Maintaining Confidence

In a recent speech in October at Thomson Reuters, George Osborne determined that the two main issues holding back UK businesses were the availability of credit and confidence.

Thinking about the second issue in the context of Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs), confidence is affected by the amount of real risk that exists in an organisation. The aim should be to reduce the levels of risk to help increase confidence. One way to do this would be to improve the skills of you and your staff so that fewer mistakes are made, something we tried to learn at school; fast forward a few decades (for most of us) and education is still key.

Recently, I was asked to present on the topic of confidence and I thought it appropriate to post some of the content and further thoughts to help those looking for a little inspiration.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites online to help you understand and build your self confidence but when you are an employer, you have the additional task of developing that of your staffs as well. The challenge for you is to maintain theirs whilst you uphold yours; how do you find the balance?

Some time back I watched a documentary that studied how a child develops through various styles of education. From conventional to unconventional, the goal of every teacher shown was to maximise the child’s potential for success and happiness: something that we wish for ourselves and our staff. What the programme showed was that the child gained knowledge and confidence through a few critical elements regardless of the type of school or social activities they attended. These elements included time, the type/method of training, and how it was important to determine all achievements as a success regardless of whether it was the final outcome or not A preview of the programme can be seen below.

One of the examples that illustrated this was where two groups of children were given a puzzle to build. Both groups were given the correct number of jumbled pieces and a picture of what the puzzle should look like on completion. One group was supervised by teachers on a 1:1 basis, and the other were left to their own initiative. The latter group typically gave up when they didn’t feel they were succeeding and the supervised group achieved not only finished puzzles but also the praise from their teachers right the way through the task. Teachers praised the children for their thinking and reasoning and not just for completing the puzzle.

What’s more, the programme showed that words of encouragement such as ‘aren’t you clever’ given to a child for their grade sheets encourages those who don’t make the mark to lie about or deny their results or even that the event ever happened. They do this because they have developed a learning pattern that says only the final result matters and not the processes involved. Attitudes like this stifle creativity which in the adult world is key to allowing businesses to evolve and survive in an ever changing world.

Think about a situation where you spent time and effort putting something together where it didn’t achieve the desired outcome and how you compared your performance to others in the same position. How did you feel? Did you try again or did you apply your time and effort to something that you could better achieve?

Let’s fast forward to present day when we tend not to have those around us to give us gold stars and an extra hour to stay up on a Saturday night…

Just because we’ve grown up, doesn’t mean that the key learning skills that are needed for real success as a child need to be ignored as an adult. As previously mentioned risk is associated with the levels of confidence and the better you and your team are equipped to build a successful business, the lower the risk.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that you have a key role in your business, but you don’t have to be the only one to come up with all the ideas and momentum to take everyone forward. Those that are around you (colleagues, peers, mentors, friends) will all have ideas that will lend themselves to your business development. Think about the personal interests of your staff; which of them have creative hobbies such as painting, music, or gardening? Who takes on a leadership role outside of your business such as in a football team or regularly organises social get-together events? What they may not realise is that the way in which they have success in these situations could aid the way your business and your team grows. Your job is to find ways to invest these skills back into the organisation and encourage their levels of confidence to continue contributing. Involving them in regular brain-storming sessions, or using their input in a project they may not be involved in could be key to finding that element of ‘remarkable’ that makes you stand out in your market. An example of this could be to have a member of your accounts department follow up with clients on won/lost sales to obtain objective feedback. In doing this it improves the levels of affiliation and confidence with everyone and not just a select few.

Regular training is also very useful to help those who want to learn from others. Online training through webinars and recorded presentations are an efficient and easily accessible source of learning/ Balance this out of the office training allows them to focus and discover new ways of working from those who perhaps operate in a different professional field. Don’t forget, that as an employer looking to personally develop their staff, you will always look more attractive to a potential new employee is looking for a mutual exchange of Intellectual Property (IP).

It’s important to maintain this momentum so that it becomes part of the backbone support you provide others. In the current economic climate, it’s important to show that your people matter and when times are tough, you are preparing them for when things get better. Not only that, your business will look better in the eyes of a potential new client/customer.

Areas of education include: developing and maintaining sales processes (i.e. giving them the confidence to question clients at a deeper level to expose new opportunities), product and service training (very important if you believe it’s important to eat your own dog food), and personal development (such as presentation skills, leadership and management training).

Confidence is also infectious and therefore it’s important to seize the opportunity to acknowledge and reward situations and results that will help encourage it become a trend as opposed to a one-off. Talking about achievements in your company blog or newsletter is one way or maybe you want to acknowledge it at the end of a long year at your Christmas party and award it publicly?

Remember, just because your customers and clients determine what your daily activities are, doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t have a plan on how you are going to develop you and your staff. Have a training programme outline so you can provide a structure to encourage your team to want to learn. Not only does it help them see that it’s not just about revenue but that you want it to be about getting the most out of the time they spend at work. Since we work for most of our life and spend most of our time with our colleagues, it makes sense to encourage everyone to enjoy it!

Never forget: your people are your business.

A note about Mr. Osborne’s point on credit:

Irrespective of what stage your business is at, one of your goals should be to maintain a positive credit profile that enables you to meet the requirements of vendors, banks, leasing companies without affecting your own personal credit score. Building and establishing business credit can be achieved through creating a decent business plan right through to using a small loan or credit card (both need to be business related). Bear in mind that this has always been a difficult process (rightly so?), and typically inappropriate for start-up businesses who don’t necessarily have professional assets worth the value of the loan. In these situations investment programmes have proven popular (more Angel Investors than Dragon’s Den) since there are mutual benefits for all parties involved if encouraged.

Suggested resources:

All external links are not endorsed by Purple Cow Ideas Management but are in place to help give you a few start points with regards to your research.

Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that offers additional education around sales within technology businesses. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.


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