• Leadership Essentials – Turning Employees into Leaders and Entrepreneurs

    I have just returned from TMI’s World Congress in Athens. This is an

    annual event where people from the TMI offices around the world

    get together and share experiences and know-how to bring back to

    their respective countries. One of the guest speakers at the

    Congress runs a company that has been voted Best Place to Work

    in Greece (in the category of 50 to 500 employees) for the last 3

    years. It was most recently voted Europe’s best place to work in the

    same category of small to medium size. Stelios Stavridis, the

    Managing Director of swimming pool manufacturer, Piscines Ideales,

    shared his thoughts on business. I’d like to share his thoughts with


    Piscines Ideales is the largest manufacturer of swimming pools in

    Europe. It employs 220 people and operates on a franchise basis

    throughout Europe. The company has won many awards. A core

    philosophy behind the company’s success is that “happy employees

    means happy customers.” Stelios said, “It is human relations that

    makes our company the best SME to work for in Europe.” Stelios

    wants people to enjoy coming to work. “If people think, life starts at

    6pm, then they won’t be creative and adaptable to change,” he said.

    I’m pretty sure that if you are an employee working at Piscines

    Ideales, you will definitely tell your friends. It is not uncommon for

    people in Greece to have pet dogs. The company allows them to

    bring their dogs to work! People come to work in casual clothes. This

    is definitely a “no-tie” workplace! If people want to think, meet or

    relax at one of the pools at the company’s office, they can. After all,

    this is a swimming pool company! The company promotes fitness

    among its employees. It gives employees who lose 12% of their

    body weight a 2% pay rise.

    Piscines Ideales focuses a lot of effort on building the company by

    creating an environment where people enjoy coming to work and

    feel that they can make a difference. Stelios gave his simple logic.

    “The client is served by the individual. The brand is here to support

    the individual to serve the client,“ he said. “99% of the decisions

    made in our company are made by people, not management,” he

    said. Stelios believes that, for each employee to effectively

    contribute to the company, he or she must act like a leader and an

    entrepreneur. The role of the company is therefore to bring the

    leader and the entrepreneur out of each person. Stelios said,

    “People can show leadership at their own levels in the company

    when they ask the question, ‘how can I do this better?’ And they act

    entrepreneurially when they understand the impact of their decisions

    on the bottom line.” I find his comment on creating a direct line-ofsight

    with the bottom line an interesting and valuable one. It is not

    uncommon for employees to come up with all sorts of interesting

    and well meaning ideas. But, because they do not have an

    understanding of how the financials in the company work, the ideas

    are simply not workable.

    Each employee can

    act like a leader in their

    own roles

    Stelios focused on a small number of key elements that have built

    the culture of “everyone is a leader” in the company. First, he says,

    people must have knowledge. This involves investments in training

    and development of his people. He also has hired consultants, in

    this case, TMI in Greece, who he says has expanded his thinking

    and that of the people in his company. Second, the company aims to

    foster a culture where people feel free to be creative. “We want

    people to develop a winner’s mentality and to become creative.

    Piscines Ideales fosters a culture of “constructive conflict” where

    people feel free to debate and express their opinions. “When they

    challenge and argue, and feel free to do so, they become creative,”

    he said. When people feel that their opinions count, and that their

    views may be acted on, they engage their hearts and minds, and

    think of ways to do things differently and better. If, however, the

    culture is to “listen to the boss and don’t rock the boat”, then this

    engagement process will simply not take place.

    This is a great lesson for all of us in corporate life. The world is

    moving fast. We need to keep moving, keep improving, or we fall

    behind. Organisations grow faster and become more dynamic when

    they engage the brains of their workforce to look for ways to do

    things better in their own jobs, and between departments. This might

    seem obvious, but it will involve a paradigm shift in many companies

    where there are high levels of “power distance” between bosses and

    employees. These companies do not encourage employees to

    contribute ideas. In fact, I have come across cases where

    suggestions by employees to improve things are seen as a threat by

    managers. Employees fear that their bonuses or promotions will be

    affected if they are seen to be “showing disrespect” to their

    managers by suggesting that things can be done better. The result is

    that the culture of these companies encourages employees to “turn

    up, do their work and to keep their heads down.” Imagine the power

    if employees were encouraged to be leaders in their own jobs, to

    keep their eyes out on ways to do things better.

    Stelios wants people to feel relaxed and to enjoy their work – and he

    creates an environment that nurtures this. He realizes that work is a

    social system, and that social systems operate more effectively

    when people are happy. He understands that people who feel good

    about themselves do good work.

    Engage employees by

    being open to their ideas

    The company encourages

    “constructive conflict”

    There are other companies that are admired as workplaces. We

    admire Google. It looks after its people. Google employees like

    coming to work. And they perform at high levels. Zappos.com is an

    admired workplace. Southwest Airlines is an admired company.

    What are the common factors? They are all high performing and

    they all put their people first.

    There is a powerful lesson in all of this. Business is about success. It

    is about building brand reputation, customer loyalty and market

    share. Business is ultimately about making money. I see many

    companies that push their people hard, where people feel stressed

    coming to work every day. Companies like Piscines Ideales, on the

    other hand, understand that, by creating a positive work

    environment, and by putting people first, they will achieve their

    objectives and more.

    Your task for the month is to look around you. Observe how

    energised your people are. Count how many new ideas your

    employees have made in the last year. And observe whether your

    company fosters a culture of “everyone is a leader and entrepreneur

    in their own jobs.” If you score low on these questions, perhaps you

    are getting to a reason why your company is not leading the market

    as much as you would like. I will finish with the words of Stelios.

    “The conditions are the same for every company. The difference is

    how you manage your way through it”. Until next month.


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