Case Study: Mandy Scott (AA Flags)
In 1993 Mandy Scott of AA Flags was in the Northern Region Final of
the Shell LiveWIRE Awards. Here she talks about her experience of
employing and managing staff as a young entrepreneur in the textile
What has been your experience of employing people?
I was 24 when I set up my manufacturing business, and most of the potential employees at the time were older women, who have been machinists all their lives. I could sew, but these ladies have vast experience in the textile industry that I could not dream of equalling. So the saying ‘don’t tell ya granny how to suck eggs’ was appropriate in my case! Explaining how I wanted flags made was awkward at times, as these women had been used to sewing collars on shirts all day every day, and flags require a little attention to detail. They couldn’t understand why they were being asked to slow down!
How has this changed over the years, since you started up as a young entrepreneur?
Because of the demise in the textile industry in the UK, it has become increasingly more difficult to obtain staff. Ladies who have been machinists all their lives are fed up of being made redundant as factory after factory were closing. Cheap imported textile goods, mainly clothing, were coming in from China, and the minimum wage in the UK made it impossible for British textile manufacturers to survive. Young people do not want to work in a factory, their aspirations are higher and they expect a more interesting profession. 21 years ago, when I set up in business, there were hundreds of available machinists, now they are few and far between.
What do you think are the most important things involved in employing people?
Legislation is important when employing people, make sure you comply in every aspect. Contracts of employment, entitlements and disciplinary procedures are a minefield. And remember, if you have no work, you still have to pay your staff, so think SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL and DON’T TRY TO RUN BEFORE YOU CAN WALK. Encourage teamwork, reward good staff, it will result in commitment. Knowledge is the key factor in good staff, they should know your business, and be able to answer any questions regarding your product or service with confidence.
What is the key to building good working relationships?
All employers have to be seen to be is ‘fair’ and if you treat your staff with respect, and they feel that they are appreciated, they will work hard. The key I think is involving staff in decisions, asking their opinion on how certain tasks should be carried out, and valuing their input. Integrity is a quality which is important in staff, and if you conduct yourself with integrity, your staff should follow.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs employing staff?
Do it by the book, consult ACAS at the first sign of any problems with staff. Your staff have more rights now than they ever had, and if you screw up, you’ll be at an industrial tribunal in a flash. Communication is the key to excellent relationships with your staff, if you include them in discussions, have regular meetings where they can share their opinions, your company will grow healthily. Don’t be afraid to discipline staff, letting them dictate how they want to work can result in awkward situations. Set out rules from the first day about what is expected of them. Make it very clear what you expect from them, and what their job role is. You can’t discipline office staff for spending all day surfing the net if you have not told them it is not acceptable. If they come to work in a posh office in trainers and jogging bottoms, how do they know that’s not acceptable if you have not laid out what is? Be clear and concise, firm but fair, and your staff will have more respect for you. You are their employer, not their best friend, and there is a definite line which, if crossed, could result in disaster. Saying that, I love my girls and after 21 years in business, I have a very low staff turnover, they are my friends as well as my staff.