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Surefire Ways to Bring Out the Best in Your People

When I started my company, Journyx, 13 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I am a programmer and technology geek by nature and I left my programming job to start my own company with nothing but an idea and a dream. Back then, I did not have the experience needed to effectively manage people. I had to learn these skills through trial and error, and I had to learn them fast, in order to keep the company going. After all, human resources are a company’s most valuable asset.

Over the years, I have done every job there is in the company. I’ve been the accountant, the software developer, the marketing and PR professional, the testing department, integration services, customer technical support and sales. I have lost sleep when we were close to missing payroll, watched as competitors copied our software bit for bit and lied about us to prospects, and then celebrated along with hard-working employees as we achieved success. Today, we have 50 employees and several million dollars in sales with absolutely no outside investment. Here are some of the things I learned along the way about managing and motivating employees to reach their highest potential.

Hire Diversely

Businesses today face fierce competition on all sides, regardless of industry. The only way to survive in such an environment is to be relentlessly creative. New products, services and ideas are the best way to outshine the competition and win market share.

In order to keep creativity alive in a company, you have to surround yourself with different types of people. Forget partnerships, listen to your customers, and hire high school kids, foreigners, people from other races and religions, and Martians, if you can find them. Different people bring different perspectives to the table, something you need not only to succeed, but merely to survive. The truth is that no matter how smart you are, you cannot be as innovative as you need to be all by yourself.

Here in Austin, Texas, we have the luxury of proximity to the University of Texas (UT). From this well of intellect we continually draw for ideas and young energetic labor. It is a well that never runs dry. In the past, we have hired interns to work on both marketing and legal projects, depending on their area of study. Since Journyx is a technology company and UT has a computer science department, we also hire IT people and developers. Not only do they bring a fresh perspective during their internships, but if they are a good fit, they can remain with us upon graduation and become a long-term asset to the company. If not, they can at least get a letter of recommendation and some real world experience to put on their resumes. It is a win-win situation.

Be Flexible

Another key to effective resource management is to be flexible about allowing employees time off for extracurricular activities, such as college or graduate school classes. For example, we have an employee who is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in social work, which has nothing to do with her work here, and we know that we will lose her upon her graduation. Even so, we allow her to take off the time that she needs to accommodate classes, internships and other requirements. I look at it this way: she is important to me as a person, not just an employee, and I do not want to hold back her education even though her career choice has nothing to do with furthering the interests of Journyx. It’s vital to take a vested interest in not only your company and its profits, but also the people who make up that company.

Your employees have lives outside of the office, and the more you recognize this and support them in the things that matter to them, the more loyal and productive they will be in return.

Build People Up

I learned a long time ago that I can only be a mentor when I know what I’m talking about, which is not everywhere. Having said that, I’m good at lots of things and when those things are relevant, I try to step in and help. I’ve found that when I roll my sleeves up and dig in alongside an employee who needs some help, they see that I care about them and in turn, that makes them care more about the company and the job they’re doing.

It is important to let people know when they are doing a good job, as well. I like the phrase, “catch people doing something right” because it expresses the best way to mentor. And as Napoleon Hill stated, “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Encourage people to do more of what they’re good at. Find their hidden talents. There’s no point in spending lots of time telling people where they’re messed up.

Think Outside the Box

One of the most difficult tasks for a manager is to keep employees motivated, especially during tough times. It can be especially difficult to do this when money is tight and bonuses are not an option. A couple of years ago, I decided to do something creative and different in order to motivate our sales team. I bet them that they would not exceed their quota for Q1 by 33% and promised that if they did, the entire leadership team would dye their hair. Well, the sales team did not exceed their quota by 33% – they actually blew the doors off and beat their numbers by 45%. Since we lost the bet, we held up our end of the bargain and dyed our hair neon blue for a week, and I have pictures to prove it. (My wife has since forbidden me to do this again, so I will have to come up with something else next time.) It’s also important to remember that you can’t take yourself too seriously.

As you can see, there are many ways that managers today can keep employees happy and their performance high. All it takes is a little understanding and the willingness to try new things. The investment for such initiatives is low, but the return just might surprise you.

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Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Journyx offers customers two solutions to reach the highest levels of profitability: Journyx Timesheet – a timesheet and expense management solution for the entire enterprise – and Journyx ProjectXecute – a solution that unites project and process planning with resource management. Journyx has thousands of customers worldwide and is the first and only company to establish Per Person/Per Project Profitability (P5), a proprietary process that enables customers to gather and analyze information to discover profit opportunities. Curt is an avid speaker and author, and recently published All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource. Curt authors a project management blog and you can follow him on Twitter.