Listen to the podcast episode on Spotify, Apple or Amazon Music.

In order to make your business less dependent on you, you need to have a team around you that you can trust to delegate to. That you can trust will help make the business continue to flourish. Do you have that? If you don’t, this podcast episode is for you.

In this podcast episode, Malcolm speaks to Paul Mallinson, Partner at Backley Black, about finding the balance between performance and people in business.

Backley Black is run with Paul alongside Steve Backley and Roger Black (ex-Team GB Olympians who Malcolm wrote his book with!) and blends aspects of performance with sport and the aspects of performance with business. Prior to that Paul worked in a well-known pharmaceutical company running a sales team and training departments to perform best of their level.

If you want to make your business less dependent on you but aren’t confident you can step away and the business not fall to pieces without you, you need to listen to this episode.#

What you’ll learn from listening to this episode:

  • Why stress is good as a business owner, if managed correctly
  • How to find joy in being a business owner again
  • How to successfully recruit and train employees that you trust to delegate to
  • How to delegate, not abdicate
  • How to onboard your new team members
  • What to do if you have a ‘nightmare employee’
  • Succession planning advice as an ‘Elton’

Listen to the podcast episode on Spotify, Apple or Amazon Music.

If you’d prefer… Watch the podcast on YouTube 


Malcolm Palmer (00:02.698)
Hi, I’m Malcolm Palmer. You’re listening to the Making Your Business Less Dependent On You podcast sponsored by A4G Chartered Accountants and Durban Offshoring. In today’s podcast, I’m going to be talking to Paul Mallinson about how you get the balance right between performance and people. But before we get started, I want to take a moment to briefly mention our two sponsors. A4G are an accountancy practice based in Kent, near Browns Hatch, with 30 years of uninterrupted

specialise in helping business owners deal with all the challenges of growth. Durban Offshoring recruit high quality professional desk-based staff in any profession in Durban South Africa for UK businesses. So let’s introduce our guest.

So Paul, I think we worked out before we started that we’ve known each other for best part of 20 years. For the purposes of the anybody listening, perhaps you could just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the organisation that you’ve run and the other people that you work with.

Paul (01:54.063)
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, nearly 20 years, it’s frightening, isn’t it? So at the moment, Malcolm, I’m working with two ex-Olympic athletes, Roger Back and Steve Backley. And we’ve been together since 2008, blending the aspects of performance from sport with the aspects of the performance from business and recognising and understanding that they’re both the same thing. So for the past 16, 17 years, we’ve been doing that. Prior to that, I worked in a pharmaceutical organisation for 17 years.

running a sales team, a sales force, and then training the departments to perform to the best of their levels. And in 2008, hooked up with Roger and Steve, and have been doing that ever since.

Malcolm Palmer (02:36.67)
Yeah, brilliant. And is that a purple shirt you’re wearing there, Paul? Because I know you’ve got a big wardrobe of purple shirts.

Paul (02:43.767)
Yeah, I had a little period in my life when I left the organization, I was under Purple Patch Consultancy, so I ended up buying everything, lilac and purple shirts, pens, you name it, even ink was lilac for a while. So yes, I got a very deep…

Malcolm Palmer (02:59.493)
Even pink.

Wow, that’s fantastic. So I know you work with a lot of senior management in growing businesses and big corporates. What are the sort of reasons that they will bring you in? What are the problems that they’re facing that they bring you in to help solve?

Paul (03:12.393)

Paul (03:21.239)
Yeah, it’s a really interesting question. There are sort of three areas it falls into mainly. A lot of the time it’s, can you come and help us work better as a team, please? There’s a significant chunk around helping individuals to perform better if they’re not necessarily performing to the level the organization needs. And the third one is quite an interesting one. And it’s around helping people clarify what their business vision, values, and directions ought to be, which is quite interesting, bringing somebody else in to help you do that.

So those are the sort of three camps. Help us define direction, help us with individuals to perform better and a significant chunk of that is help us perform better as a team.

Malcolm Palmer (04:01.982)
Do you think businesses sort of can lose direction as they’re evolving and just sort of forget the reasons that they were there in the first place?

Paul (04:11.595)
Yeah, I think we use the phrase a lot, Malcolm, and sometimes people get busy being busy and forget why they’re being busy and focus on sometimes and get distracted by the wrong things. Sometimes those things that seem interesting and almost sexy to some point, but not necessarily aligned to where they really wanted to go in the first place. So we see a lot in organizations that have grown, the real reason that the purpose of the organization was set up in the first place.

begins to drift and get lost. And I think that’s where a lot of unsettlement and dissatisfaction in people and organizations begins to come from. Because they’re swimming against the tide and not necessarily knowing why they’re swimming.

Malcolm Palmer (04:54.815)
right and the tide’s not necessarily going in the direction that the owners of the business wanted it to go anyway.

Paul (05:01.163)
Yeah, if you want me to run through a brick wall for you, help me understand what’s on the other side. Otherwise, I’m not going to be mad enough to do that. If I understand what’s on the other side and it matters to me and I care about it, and you’re helping me do my best to run through that brick wall, then I’ll do it for you. But if you just ask me to run through the brick wall because I’m employed by you, it’s not going to have the same impact.

Malcolm Palmer (05:24.77)
So does that mean sometimes that once you’re in there, right at the start, you have to sort of re-diagnose the problem that they thought they had?

Paul (05:34.915)
Yeah, so it’s really, again, a really deep question. Sometimes we get asked to go talk to senior people about helping them develop the team. And once we start talking, we realize there are other issues or challenges afoot. They basically ask us in to get Fred to talk better to Gene in the meeting. But ultimately, what comes out of it is actually, Fred and Gene don’t know what they’re aligned to, neither do the rest of the team. So, you know, getting the team working together is almost like putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg.

There are other bigger issues that need resolving before you even begin to do that. So you know, help, you know, you and I working in the same team and getting a great team ethos and feeling great about things is okay. But if there’s no direction about where we’re going with that and no clarity and no vision, the business will still not thrive. We’ll just have a good time.

Malcolm Palmer (06:26.602)
So you find yourself quite early on in the process, back talking to the senior management that we thought they’d got rid of you to go and sort out all their junior staff who were underperforming, and now you’re back talking to them about where they’re going wrong.

Paul (06:41.563)
Yeah, it’s, I can’t remember the name of the author, but there’s a book called The Fish Rocks From the Head. And in essence, the metaphor speaks for itself is if there’s a problem in the organization, it starts at the very top. People sometimes don’t like to hear that, Malcolm, but it’s true, they set the tone, they act as role models, they set that vision and direction. They do the leadership aspect of what the business needs. And if that’s not right, concrete.

and cemented into where the organisation is going, and people buy into that, then there’s a likelihood that people will just get busy being busy, not necessarily doing the right things.

Malcolm Palmer (07:20.91)
We did, one of the early podcasts that we did was with a guy called Richard Marshall who built up a business called Timber Wolf. And Richard sort of really modestly said that, you know, part of the reason that…

he brought in some really great people within his organisation was because he wasn’t good at anything himself, which wasn’t actually true. But it was a, you know, it’s a great way of looking at things. But the one thing that Richard was really good at was getting that senior management aligned. And, you know, often what I see is that people have a big problem in their organisation and they bring in that big hitter in a senior position.

to solve it, but just immediately abdicate the whole area, you know, and that person thinks that they’re doing a great job, but as you sort of say, it’s almost like they’re swimming against the tide of the business and they haven’t got those people aligned.

Paul (08:24.639)
Yeah, one of the best things, and maybe this is what this gentleman did, was bringing a higher level of competence around him than he’s got himself. You know, that’s what Great Leagues do, they build a really highly competent team around them. And then that allows them to effectively empower and delegate.

rather than dealing with the mind in the night. So to release that ability to think about vision and direction and growth and network and stakeholder management rather than getting caught in the nitty gritty. Great leaders build a great team around them. Welcome.

Malcolm Palmer (09:01.486)
Absolutely. So one of the things, one of the sort of the themes from the interviews that I just want to talk to people about is dealing with stress. Because I guess, you know, nobody brings you in if everything’s working fantastically well, do they? They bring you in because there’s a few problems and that, you know, that they may be struggling a bit with, you know, with their work levels, with the challenges that they’re dealing with. You know, what…

what sort of advice would you give to anybody that’s in that position?

Paul (09:36.027)
So I might risk being somewhat controversial now and I don’t really mind that at all. Stress isn’t a bad thing. We need stress. The humans, we’ve needed it since the cavemen days. We need it, we need it now. It prompts us to do things. The problem is, is when it gets overly stressful and we begin to burn out. So if we’re not managing it effectively and using it, then it begins to dominate us. And that’s when there’s a problem.

And there are probably hundreds of people could sit where I’m sat now and give you a hundred different solutions to that. A lot of it is knowing what’s really important to you first so you can manage your internal dialogue and your internal references. And then prioritize, I mean, I know it sounds ridiculous and simple to say, but prioritize the things that make the difference and do those things that matter to you more than the things that necessarily you think you may be good at. And I’ll say that again.

People get caught up and busy doing things and when they get stressed, they tend to focus a lot of time and energy on things they’re good at, but that’s not necessarily what’s required at the time. So to let go of that and do the things that are needed and prioritise those are really quite important. And certainly from a middle to senior management type of role, Malcolm, the ability to delegate effectively is also another one, because the truth of the matter is, don’t let anybody hear this.

that nobody can do it better than me, and nobody can do it better than you, and nobody can do it better than me. And we think nobody can do it better than us. We’ve just got to have the faith and the trust that they can do it, but do it their way. So long as the outcome of the business needs, they don’t have to do it my way. And all too often, I think, we believe when we get to a senior role, the only way to do it is my way. And nobody can do that as good as me. So we don’t let go. We hang on to everything, even the mind you shine.

Malcolm Palmer (11:06.516)

Malcolm Palmer (11:15.115)

Malcolm Palmer (11:19.5)

Malcolm Palmer (11:26.902)

Paul (11:30.307)
have the courage and the confidence to delegate pieces of work to people. And that in itself is quite an art.

Malcolm Palmer (11:38.53)
Funnily enough, Paul, when I was given the opportunity to run an accountancy practice by, what was my, my then boss, he gave me two bits of advice. And the first bit of advice was that nobody will do the job as well as you would have done it, so just get over it, you know, and delegate stuff. The second bit of advice was you need to grow a beard so you look older for the clients. But took me about 15 years to…

to take that bit of advice. But you’re absolutely right, you know, and particularly in the professional world, you know, people, I mean accountants, are more guilty than anyone really of being perfectionist and not believing in other people to take those things off of them.

Paul (12:25.683)
Yeah, there’s a subtle difference Malcolm and this is why I think lots of people struggle is when they believe they’re delegating they’re actually abdicating responsibility and what by that what I mean is I would be happy to delegate something that I had on my shoulders to somebody who I trusted, who I knew was capable, who I knew could do the work and he was willing to do it. That is delegation. If I

gave opinions to work to somebody who wasn’t trained, wasn’t qualified, didn’t have the knowledge, was reticent to do it, and I gave it to them to do it, that’s abdication, because they’re not gonna do it very well, are they? They’re gonna struggle. So a lot of senior managers struggle because they abdicate rather than delegate. Make sure the people you’re asking to do the things for you and the business have got the knowledge, the skill, the capability, the mindset, the desire to do it.

Malcolm Palmer (13:13.899)

Paul (13:23.023)
otherwise it will fall flat on its face. Or not matter, I think.

Malcolm Palmer (13:30.176)
Yeah, I mean, interestingly, the two areas that I see people abdicate on the most amongst small business owners.

Malcolm Palmer (14:26.53)
Right, yeah, I know what I was saying when, right, let’s go. Yeah, interesting Paul, what I see amongst the owner managers that we work with is that there’s two particular areas that they will abdicate on the most. And that tends to be the financial stuff and sales. And it’s sort of for two different reasons really. So with the financial stuff,

Most of our clients don’t like it, you know? And we’ve found some absolute shockers in the past of messes that people have got into, you know, by just utter bodgers that they have recruited. Now, you know, if the owner of the business is a widget designer and he’s recruiting a junior widget designer, he will know within about 10 minutes of the interview starting whether this person over the other side of the table is any good or not. But, you know.

they won’t know with the financial stuff. So they appoint somebody who probably knows a bit more than them, but actually not much more than them. And six months later, they give us a call and we find a complete mess. So I could give you loads of stories on that. The other one is sales. So the interesting thing about that is a lot of business owners, they learn how to do the sales stuff in the early days, and they’re quite good at it.

Paul (15:27.999)

Malcolm Palmer (15:53.218)
They might not be good at sales generally, but they’re good at selling whatever it is that they do because they’re passionate about it and they’ve got all the knowledge, you know? And they might be a bit weak at closing techniques and all the rest, but as they get busy, they haven’t got time for the sales. So they take a sales person on, and of course, you know, salespeople do the best interviews, right? Because they’re salespeople. But then…

Paul (16:01.202)

Malcolm Palmer (16:18.626)
they just let them get on with it for four months and don’t see them, can’t keep an eye on them. And next thing they know, they just kind of go, hang on a minute, we’ve paid this person huge amount of money. We don’t appear to have a single sale. And it’s just, it’s kind of the abdication of it, rather than telling them how they want to do it and having a monitoring system, they just leave it to them and wonder why it went wrong.

Paul (16:32.895)

Paul (16:36.223)

Paul (16:43.279)
Yeah, and that I think you’ll know a lot more about this than I do from your experiences Malcolm but what you’re describing to me is people end up in a business that they’ve started doing things that they didn’t want to do when they started the business. So my simple answer to the person, if they love selling, then go sell and bring in an operations manager or a COO.

Do the things you really enjoy and what you’re really good at, rather than get it the wrong way around. Lots of people. There was a lady ran a small cafe near where I live. And I just happened to know, she came to see me and said she wasn’t enjoying it. And she wasn’t making money. And I said, well, why did you take the business on in the first place? She says, I like making cakes and talking to people. I says, and when did you last make a cake? When did you last talk to people? She says, I haven’t had time to do that. She says, well, you’re not.

It’s not the business you wanted it to be, is it? So something needs to change. And people find it hard, because once they’re in there, they sort of keep digging. And they’re looking for solutions out there when they don’t realize what’s really important to them. She wanted your idyllic middle of the Derbyshire Dales or up in the North Yorkshire, where it was quiet, chatting to people, baking cakes, having a lovely quiet time. And the business wasn’t like that. So you’ve got to know what your strengths are.

Malcolm Palmer (17:45.451)

Paul (18:03.459)
and be what you expect the business to return for you. You know, if she was just bothered about the money, her approach would be very different. If it was about the lifestyle thing, her approach would be very different. And I think people get caught up with that. And you talk about the recruitment piece, and I know we didn’t necessarily want, we intend to go down this route. For me, it’s an absolutely crucial thing. We mentioned earlier about surrounding yourself with talented people. Get the recruitment right. You know, get your head around what you need.

Malcolm Palmer (18:07.512)

Paul (18:33.339)
and the type of person you need and go and find them. And find them from a mindset and an attitude and a desire perspective. I’ve seen too many times people have recruited what they believe was the skill and the knowledge of the individual, but their mindset and their attitude was not right. You know, with all the skill and the knowledge, if your mindset and your attitude’s not right, they will never be a great performer for you. Get them with the right mindset and the right attitude and the right outlook. You can add the skills and knowledge.

Malcolm Palmer (18:50.647)

Paul (19:01.463)
you can train them in those areas if you need to but that’s the basis for me is get somebody who is fired up here to want to be successful and want to work for you and you can lay the rest in far too often and it still happens today people recruit on a CV and an application form that’s got some accreditations on there and yes the knowledge is important but if they haven’t got the application to apply that knowledge it’s just wasted and it has a massive impact on the project.

Malcolm Palmer (19:08.525)

Malcolm Palmer (19:14.712)

Malcolm Palmer (19:28.65)
Yeah. Do you think people are slow? They’re too slow to get started on the recruitment process and then they end up rushing it because they’re desperate for an extra pair of hands on board.

Paul (19:43.171)
Yeah, and I’ve experienced it in my past life. There were times when I had a vacancy and I interviewed six people in a day and there was pressure from my boss to recruit one of the six when I didn’t think any of the six were okay. So, you know, do I run a territory vacant for another few months and the risk of losing the income from that, or do I jump and take something I don’t think is good enough and hope it’s okay? Well, as you and I know, hope’s not a very good strategy.

you’re better off getting the right person because it will be more expensive in the long term. So having a clear idea of what you want in the job first is a critical step. Again, I’ve lost count of the number of times we need some more headcount to do what. I’m not sure, but we need some more headcount. That’s not clever thinking. Be really clear about what you’re investing in and the value it brings to the business. And then recruit, hammer it home to anybody I said.

recruit on that attitude, the mindset and the desire piece. If you see that in somebody, you know you can layer in any missing knowledge and skill. If you see the skill and the knowledge, but you don’t see the desire, that’s so much harder to instill in people.

Malcolm Palmer (20:52.122)
Yeah, yeah. The ex-footballer Roy Keane said this great line that you can’t teach character. And I think that’s such a good line, you know. And I think there was some stuff I was listening to recently about how NASA have changed their recruitment criteria. And one of the things, rather than looking for people with…

particular sets of knowledge, they’re looking for people that are fast learners, have got the quality of fast learners, and which is fascinating really because obviously that’s not how 99.9% of businesses recruit people for their organisation, right?

Paul (21:30.815)
Right, absolutely right. One of the best managers I worked with in a retail firm, historically when they recruited him, it was a big gamble because he was a chef and he’d never sold in the retail, he never sold. He thought he’d never sold before, but obviously as a chef, it’s not obvious maybe, but as a chef, there is some significant selling to do in terms of menus and staff and waiters and atmosphere of a restaurant.

But he’d never sold in retail before and he was a phenomenal manager. It’s because he had the desire to be successful. He didn’t know the ins and outs of the product that they were selling at the time. They taught him that when he got the job. They saw the fire in the belly and that’s what they recruited and that’s what they got. And he was a really good manager.

Malcolm Palmer (22:22.078)
Do you ever find that the senior people within the organisation have a bit of a problem with trust as in that they find it difficult to bring themselves to trust the people that are working in their organisations and teams?

Paul (22:38.063)
I do and it sort of harks back to that point we were talking about earlier in terms of the ability to delegate pretty much then depends on whether you trust the person who is able to do it. Now we have this very broad definition of trust in society don’t we? In business it’s for me it’s around have they got the character and the competence to do the role of the job. So lots of people have a great character but if they haven’t got the competence to do it, delegating and trusting those would be a naive thing to do.

if they’ve got the competence to do the job but the characters, I’m going to say flawed that’s a harsh word but the character is not appropriate, it’s dangerous. It sounds very hard but many years ago I got my head around the whole concept of trust and I think it comes from a line, be unconditionally trustworthy but conditionally trusting. So I will always strive.

Malcolm Palmer (23:20.119)

Paul (23:37.043)
to be trustworthy when you look for me to do things. But I will only trust you, Malcolm, on the condition that you’ve demonstrated to me that I can trust you through your character and your competence. Would I ask you to look at my accounts? Of course I would. Would I ask you to run a workshop for me on coaching for a client? Absolutely not. You know, your character I know and I trust, but your competence and accountancy, I trust.

Malcolm Palmer (23:51.09)

Paul (24:06.503)
your competence in running a workshop? No. And it sounds harsh to say I wouldn’t trust you. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you and I don’t respect you. I just wouldn’t trust you to do that because you would fail and I’d set you up for failure. So be conditionally trusting. I will only do that with you if you can demonstrate to me that you are capable to do what I’m asking you to do. And then I can let go.

Malcolm Palmer (24:07.671)


Malcolm Palmer (24:15.31)
Thank you.

Malcolm Palmer (24:20.305)

Malcolm Palmer (24:35.607)
Yeah. And I mean, that’s really good advice, Paul, because, you know, we often say that everybody judges the mistake that a lot of people make is to judge everyone else by their own standards, right? So, you know, the people that are the least trustworthy are the least trusting of others. But, you know, the flip side of that is the people that are the most trustworthy, you know, some of the nicest clients and the nicest people you can meet,

just automatically sometimes assume that everybody that they’ve got in their organisation is as trustworthy as them. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong from that, including fraud and business disasters and all sorts, just because they assumed that the other person operated under the same standards and principles of life as they did.

Paul (25:16.211)
See you next time.

Paul (25:28.815)
Yeah, you could have someone who’s a treasurer in a firm who is completely competent at being a brilliant treasurer, secretary, accountant, whatever language you wish to use. Brilliant. But if their character is deceitful, you’re going to lose money.

If their character is flawless, but their competence at the role is diminished, you’re gonna lose money for very different reasons, but you’re gonna lose money. So that balance of getting people in an organization, it’s that, a character is such a broad word, but the type of people that we are and how we operate and then the competence to do the job we’ve been asked to do. Get those two things right in somebody and then I can delegate.

comfortably and confidently, they can learn, they can develop, they can grow. I can open my arena to do other things that maybe help grow the business, even indeed stretch the vision and direction. And you know what, I’ll be somewhat less stressed as well on the back of it, Malcolm

Malcolm Palmer (26:31.254)
Yeah, absolutely. So talking of delegation, what’s your best delegation tip?

Paul (26:32.701)

Paul (26:37.851)
It sounds, I would say this wouldn’t I, but it’s making sure the people I’ve got around me can do what I’m asking them to do. And give them as much clarity as possible. Go away and build a wall is, people may go build, work their proverbial backside off to build a wall. But if they build it in the wrong place or the wrong shape or the wrong type of bricks, you’ll not be happy with the outcome. Give them absolute clarity about what you want the wall to be, what you want the wall building with.

And it sounds like it’s a painful process. It’s just that first five minutes of engaging somebody, bringing them on board, helping them understand why you’re asking them to do what you want them to do, giving them clarity on exactly what it is. And the second thing of all that is to be available to help them should they need it. And this is gonna sound quite harsh and I can’t categorize everybody like this. The challenge with senior…

and upper levels of management is they get busy not being available to help people they’ve delegated to. So whether that’s a fortnightly one-to-one or a weekly one-to-one or my office door’s always open or just checking in, you know, if I’m delegating to somebody, first of all, I want to trust that they can do it and are capable. And secondly, I want to make sure I’m around, not to check up on them, but to make sure that they’re doing okay.

Malcolm Palmer (27:43.53)
Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry.

Paul (28:05.415)
So my availability is the second criteria for me, if I’m delegated.

Malcolm Palmer (28:05.815)

Malcolm Palmer (28:13.438)
And obviously for new employees, the induction process is an important part of this because that’s sort of positioning those employees to be able to make the right decisions. Do you think there’s a sort of an optimum level of induction that people should do? Because I see some of our clients just expect to bring in a new employee and they’re just gonna hit the ground running at one minute past nine.

on the first Monday that they’re there.

Paul (28:43.955)
Yeah, I think it’s bound to be different for different people. And I think, you know, organising a one week induction course, or then it’s over, is a little bit naive. I understand there’ll be lots of learning in that. Where I’ve seen it work best, Malcolm, is people who have joined an organisation have been given an induction plan that they take responsibility for, rather than sitting them in a room and preaching at them all the time. So, for example, if I was to join your organisation…

there’s different departments, different managers, different relationships I need to develop. Give me a sheet of paper with those names on, those departments, and the task is to get to know Fred, John, Jean, Jennifer, and understand their roles, and then talk to so-and-so about their departments and what they do, and then it’s up to me to go and network and build those relationships. That works so much better, and it cements the learning so much quicker than a week in a classroom saying, and Fred’s department does this.

John’s department does that, is to go out there and do what you want them to do when they’re working for real and that is to network and talk to people. So I don’t think there’s a definitive, you know, one week’s enough because it depends how much knowledge they need to learn and add to and if there’s any skill development required but ultimately I think the induction should be, the inductee should be given the accountability and understand why but given the accountability to go and do things.

Malcolm Palmer (29:52.078)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul (30:13.303)
to speed the process up. I think the textbooks would say to you, preaching at somebody or asking them to go away and take accountability to learn themselves, the second is something like ten times faster in terms of cementing the learning. So it sort of makes sense to me from a time and a financial perspective too.

Malcolm Palmer (30:31.062)

Malcolm Palmer (30:35.446)
Yeah, yeah. And with all of these challenges, do you think this has got a lot harder in the last few years because the employment market and, you know, perhaps that unemployment being so low at the moment, you know, there’s not as many people looking for desperate for jobs, is there?

Paul (30:54.015)
Yeah, you’re right. I think I’m trying to reflect back to the time when I worked with this large pharmaceutical company who just assumed everybody would want to work for them because they were one of the best companies in the world, right? But it wasn’t quite like that. I think you have to give people a reason to want to join you. And, you know, we talked to you about the interview and interviewing the right people. I would always recommend to a candidate to interview the company.

interview the managers, what am I walking into? What’s the culture like? What’s the people like? Can I talk to a few other people in the organisation? Just to get a flavour because it has to be right for them too. So I understand it’s difficult to recruit people but it’s also we have to make sure we get the right ones in. I’ve heard horror stories of people sitting at interviews who’ve they don’t really want the job but they’ve been told they have to attend some interviews to get the payment, the benefit.

But can you just sign this to say I’ve been? That’s one end of the scale, which is horrendous. But ultimately, there are people out there who are really, really good. We have to find them by recruiting them right, but also helping them understand what they’re walking into. So the organisation has to be and needs to position itself as where somebody would like to come and work, rather than chasing for me to fill a vacancy. If that makes sense.

Malcolm Palmer (32:10.178)

Malcolm Palmer (32:22.858)
Because I think the danger is if you’re of an age where, you know, when you were out there in the jobs market, when unemployment was quite high, and you sort of are recalling those days when you were desperate for a job, and you’re assuming that the person over the other side of the desk is, 30 years later, is desperate for a job. And, you know, I think…

in many situations they’re interviewing you as much as you interviewing them because they’ve got other opportunities as well.

Paul (32:53.171)
Absolutely. If there’s somebody who is really great potential out there looking for a job, they’re really good people. We need to sell themselves to come and work for us because if they’re good they can go somewhere else. Potentially the not so good ones will not question or challenge you as much because they’re almost inadvertently desperate for a job. The really good ones want to go somewhere where they want to be.

Malcolm Palmer (33:09.354)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (33:18.818)
Yeah, yeah.

Paul (33:22.171)
So if they question you back about what’s the culture like, what’s the role like, how do you develop here, all those questions suggest to me that they’re good people who want to join somewhere where they believe they can thrive.

Malcolm Palmer (33:37.734)
Yeah, you’ve reminded me of some advice I got quite early on in my career from an elderly accountant about the other end of the journey when he said he was talking about redundancy process and he said never ever operate a voluntary redundancy process because the only people that will accept it are the ones who know that they’re highly employable elsewhere.

and they’re the ones you want to keep, not the ones that you want to go.

Paul (34:08.752)
Yeah, I’ve been involved in when I was in corporate life and helping organisations go through significant change where there is a reduction in headcount, shall we say. And what I always try and stress to the managers who are responsible for it, there’s at least four people, four types of people involved in this. It’s not as simple as saying we’re making people redundant. There’s those who get made redundant who are absolutely thrilled.

that those who are made redundant are absolutely devastated, that those who keep their job are absolutely devastated, and there are those who keep their job who are thrilled, they’re supposed to be thrilled. And you have to be acutely aware of managing those four different groups of people in terms of any major change when it comes to hate count. So it’s not just those who are leaving, yeah? The people you keep are…

Malcolm Palmer (34:50.102)

Paul (35:03.727)
it’s just as important to help them through that process and be okay. And the other thing I think, and I can only speak like this because it comes from my value set, which I’ll come back to in a minute. Everybody sort of believes, no, that’s not fair. The majority of people sort of believe when they’re looking for new jobs, it’s all about how much money can I earn. And I think it ought to be so much more than that. It’s about the culture I work with, the people I work with, how I feel about going to work.

the value of the contribution of the work that I make. Yes, is there any development there? Yes, is the salary okay? But the focus, I think, too often seems to be just on the money. My values are not about financial wealth. I’ve done okay, and I’ve earned money by working hard. And I’ve turned down jobs. When I was in the corporate world, I was poached by another company.

and they offered me at the time a significant pay rise. But having done some investigation and research into it, they were just not right for me. They would not have sat right with what my values were. So I turned them down and they found it very hard that I’d turned them down for that reason. It was bizarre. But yeah, the values thing, which I know we’ve talked about it before, for me is really, really important because that’s what you’re buying when you buy me. You’re buying the values and the beliefs that I hold dear.

Malcolm Palmer (36:27.51)

Paul (36:29.727)
And if you can’t match those, when I come to work for you, Malcolm, you’ll never get the best out of me. So, so those, you know, you can’t force anybody interview to tell them what your values are, but you know, you can ask questions and encourage people to talk about what matters to them and whether that can be matched in the organisation you’re offering because you’re, you’re buying me to come and contribute to your business.

Malcolm Palmer (36:30.614)

Malcolm Palmer (36:35.894)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (36:46.904)

Malcolm Palmer (36:52.034)

Paul (36:56.143)
and you want maximum contribution out of me, of course you do. So how do you get that? Well, you give me clarity, you give me direction, you give me understanding, you give me support. I want maximum satisfaction from the job you’re offering me. I’ve got a right to have that. And what does that look like? Meet my values, help me with my personal goals, help me grow, whatever they are, the closer you can help me achieve those, the more likely I am to be able to help you contribute to your success too.

Malcolm Palmer (36:56.994)

Malcolm Palmer (37:01.323)

Malcolm Palmer (37:12.713)
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Paul (37:24.699)
And that means there has to be a reasonable level of communication with absolute clarity about what we both want. And that’s where I spend a lot of my time working with senior and middle managers. We call it coaching, but the whole thing is around how can you get people to perform for your business and the payoff is what do they get back in return. We use it in business a lot. It’s that whole win-win philosophy. If I can help you win as a business, help me win as a person.

Malcolm Palmer (37:25.718)

Malcolm Palmer (37:31.818)

Malcolm Palmer (37:46.902)

Paul (37:53.979)
And if we can work together to do that, it will be worth flying. And my win might be a bit more holiday than anybody else, because I like to go away. Or it might be a promotion. It might be finance. It might be a company car. It might be project work. Unless you find out what motivates and drives me, you’d never know what that was. I once made the mistake of offering a balloon flight as a reward to my team for a quarter sales performance.

Malcolm Palmer (37:55.095)


Malcolm Palmer (38:03.894)

Paul (38:23.175)
with champagne, which I thought was fantastic. They looked at me like I’d offered them rubbish. They just, but that was a great prize is this? No, can we just have the money? It was just, I’d so misread what was important to them because I liked it, right? But it’s not what they want. So, you know, finding out what drives and motivates other people as individuals in my book will help to get them to contribute to the success of any team or organization that they want.

Malcolm Palmer (38:40.942)
Yeah, yeah.

Malcolm Palmer (38:54.926)
Yeah. So we focus a lot on the positive and how you get the best out of those people in your organization with a win-win mindset. But I know that many of the people that run businesses that will be listening to this will probably have someone in their organization who for whatever reason has turned into a bit of a nightmare employee, you know, no longer has a win-win mindset, maybe even a lose-lose mindset, you know, just because…

the relationship between them and the boss has turned toxic. And potentially as well, all your great work in bringing these fantastic other people into organization and with your induction and shared values, et cetera, is slowly being undone by this toxic individual working in there. And I know that anybody employing…

let’s say more than 10, 15 people, there’s a decent chance that there’s a relationship with one of their team that is not right. So where do you think they should be going with that situation?

Paul (40:05.935)
Yeah, you’re right. It’s an old cliche about the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And if you talk about 10 or 12 people and there’s somebody in there that’s a weak link for whatever reason, then the whole team is never going to be as strong as it could be. And it’s a little bit of tough love. I understand there are people’s livelihoods at stake here and I understand there are people’s private lives away from work. Ultimately, that person’s employed to perform and deliver for the business in the way…

the business wants it to be. So that’s the cultural piece as well as the deliverable piece. If somebody’s not living up to that expectation they need to know that and a lot of a lot of individuals managers shy away from that because they’re frightened of being seen as being a bullying or victimization and I genuinely believe if you said to me Malcolm and I would work for you get better at XYZ Paul I

three or four times, I’d think you may be victimizing or bullying me if we hadn’t agreed it in the first place. So everybody will know what I’m about to say, but not everybody applies it. Give people clarity of their objectives and expectations. Be really clear about what you want from people, about their behaviour and their deliverables. Meet on a regular basis to talk about how they’re achieving that.

and if they’re doing well, you pat them on the back and encourage them to push on. If they’re not doing so well, coach them through how to get better and get them on board. If the second meeting and the third meeting and the fourth meeting and the fifth meeting doesn’t change anything, don’t have a sixth meeting. It’s not going to change. There comes a, and I’m not saying it has to be sixth, there comes a point when there has to be consequences and I know that’s a dirty word for lots of people.

Malcolm Palmer (41:29.004)

Malcolm Palmer (41:46.823)

Paul (41:56.207)
If somebody’s performing for you behaviorally and deliverable wise and they’re doing really well, the consequences of that is they should be rewarded. If somebody isn’t, there has to be other consequences of that, whether that’s moving to a different role, demotion, or no longer being in the organization. But we just sometimes get tough with it, or keep them around and hold everything back. It’s just for me.

Malcolm Palmer (41:57.367)

Malcolm Palmer (42:15.585)

Malcolm Palmer (42:23.426)
Yeah, so that’s interesting talking about the behavior and deliverables Paul, because the deliverables part is normally, is easier to measure, isn’t it? It’s the number of sales they’ve made or the amount of invoices they’ve got out or whatever. The behavior one is the one that’s much harder to tackle because it’s a bit subjective and people deny things and the danger is you can get hoovered into.

Paul (42:35.709)

Malcolm Palmer (42:51.086)
the whole office politics that are going on.

Paul (42:53.975)
Yeah, and most organisations, and I suspect most smaller organisations, would probably have some idea of overall objectives for individuals and maybe haven’t taken the time to define what behaviours we believe we need to espouse to deliver those outcomes. And whether that’s a set of values, a set of guiding principles, a charter, people, companies call it all sorts of different things, but that needs defining.

just as much as your sales target or your number of new customers or your financial targets, whatever they may be. Because without that reference point, you’re quite right. If I were to in many ways chastise you for not behaving in an appropriate way, you’ve got every right to say, who said? Who said? So that internal measurement in terms of the culture needs defining. And if I was having a conversation with you about underperformance in terms of behaviour,

I would absolutely make sure I had evidence of that rather than saying, Malcolm, I think, I think you’re not being very nice. Well, in what way, Paul? I don’t know. I just think you’re not being very nice. That doesn’t help anybody. I would need to have specific information and specific data and feedback for you to help me with that. Now that might need to be collected over a period of time. Just like when you get the sales figures in, there’s an absolute measure of performance against a hundred percent target.

There ought to be ability to say in terms of being a good team player this is what it looks like and you’re doing that or you haven’t been doing that because you’ve been doing this. Let’s talk about it.

Malcolm Palmer (44:30.89)
Yeah, because the real problem employees are the ones that are actually performing on the measurable things, but on their impact on the team around them are actually damaging the organisation in that way.

Paul (44:45.607)
Yeah. And it takes a huge amount of courage for somebody who is looking to drive sales performance for an organization of any size to say at the end of the year, your pay rise and or your bonuses is going to be measured on your output and your behavior. So you could be 120% of sales target, but if you’re a nightmare in the way you achieve that and the behavior

that your espousing doesn’t model what we want to look like, you will get a diminished pay rise and a diminished bonus. That needs to be made clear at the start, not at the end, so people understand you’re being measured on how you are and what you do. And why? Because a company should define its behaviours, competences, whatever language you want to use, as the things that if we do those well, it will…

as near as Dammit guarantee we get the outcomes. Not just for a list, not just for a nice picture on the wall or a mouse mat or a screensaver. We genuinely believe if we behave like this, it will make it more likely that we will achieve our business success. That’s why we have them. And I think employees need to understand that clearly to choose to come and work for me or to come and work for you.

Malcolm Palmer (46:11.452)
Yeah. We have A4G, there’s something that we always mention in the interview that is quite symbolic rather than being a massive issue on its own. So apologies if I’ve mentioned this in one of the previous podcasts, but we have a little rule internally that in the office, if two people wanna go out for lunch together, that’s fine. But if three people wanna go out to lunch, they have to invite the whole office.

Paul (46:36.004)

Malcolm Palmer (46:37.951)
And when we introduced it, there was two people complained about it who were the most toxic employees that I’ve ever had working in the organization, because that was their little opportunity to cause trouble, you know. And everybody gets it and they understand the reasons. And they also know that most of the partners will be far too busy catching up on their emails to actually go. But it’s really nice when…

that email gets sent out, we go into the wherever and the link to the menu so people can order food ahead or whatever. We have that as quite symbolic. Once they come on board, on the reviews that we do, we mark them on their performance from 1 to 10, but we mark them on their impact on the team from minus 5 to plus 5.

Paul (47:12.993)

Malcolm Palmer (47:31.434)
and oh, the debate that I had with my personnel manager, who’s fantastic by the way, but she was really unhappy about having a scoring system that gave somebody a minus. And I said, no, but the point of it is that if they’re a negative impact on the team, then there should be a negative score. And it’s pretty rare that I’ll give a negative score and I’ll put my…

feedback in for one of the team but you know sometimes I will because you know there could be a nine out of ten on performance but you know a minus two in terms of their impact because they just they spend a bit too much time having a moan and you know whatever other negative behaviors there are.

Paul (48:15.403)
That’s it.

Well, you’re right. And you’re allocated a minus two or minus three is relatively straightforward to do where lots of people will shy away is sitting down with individual explaining why that’s happened. And why it’s a minus two and a minus three and what a zero or a plus one looks like. And that’s what we’re looking for. That might include, you know, they may need coaching, they may need development, they may just need clarity on what’s expected. That, you know, could vary from different people. But, you know, I understand that.

Malcolm Palmer (48:29.282)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul (48:44.735)
performance management systems and processes need some sorts of yardstick. But it’s the conversation afterwards that’s crucial. And I alluded to earlier, I don’t know whether it’s a status thing, but lots of people to get to middle and higher and senior managers don’t seem to have time to sit down and have those conversations with their people the way they should. They’re too busy doing other things.

Malcolm Palmer (49:11.514)
And people are a bit shy away from confrontation, don’t they? You know? And they’ll find reasons to not have those conversations rather than being too busy. It’s like they’ll find justifications, other things to do rather than having that.

Paul (49:14.715)
Well, yeah.

Paul (49:25.075)
Yeah, and it boils down to the reason, the only reason I’m having this conversation with you is because I want to move you from a minus two to a plus one to start with, otherwise I could leave you at minus two and the consequences for you are you won’t get as good a performance review. The only reason I’m taking the time out of my calendar to have a situation where we can talk about this is to help you. Now you know that that’s a really one aspect of where we come from with coaching rather than rather than…

dictating. If you don’t want help and if you’re not intending to change, let’s talk about what that means because there are consequences to that. And you know from what you’re describing, if you don’t manage that underperformance in people, whether it’s behavioural or deliverables, it will pervade. It becomes the norm. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, is I think the phrase. If people can get away with it, that creates, why am I working so hard?

when they’re getting away with it. And I behave like this and they’re behaving badly and nothing’s done about it. That reflects badly on the management as much as the individual.

Malcolm Palmer (50:33.866)
Yeah, you know, I mean, you’re absolutely right, Paul. I mean, I remember in the early days, we had a lady working for us who just wasn’t up to the job. You know, she was a lovely lady and I kind of bottled it a bit, you know, but I realized that I was actually causing more damage to the organization because the people around her were, you know, in a very polite way, they were almost begging me to sack her because…

And I realized that I’ve massively, in being nice, I’ve massively demotivated about four or five other people. And what was funny is I bumped into her in a shop a few years later and I just had a really nice chat with her, she just said, oh, you know, it was the wrong time of my life and I was trying to deal with these things and I shouldn’t have even, you know. And actually she’d gone away, sorted out her life and put it back together again. And me…

me keeping her in a job that she wasn’t capable of doing. Wasn’t even doing her a favor, let alone the people around her.

Paul (51:37.875)
Yeah, and for me that’s a fundamental part of that sort of conversation that we need to have is, you know, I keep referring to it as coaching, it’s that conversation where you want to get people back on track for their own good, and of course for the good of the organisation too. But you started asking me a little while ago about handling difficult situations, I think a lot of managers shy away from having those tough conversations because there’s a little bit of a lack of courage because they’ve got no idea what the response is going to be.

So you have to have the courage and conviction to know that I’m doing this for all the right reasons. All too often people walk into those conversations thinking they’ve already scripted out how it’s going to go, but you’ve no idea. You know, you could at one extreme they could go, you’re completely wrong, I don’t mind to that. Or the other extreme they could go, you’re right, I’m having problems. Once you find out what that is, you can help them. So having the courage to have that conversation, but then the consideration to have the conversation in the right way.

is the key for me. Because it all adds up to building up to having great people working in a great organisation. And I am tired of hearing this conversation. Paul, I need some help with one of my managers. Okay, what’s wrong with them? Well, they’re not performing very well. So what have you done? I’ve had loads of chats, I’ve recorded it, I’ve talked to HR. Okay, so what are you gonna do about it? Well.

They’re not doing the job very well and I think I ought to get rid of them. Well, get rid of them then. But they’re really nice people, Paul. He’s a nice person. I went, I know. I don’t. If you’re telling me they’re nice, I believe you. But you’re not employing them just to be nice. They need to do their job. And I understand that people’s lives away from this. But all too often, they’re really nice. Lovely. But are they doing the job? No. Well, what are you going to do about it?

Malcolm Palmer (53:23.192)

Paul (53:31.815)
Well, I ought to do this. Well, do it then. But they’re very nice people. I went, I know. You’re not helping yourself, you’re not helping the team, you’re not helping anybody else. Have some courage to have that conversation with them. With the intention of turning them around first, not going straight in there with the old boot, but have an honest conversation about, this is not acceptable over a longer period of time. However difficult that might be, you’re helping them, like the lady you talked about, and you’re helping the organization too.

Malcolm Palmer (53:44.299)



Malcolm Palmer (53:54.402)

Paul (54:00.999)
But I think there’s a large percentage of people from my experience when they get to that senior level, to board level, just haven’t got the time to do that anymore.

Malcolm Palmer (54:01.518)

Malcolm Palmer (54:11.242)
No, and sometimes the problem is you’ve got layers, haven’t you? You’ve got employees that are underperforming. You’ve got a lovely manager that they report to who works incredibly hard at doing the job that they do. And it’s far too nice to give that employee a bit of a kick up the backside and ends up actually doing part of their job for them. And then the head of department or whatever that they report to.

doesn’t want to gee up the manager to gee up the employee because the manager’s so nice, right? So as the business owner, you know, sometimes what people do is they just get impatient and they just kick the ass of the employee. And in reality, what they’ve done is they’ve then let the two layers in between get away with being poor managers.

Paul (54:52.445)

Paul (54:59.235)
Yeah, absolutely right. Yeah, I, again, lots of times talking to middle managers about making those sorts of decisions to have those tough conversations and they’re uncomfortable with it. And, you know, glibly I say, but I mean it is that’s what you’re paid for. You’re paid to use your judgment as a manager or a senior manager. That’s why you earn the big bucks to make those decisions and tackle it. Not for somebody up here to do it for you. It’s important that you do that.

Paul (55:29.179)
It is challenging at times when underperformance is tolerated, because it holds everything back. It’s, I’ve never actually done this myself, but I’ve often talked about it, and I just wondered if it would ever work. I can look you in the eyes now and just say, I’ll make the numbers up, Malcolm and so it’s not real. You’ve got 10 people report to you right now. So you could sit down right now with a pen and paper and write down in terms of their deliverables.

rank them one to ten. You could rank them one to ten in terms of their behaviour to support the culture of A4G. Then the next thing is at the bottom two in the list what are you going to do with them? Right? You’ll always have somebody at the bottom. What do you do with them? What do you do with the ones at the top you can keep pushing? If you can identify as simply and as easily as that what are you going to do to get the ones at the bottom moving up?

and the intention is not necessarily to sack them or get rid of them, but you move the whole tent up.

Malcolm Palmer (56:32.235)
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Paul (56:32.827)
or rather than just do that is if your worst performers can get significantly better, at least you’re pushing the bottom up which might push the top up. Now if every manager sat down and ranked what they believe the performance on data and evidence is of their behaviour and their deliverables and then chose to have a conversation with them to move from where they are one way or another, that very single action

could potentially have a significant effect on an organization and a team. So long as it’s not seen as a stick to beat people with, as a developmental opportunity. Because if they can’t move, or they’re unable to move and do what you’re expecting them to do, you’re doing them no favors, leaving them languishing there and feeling bad. Because people are not stupid. If they’re underperforming and they’ve got no idea what to do.

Malcolm Palmer (57:25.624)

Paul (57:31.643)
they become stressed, worried, anxious, upset, scared, and they’re never gonna perform well as a result of that, and that’s gonna have a massive impact on them as individuals. They’ll never perform at their best under those circumstances.

Malcolm Palmer (57:37.367)

Malcolm Palmer (57:46.762)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. If only it was easy, well, yeah, exactly. So, Paul, that’s been fantastic. I hope you don’t mind me asking the last question. So obviously on our podcast, I’ve talked about Ronald’s and Elton’s, and in your organization, you are one of the star performers, when you were with Steve and Roger and obviously, pre-

Paul (57:47.855)
If only it was easier, right?

Paul (57:52.905)

Malcolm Palmer (58:14.422)
those days you were the star performer in your range of purple shirts. So what’s the succession plan for you?

Paul (58:24.931)
That’s a really good question. Roger and Steve might be listening. So I think making sure that we made a business decision to manage our business the size that it is, Malcolm, and you may very well have been part of those conversations a few years back. So in terms of internally, that whole structure is not there right now. But in terms of me, in all honesty, whenever I’m out there working with other people and other organisations and other training companies who I know.

I’m casting an eye out to look for somebody, and this is the key thing, that is the perfect fit to come and work with Roger and Steve or similar. I know we’re about to wind up, but you will remember very well Roger, Steve, and I started talking in the February of 2008 about putting the business together. We didn’t say yes until September. Now the reason for that was we talked.

and we nicely argued and we nicely challenged to work out what we wanted the business to be and that was not just about the numbers and the income it was about the culture, the values, the feeling, the type of work we do, well we want to enjoy what we’re doing and it took us six months to work out that was an important aspect for the three of us as much as the deliverables. So somebody who can fit into that culture

would be the right way to do. And again, I hope they’re not listening, but when I do decide to call it a day, I’ve got my feelers out to look at people who I think would be the right fit to work with the existing culture, if that’s an answer to your question.

Malcolm Palmer (01:00:04.982)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I do remember one of those meetings really well, Paul, because I remember we all stood up at the end of the meeting, and I’ve never felt as short in my entire life, because what anybody watching the podcast won’t realize is that, how tall are you, Paul? Yep, about six five, I think. Six three, yeah, yeah. And you’re the shortest partner in Backley Black, so I just kind of remember just thinking, yeah, anyway.

Paul (01:00:22.035)
Six straight. Six.

Paul (01:00:32.664)

Malcolm Palmer (01:00:33.806)
So I remember one of those meetings very well. So where…

Paul (01:00:36.199)
Right. There’s an example, Malcolm, of trust, right? So you came in and helped us with the meeting. I’m not, I’m not a voice vote for a property. It was just true. If your competence and capability and the character trusted from the work we’re doing with you allowed us to bring you in to help us go through what weren’t difficult times, but just times to sort things out. So in that respect, we brought something we trusted to help us to do that, rather than just

Sifting through, I was going to say yellow pages, people will remember that, but sifting through Google to try and find something to give you some advice. Bringing people you trust.

Malcolm Palmer (01:01:16.763)
Thank you. So anybody wants to find out a bit more about Backley Back? Where do they go to find it?

Paul (01:01:24.487)
Yeah, we have a website If you go on there, you will find an array of offerings that we have to clients and some more information about us as an organization. And there’s contact details on there for the three of us. Just drop us an email and we’d happily get back to you. And if it’s right and proper, we’d meet up and have a chat about what your needs are without any commitment. But we’d love to come and meet and talk to people to see if we can help.

Malcolm Palmer (01:01:56.486)
Paul, it’s been fascinating talking to you. If I might just finish off the podcast by doing a little thank you to the sponsors. So anybody wants to find out more about A4G, just go to A4G, it’s letter A, number four, letter G, hyphen,, or Durban Offshoring is Durban Offshoring, that’s one word,