Empowering staff to say 'yes' during periods of economic and business growth will ensure companies stay nimble and retain a culture focused on innovation, according to successful New Zealand entrepreneur Cecilia Robinson.
As New Zealand's economy continues to forge ahead in 2014, figures from the GE Capital New Zealand Mid-Market Report have revealed two-thirds of Mid-Market businesses are predicting growth levels ahead of those of both their small and large business counterparts.
However throughout periods of growth, medium sized firms must negotiate a balancing-act to maintain speed and response despite an increase in staff numbers and a possible expanded geographical spread, says Robinson.
At the recent GE Capital Building Better Businesses Summit in Auckland, customers in the Mid-Market (businesses that turn over $2-50m a year) heard firsthand what factors have helped businesses retain their essence while harnessing growth potential.
Cecilia Robinson, whose childcare company Au Pair Link has grown over the past seven years to now employ more than 40 staff, told GE Capital customers that giving employees the confidence and ability to make decisions themselves is what keeps her business nimble. The EY 2013 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, who is also a managing director of My Food Bag, said that enabling her team members to say yes often leads to innovation and a better way of doing things - something that was made apparent following her time away on maternity leave.
"For a while, Au Pair Link became the "lost child" while I was focused on My Food Bag and my son, Thomas. When I walked back in there, I realised our culture had really changed - the innovation side of the business had been forgotten, the ability to say yes had disappeared, so for the past six months I have really been driving that into our team," she reported.
As a result, Robinson has recently diversified her business, launching a nanny programme after years of being asked if they supply nannies. She admitted that they'd got hung up on their name and kept a narrow focus on the au pair market as a result.
"Now it's done I think, 'Why didn't we do it sooner?' We'd got to that size where there's a little bit too much process, a little bit too much management involved," she said. "I thought 'that's not working for the business' - we needed to change that and change the culture at the same time. I'm driven to make our staff feel empowered again. It is a hard culture to maintain but the hardest bit is to realise when that ability is going and to address it," she said.
Steve Sargent, President and CEO of GE Australia and New Zealand, agreed with Robinson's sentiments, saying innovation in many businesses is quelled by over-zealous management and processes.
"In many cases, they just need to stop complexity, stop the middle man, stop the red tape and let staff make the judgement calls and say yes," he said.
Robinson also said that she's found that the simple act of having an open-plan office contributes to their culture of transparency and openness. "Having an open-plan office environment helps us resolve a lot of issues quickly. I think it's about me being able to sit outside with the team, chatting with them, having good conversations - it removes a lot of barriers and it changes the culture," she said. "Being really approachable, wearing the warts, saying to people "I messed up" makes them feel they can come to you with other issues and problems."
For more insights into New Zealand businesses in the Mid-Market and the issues they face, download the GE Capital New Zealand Mid-Market Report 2014 here.