By Tristan Dean – 14 August 2012

One of the benefits of being a chartered accountant is getting to see hundreds of different businesses in action and finding out what makes them tick. One area that caught Tristan Dean’s attention is the different ways that business owners and managers interact with people and the profound effect this has on a business.

I recently heard ex-CEO of Air New Zealand, ASB and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Sir Ralph Norris  speak. What stuck in my mind most was the difference that discretionary output had made to the businesses he has been involved with.

Discretionary output is all about the extra effort the employees in a business are willing to put in, over and above the strict tasks and time they are paid for.

The only way this comes about is by having employees who are dedicated, loyal and who truly care about the business they are in and the customers they serve. It is the owners and managers of a business who create an environment where people are willing to provide discretionary output. Hearing Sir Ralph talk reminded me of how many businesses I had seen harness this power and how many others had missed the opportunity altogether.

So how do you create an environment in which people are willing to go the extra mile for the business? Unfortunately it is not simple and will be different for every situation. From what I have seen, it starts with the team knowing they are trusted, listened to, that their opinions are valued and that the work they do is truly appreciated – basic stuff that is very easy to forget and ignore. For any given team member, it is about making sure the role they have within the organisation is a balance between focusing on what they are good at and challenging and motivating them to develop further. The balance for each employee can be quite different.

I have seen many cases where individuals are forced to get involved in an area of a business that is so far removed from their natural style, all it does is cause them a huge amount of stress. They tend to fail at the task while, at the same time, losing confidence in their ability to perform their regular duties. Job satisfaction rapidly disappears, too. I’m a great believer in understanding an individual’s natural style and making sure their most important work-related tasks fit with this. There are a large number of questionnaire-based products on the market that will quickly and inexpensively aid the process of establishing an individuals’ natural strengths and weaknesses – Extended DISC is a great example and one with which we’ve had great success.

Once you determine someone’s natural personality type you can understand which areas of the business they are most likely to be excited about
and, conversely, what will have them running scared.

There is an old story about a school for animals where the teachers were desperate for the animals to achieve well in all activities. The duck that scored great marks in flying and swimming was forced to spend all his time focusing on running as he had scored very low in this subject. Likewise, the cat that scored magnificently in running was forced to focus on swimming and flying. The end result was a duck that could not swim, run or fly very well and a scared, upset cat that refused to do anything.

I regularly hear people tell me that people management is the hardest part of being in business and I am yet to see a business (including my own) that gets it right all the time, even with the best of intentions. Based on my experience, if you can get it right even most of the time, you are a long
way towards having a successful business.

For more information on the Extended DISC programme contact your Hayes Knight adviser or Tristan Dean on 09 448 3231.