Follow the leader…what makes a great boss?
Some are a bit too nice. Some can be pretty nasty. Some are always peering over your shoulder. And some you barely ever see. Be that as it may, bosses are what make a business tick and a great boss will always get the most out of their company and their staff. But, what is it that makes a brilliant boss? Polly Humphris had a chat with Alan Margetts and Janina Cooper, both winners at 2015’s Sussex Business Awards in the Boss of the Year category, to find out the secrets of their successes.
Alan Margetts started his business, The Kitchen Store, 12 years ago, and was recognised by the Sussex Business Awards in 2013, where he walked away winning Sussex Entrepreneur of the Year. What started off as one Lancing-based store with “three-and-a-half” employees, now employs 25 people, across a second branch in Hove, and a third, brand new Horsham store that opened at the end of February this year.
“When you’re running a business, you’re busy thinking about the things you’re doing wrong most of the time, and not the things that you’re doing right, so awards like this remind you that someone outside the company looks at what you do, gives you the thumbs up and says you’re doing something good,” says Alan. “It was great to win the award and really nice to get the recognition from the people that I work with.”
Alan’s top tips for being a great boss:
Have a plan: “When I started the company there was a clear plan to have three stores and we knew exactly what the business was going to be about and what its future aims were. If you have a plan and you communicate it, you give people a purpose; no one comes to work just because they want to earn a living, it’s more than that, you have to make sure that people believe in something and know how their work fits in to the bigger picture.”
Communicate: “To be a good boss you have to be a fantastic communicator, keeping no secrets from your employees and making sure you communicate everything in your business to everybody involved. You need to communicate the good news and the bad. At least twice a month, I meet with the whole company, and once a year I do a two-hour company presentation that the whole business attends and I speak about how the company has performed and what the plans are for the year ahead. The more that people are involved in that, the more they make their own decisions confidently.”
Values: “Someone said to me years ago: “If people haven’t got skills you can train them, but you can’t change behaviours”, and that’s really stuck with me, so when we recruit now, often we’ll recruit people into the business that don’t quite have the skills, but do have all the right values and that think in a similar way. They’re by no means clones of one another, but they believe that people should be treated in the right way. We interview three times to make sure that we’re finding a great match for the company, so we’ve always got a core team that really believe in what we’re about.”
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Open for only 16 months, but already having seen over 30,000 eager skateboarders rush through its doors, The Base Skatepark CIC, Bognor Regis, was the brainchild of Janina Cooper. Sick of seeing kids have bad accidents on outdoor ramps and of ramps being unusable in bad weather, Janina had a “lightbulb moment” over coffee with a friend and decided to build an indoor skatepark.
Remortgaging her own home to secure the unit, and raising the remainder of the £180,000 she needed to bring her vision to life through various funding streams, Janina opened The Base on 2nd October 2014, just 364 days after the business was first envisioned, and she now employs eight staff. “Originally, myself and my operations manager, Kate, put The Base forward for the Most Promising New Business category at the Sussex Business Awards, but while Kate was doing the application, she decided to put me forward for the Boss of the Year too,” Janina said. “I was absolutely stunned to even be shortlisted for the award, so to go on to win the One to Watch was an honour. I’ve never run a business before and The Base is my first enterprise, so I was delighted.”
Janina’s top tips for being a great boss:
Look after your staff: “I welcomed my operations manager into my home when found herself homeless at Christmas; I drive one of my staff members and her son to school then on to work; and my head skate guard had two knee operations, so I’ve taken him back and forth from hospital appointments and to physio. I just look after my staff; everyone says The Base is a family, and it is. We’re a small team and keeping a close relationship with that team is very important to me.”
Lead by example: “We’re all human. I have bad days. Everybody has bad days, but having a friendly relationship with staff is so important to me because I’m asking them to do tasks every single day. If I don’t have a personable relationship with the people that I’m asking things of then they’ll get fed up of not getting anything in return. I’d also never ask anyone to do a job that I wouldn’t do myself. A lot of people can get too removed from what’s happening on the ground in their business and can lose track of the different circumstances people are facing outside of work. I think it’s really important for staff to know that their boss is human too and I have an open door policy, so my staff know I’m approachable and that I will listen to them when they need me to.”
Inspire your team: “I hope my staff feel inspired by my passion for the business and by the drive that brought the business to life. Not just my staff too; I hope that anyone who has an idea they’re really keen to pursue will look at me and find the courage and conviction to follow their passion. The key is to keep going until someone says “no”, and to approach an idea in achievable chunks that you can manage on a day to day basis.”
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