce is more productive and more loyal and that this means businesses benefit from greater profitability. It also results in lower rates of absenteeism and better staff retention, leading to lower recruitment and training costs and greater continuity for customers. 

I believe the desire to create a contented workforce is admirable but business owners and managers need to be careful - if contentment stifles ambition in large numbers, a business will struggle to develop its full potential and that won’t benefit anyone. 

In order to develop a successful business, you need your staff to be working to their full potential. In order to achieve this, people need to be challenged but be warned, do not confuse this with being overworked. Being overworked only leads to stress and unhappiness while being challenged reinforces confidence, which leads to greater motivation and engagement with the business.

The best managers can spot the potential in an employee and know how to nurture someone in order to ‘bring out the person within’ and that is no mean feat. From the moment we enter the business world we are taught to be clever – to intellectualise everything. This does not marry well with being able to nurture, so often team leaders can be very efficient operationally but woefully lacking in people management skills.

Really effective managers regularly engage with their staff. They seek their team’s feedback and input and actively listen to what they have to say. Also, crucially, they act upon what it discussed, when it is appropriate to do so. Those who pay lip service to two-way communication – the classic ‘my door is always open (unless it’s sealed shut)’ approach – is a one-way ticket to disillusionment and disengagement. 

How to challenge staff appropriately

If you task an employee with a job they are under-qualified or under-skilled for, it will more than likely lead to a negative outcome. While some people thrive on being thrown in at the deep end, others do not and it’s important that you are able to spot the difference between the two personality types. 

There is no point challenging someone who doesn’t want to be challenged so you need to make sure you challenge your staff appropriately – that you give them jobs they are able to (and want to) perform. It will be counterproductive if you task them with jobs that place them too far out of their comfort zone or that don’t match their professional interests. 

Knowing how to challenge staff requires a good understanding of those you manage. Do you know what makes them tick? Are you fully aware of their skills and of the tasks they like and dislike? Do you know where their ambition lies and what motivates them? 

By far the easiest way to get to know your staff is by being present – make time to visit your employees at their workstations or desks and talk to them. It is all well and good relying on your appraisal process to gain feedback from staff but a relaxed conversation outside the parameters of a formal review can be very insightful. 

Managers who engage with their staff in this way build better working relationships with their teams so understand the best approach to take when suggesting they take on added responsibilities or other challenges. You will need to recognise that staff who are challenged may require additional input or more training but we all have to start somewhere and if you invest and believe in people you are far more likely to get the best out of them. 

Why change is important

Change is a certainty and it’s your ability to adapt to change that makes the difference between whether you sink or swim. Successful businesses are those that are prepared (and able) to move with the times.

The recent financial climate has understandably led to businesses being more risk-averse and because there is always risk involved in stepping outside your comfort zone, some organisations have chosen to stick with what they know best. While this approach can help to maintain a business through difficult times, it doesn’t help to prepare an organisation for a healthier economy where business success depends on enterprise and taking calculated risks. 

Richard Branson wrote in a recent blog: “One of the great benefits of taking on challenges in your working life is that you and your team learn to confront risk together and also to lose sometimes, because when you make a good wager, the odds are not going to be in your favour. The calculated risks you and your team take should be strategic judgments, not just blind gambles: Protect the downside by figuring out the odds of success, working out what the worst possible consequences would be, then deciding whether to accept.”

All businesses will face adversity at one time or another and if you have a team that is engaged, trusted and confident when facing new challenges, you will stand a far greater chance of survival. Initiate small changes within your business and challenge willing and capable members of staff and you’ll be laying the foundations that will help your company survive during harder times.

Gary Cattermole is director of award-winning employee research consultancy The Survey Initiative

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