Hugh Latif | Crain's Toronto

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Hugh Latif

Background:  

Hugh Latif has been a management consultant specializing in turnarounds since 1996, and previously worked as a senior executive with the Dun & Bradstreet–A.C. Nielsen Group in Canada, Italy, Brazil and France. Today he serves on several advisory boards, and has also written a new book of advice for CEOs, managers and entrepreneurs called "Maverick Leadership."

The Mistake: 

I didn't recognize the dangers of high employee turnover. 

Employees are crucial to the success of the company, and you need to have very low unforced turnover. I was working in France, in a period of a lot of competition, and we were losing employees to other organizations. I used to concentrate on better recruitment, more training and doing performance reviews – standard ways of keeping employees engaged and with you. But you have to do things beyond recruitment, training and performance reviews. 

Remember that loyalty is reciprocal.

The Lesson:

You have to have mentors for each employee, you have to create a career plan for them, you have to concentrate on building a team, and you have to really care.

Over the years, I've come to discover new things, such as mentoring. It is so important to give new employees a friend or a mentor. Not their boss, but a mentor. Somebody they can go to, have lunch with, have breakfast, have coffee, and just talk about their experience as a new employee. And that makes a very big difference, because it's like an early-warning system for dissatisfaction or problems in the organization.

Whenever a company implements mentorship for new employees, their turnover goes down tremendously. I wish I knew that when I was in my 30s and 40s. 

Also, you need to create a career path for all new employees. Not just to hire and keep them in the job, but to have a career for them, a roadmap so that they can develop and grow in the company. As for building a team, it's not only a matter of qualifications, but of character and values and fit with your other employees. You can learn qualifications, and you can get trained, but it is fundamentally character and values and fit that make the difference. 

You can acquire equipment and resources, but the only thing you can't copy is your team. You can hire some smart people, but it's not a team yet. A team is made up of people who work well together for a common goal. A good executive always puts a team together, and the team is usually made up of people who are different, with different capabilities. It's in the combination of skills that you have performance and value. It can't be "one size fits all."

You see it in sports teams where you have the best players get together, but they still lose to another team that doesn't have the same stars. That other team works well together. They know each other. They've created bonds and understand how to work with each other, while the big stars are just a combination of talents, without teamwork. The teamwork makes all the difference. 

It's also exactly like a restaurant, where you have a chef that might be a little bit sweaty, and his garment has been soiled by the smoke and the food. You don't put him outside with the clients. The clients have the maître d', who is very diplomatic, very well dressed, and welcomes people into the restaurant. And then you have an accountant who stays in the back room completely figuring out margins and costs. You can't switch those roles. You have different skills in a team, and that's the secret of running a business successfully. 

Finally, to keep turnover low, remember that loyalty is reciprocal. If management doesn't have loyalty to the employees, then it's normal that the employees won't have loyalty to the company. If I care about my employees, then I seek for them to have a balanced life and have benefits that are relevant. If I treat them with respect, I have good communication, I share my vision, and I really live those things, then my employees will want to stay with me. Why would they want to leave?

But if I'm driving them crazy, I'm making them work overtime and don't pay them, I don't respect them, I give them objectives that are unobtainable, then obviously they won't have loyalty. It's the wrong way of looking at it, because it's your employees that will make the difference between you and your competitors.

Hugh Latif's book "Maverick Leadership" is available on Amazon.com.

Pictured: Hugh Latif. | Photo courtesy of Hugh Latif & Associates.

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