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Don’t Do It Alone

Posted by Pamela Swift in Entrepreneurs

There’s a huge temptation when you have a crazy idea to keep it all to yourself but if you read the stories of those people that truly challenged convention you’ll often find a theme of sharing their idea with others that the mainstream media hasn’t really picked up on.

From Nike to Starbucks, the last 50 years have seen the creation of some huge brands by focused entrepreneurs who stand as figureheads to thousands of employees and billions of annual revenue. Yet despite being vastly different in operation, both of these giants hid a secret in plain sight.

The people behind these conglomerates may have been individually lauded as the men behind their respective brand success, but both openly admit to having shared the responsibility of growing their businesses and wouldn’t have succeeded without having done so.

Successful entrepreneurs get help early

While Howard Schultz of Starbucks brought onboard people with experience far in excess of his own right from the start to effectively run the operations of his business leaving him to concentrate on starting new stores; Phil Knight of Nike benefitted hugely from the passion and drive of his first hires to effectively operate their own stores independently of him.

In fact both of these wildly successful businessman didn’t even name their own companies. While Nike was a last minute decision with a cheap swoosh that Mr Knight thought he could change at a later date, Starbucks was actually an established coffee roasting company that Howard Schultz bought the rights to after starting his own coffee shops Il Gornale.

Both Knight and Schultz benefited greatly from not only the realisation very early on that they couldn’t build their dream alone, but the acceptance that there were better people out there to build their dream but them.

Follow the Starbucks example

At the outset they worked out the various components that it would take to launch their businesses, and set about recruiting great people to help them. At Starbucks Schultz figured out that roasting coffee wasn’t revolutionary, in fact neither was ensuring a range of drinks was available but what hadn’t been done before was bringing the Italian sense of community to stores, ensuring you weren’t just drinking the best coffee but escaping from the hustle and bustle of everyday life too.

Because of this, Schultz recruited great operations people to run the behind the scenes part of Starbucks while putting his main focus onto doing something different with the shops (the part he couldn’t recruit for).

Schultz effectively worked out that the bits he didn’t need to revolutionise he could get other people to do. Like grandmasters of chess, these people had been there before, roasted tonnes of coffee and as such he chose to benefit from their compiled wisdom, learnt from years of mistakes and successes to frog leap the trials and tribulations of starting up a new company and turbo charge his operations team.

At the same time he threw his heart and soul into fund raising and launching new coffee shops, safe in the knowledge that his operations were well taken care of.

The fact that he could rely on other people meant that he could put all of his efforts into the parts no one else could do rather than spread himself too thin.

The common mistake when getting help

Yet often the opportunity to recruit other people to help you can be misunderstood. In an effort to protect their crazy idea entrepreneurs hire low skilled people they have to micro manage which adds to their workload and takes them away from the areas they should be focusing on in order to make their crazy idea work.

Of course having low skilled workers, or at least those that aren’t the grand masters of their area of expertise is also part and parcel of building a team. Once your leaders are in place you need to reinforce them with the troops that can help them build capability within your business.

Build capability by being attractive

In fact building capability was one of the main focuses in the early days for both Nike and Starbucks. While most entrepreneurs concentrate on the weird and wonderful periphery parts of running a business like logos and brand names, Knight and Schultz chose to focus on building their people.

Schultz recognised the importance of people early on, introducing a healthcare scheme that was unheard of at the time while also allowing employees to comment on developments at the company.

A simple but highly effective way to motivate the people you work with towards your end goal is to give them a voice. Schultz chose to do this by allowing any employee to comment on a company decision in reference to the Starbucks mission statement. If a manager, product or action didn’t adhere to the cultural mission statement they could highlight it and were guaranteed a response within two weeks.

Learn to listen

While most business love to play lip service to employee schemes, Schultz realised that such schemes only work if the employee recognises an action is undertaken as a result. It’s simply no use in letting people comment and then taking no notice of them.

It’s the same reason why Phil Knight didn’t call Nike Dimension Six, he loved the name but when he presented it to his employees it went down like a lead balloon. Great entrepreneurs listen.

Listening and deciding when to take action is a corner stone of being a good leader and it’s something you’ll need to do if you’re going to build your crazy idea from the ground up.

But there’s one last part you mustn’t forget. If you’re going to listen and take action, then you need to not only communicate that action to your team (what, when & why) but you need to allow your team to feel the benefits of that action if it’s a success.

Make people accountable

Both Knight and Schultz did this through incentive schemes that made people’s pockets accountable for their actions. While the first people to join their teams (at a senior level) were rewarded with stock, bonuses linked to company profits were essential. This doesn’t always mean putting extra money in someone’s pay packet. Starbucks led the way with a “Bean Stock” campaign that awarded stock options to every single employee they had, allowing them to buy into Starbucks and benefit from its growth as the share price rose they would become richer too.

By making their employees feel a partner in the crazy idea, they assumed ownership and were motivated towards the end goal. No matter the level of employee or the area they work in, building a team that’s focused on your end goal is a must.

No one can do it alone.



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