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It was great to have a $2 million pitch on TEN’s Shark Tank a few weeks ago. It was a business with a track record, a solid customer base and a clear vision for growth. Not to mention Stan Kruss, the founder, was an extremely polished presenter.

When Andrew Banks asked Stan, “How would your people describe you?” Stan looked a little surprised at the question. Eventually he responded with, “loyal”. When Andrew asked him how long his closest leaders had been working for him he said, “Between one and two years”.

Andrew was really trying to find out if this entrepreneur’s team were ‘with him’ on his journey, because the way he was presenting made him appear as if he was a lone maverick. Stan appeared so driven, that he could well have been pushing people away.

No business can grow without people: employees, customers, suppliers, distribution partners and so on. As leaders, it’s crucial that we not only get along with people, but also lead them, include them and inspire them – this is critical to leadership success.

I was left wondering if our entrepreneur even noticed the people around him, and whether he acknowledged their hard work and commitment. This is the trap for many early stage business owners. After seeing some initial success, they discover they can’t do everything for themselves anymore. They need to recruit people and inspire them to do their best work, yet all too often the entrepreneur’s behaviour does not change. They still are so driven to do everything themselves so they don’t recognise the people who are with them on the journey.

The truth is that Stan isn’t alone. I remember in the early days at RedBalloon, I was so driven, focused and committed that I was literally exhausting to work with. I learned my lesson the hard way, when I received the confronting statistic that in 2006 RedBalloon had 65 per cent employee turn over…This had to change. I might have had the intention to be a great workplace, but I needed the tools and the skills (enter Megan Bromley our award-winning HR leader). Our focus changed to our people, and as you may know we have been acknowledged as one of the BRW Top 50 Great Places to Work five years in a row.

It is so much easier than it used to be for early stage businesses to focus on their greatest assets – their people. There are many cloud based HR solutions like BambooHR, Small Improvements, and of course Redii to help you along the way.

Creating a great workplace has never been easier, but you have to recognise the importance of happy and motivated people first.

This post was published on BRW on 03 March 2015 and since then Stan has written this reply

Hi Naomi,
I couldn’t agree more.

We are a service business, so without my staff I have no business. Expocentric has grown significantly over the 6 years we have been in business and now we have a very strong focus on our teams.As part of our staff appraisal process we invite all staff to do 360 reviews of themselves, their peers, management teams and myself. This allowed us to identify the areas to improve. It appears to be working well.The average staff member has been at Expocentric for 2 years, while a few have been with us for longer. Some returning to work at Expocentric after periods abroad, bringing with them new knowledge and perspective.I have learnt to value the importance of the people I work with and now spend a considerable part of my role training, developing, motivating and inspiring my team to continue to grow. It has been an exciting process and I look forward to learning and growing with the company.

Kindest Regards,Stan Kruss

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