Get the most from your staff

 15 August 2013

Does your organisation value its workforce? Colin Butler, Head of HR at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, gives six ways for creative businesses to help their staff develop.

Colin covers a range of areas, including staff, organisational development, reward, recruitment and volunteering.
Colin covers a range of areas, including staff, organisational development, reward, recruitment and volunteering.

Colin’s background was in retail. After an MA in Personnel and Development, he secured a role as HR Advisor at DHL Aviation. 

Following 12 years at DHL and a promotion, Colin went to take up a position in HR at a charity: the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The Trust cares for the world’s most important Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon and promotes the enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s works, life and times.

“My role at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is very varied. I cover a range of areas including staff and organisational development, reward and recognition, recruitment and volunteering.

"It’s my job to help create the environment for people to flourish."

“It’s my job to help the organisation create the environment for its people to flourish. That means being able to recognise and advise on anything that might have an impact on staff – things like pay and working hours, skill development and health and safety.”

Colin has six key pieces of advice to help the creative and cultural industries make the most of their staff.

1. Work with people’s existing skills and interests

It’s crucial in management to respond to people’s individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

“A creative organisation such as the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will always bring its own challenges.

“People working in creative environments are often full of passion and belief in what they’re doing. That’s what makes working with them so exciting, and it’s important to harness that passion. After all, that’s what makes a good experience for visitors.

“But you often find that creative people can see the goal – they have the vision. But they might not like, or recognise, the process it takes to get there.

“A good manager should help staff do both, but acknowledge how they like to work."

2. Communicate with your staff

Communication is not the same as sending a quick email. It’s important to check the information you want to convey has been received and understood.

“We often take communication for granted. Frequently, you’ll find that something you thought you’d communicated clearly has been completely lost in the telling.”

3. Listen to what people say

Listening can help foster a culture of ideas-sharing within an organisation.

“Most people think they’re a good listener, but actually they’re just hearing.

Quality listening, by contrast, is a learned skill and one that needs to be practised on a regular basis.

“Most people think they’re a good listener, but actually they’re just hearing."

Managers should take time to listen to their team. “That means not taking phone calls, answering emails or fiddling with papers!

“The hardest part is not interrupting when someone is speaking. Remember that the moment you ask a question, you are turning the conversation to your agenda.”

4. Take time to get to know your staff

Personalities are crucial in the creative industries, so it’s more important than ever to take a genuine interest in your team.

“Do you know how your team arrive at work, or what their favourite hobbies are? Make sure you show an interest in your staff as people.”

But it’s important to remember that different people want to share different things.

“On a Monday, when you ask people how their weekend was, some will say “ok thanks”, and others will give you chapter and verse. That’s fine! There’s no need to push those who don’t want to say any more.”

5. Show appreciation

Many managers think appreciation means more pay or financial reward. This isn’t always the case.

“A simple, genuine 'thank you' is often all that someone needs – acknowledge they exist and that you appreciate them and their contribution.”

It’s important to bear in mind that people may not necessarily ‘hear’ good feedback.

“It’s much more inspiring to make people excel in areas they’re already good at.”

Recent research has shown that there is a ratio of positive/negative feedback for impact and this ratio is four positive per one negative – any less and the positive feedback will not be heard.

“In fact, the ratio could be as high as 7:1. But going even higher could backfire and even make you seem false and patronising.”

6. Focus on strengths

Often, formal performance reviews focus on areas for development, or other negative areas.

“But at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we always try to focus on developing the strengths of individuals, rather than areas of perceived weakness.

“It’s much more inspiring to make people excel in areas they’re already good at.”

It’s important to develop staff weakness too, to get them to an acceptable level for the job, but focusing on strengths can help build up staff motivation.

“All of this ultimately only makes your staff better at their job.”

What do you think are the best ways to make the most out of staff? Share your thoughts.