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Entrepreneurs Panel

Jennie Johnson
Brian Hay
Steve Purdham
Tony Caldeira
Julie Meyer
Laura Tenison
Jeremy Roberts
Debbie Pierce
Michael Oliver
David Pollock
Richard O'Sullivan
Charlie Mullins

The sound of silence

Debbie Pierce

The former market stall worker founded the Bury Black Pudding Company on the web in May 2002 on a budget of £1,000. The firm completed its move to a major production facility in 2005 and now churns out more than 20 tonnes of black pudding a week to cater for demand over the internet, at its longstanding stall in Bury Market and from its distributors including Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Iceland and Londis.

Question: 

How can I get my team to speak up during staff meetings? I want suggestions to help improve my business but just seem to get silence.

Answer: 

I would start by looking at your own presence in the meeting, make sure you’re not overpowering them in any way or have shot down any of their suggestions in the past – they may think their suggestions are stupid or irrelevant so are too afraid to speak up.

Make sure your style is to listen rather than to talk at them and that you make it a positive environment. They need to be motivated and feel part of a team. Get them more involved in the whole business, not just their own section.

Ask questions to individuals rather than to the whole group so that they have to answer rather than wait for someone else to speak up: some don’t like speaking up in a group situation.

I find the best way to start them off is to ask them individually to do a report on how their department/the business is running. The best format for this is usually a SWOT analysis. If they don’t know what a SWOT analysis is then tell them to look it up on the internet: there are examples on there but you may still have to help some of them.

Make it clear everyone has to do it and put a deadline on it. This will give you a good idea of a) the way people think, b) how they understand the business, c) what they have to offer to help improve the business.

They have to be honest with their answers and not be afraid to point out things they’re not happy with or that are detrimental to the business.

Then go through it with them individually. It generally helps them to open up and feel more comfortable about putting ideas forward – hopefully you can then make it a group discussion from then on.

If any of your staff are not prepared to do this then you have to question what they have to offer your business and whether they have capability issues and therefore this may suggest they are not the right person for the job.

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