A small business owner from the UK recently e-mailed me with this question: " I currently have a small business staff of 8 and expected that when I arrived at this point I would have more time for strategic planning and my personal life. Instead, I constantly have to oversee everything. Do you have any suggestions as to how can I get better results from my employees so I can trust that things will run smoothly when Im not there?"
Many times Ive heard small business owners complain that even after they grew to the point where they could finally hire a sufficient staff, they were still working ridiculous hours. They didnt understand why their employees never seemed to do the job right, and the owner felt the need to micro-manage to be assured that things were done properly. Sometimes, just when an employee was fully trained and performing well, they left, or sometimes operations became dangerously dependent on one or two key employees. How do we make our employees real team players?
With the right systems in place, you can train employees to do the job you need them to do, and to do it exceptionally well. We often make the mistake of trying to find the person with the best resume or skills, instead of finding the person thats also a good fit for our style, values and culture (big companies do the same). For example, if you value loyalty and initiative, and the person you hire has a great resume, but has changed jobs every time a better opportunity appeared, or needs to be micro managed, thats not a great match. To create a business that runs like a well oiled machine, even when youre not around, there are certain steps you must take.
Make sure that each job function is very clearly defined. You know, step by step, exactly what you need each employee to do. Make sure that each employee has detailed, written job guidelines which include such items as:
* a detailed description of all job responsibilities
* procedures for completing these responsibilities
* clearly articulated expectations
* clearly defined company values and mission
* specific ways you would like employees to interact with customers and fellow employees
* consequences for not following the guidelines
* incentive programs for doing a great job.
This is more than an employee handbook. In a small business where one employee may fulfill several functions, the system youve established for completing each task needs to be written down as a frame of reference.
Initially, it takes some time to define and document each role in your company. But this time is well spent. When interviewing, you can use these guidelines as a baseline to help you make the right hiring choice. Training consumes less time and money because the employee is given a clear, written explanation of what the job entails. And if a key employee leaves you in the lurch, training a replacement is much less stressful. This is the reason that franchises are able to produce identical units that all maintain the same quality of service. If it works for McDonalds, why wouldnt it work for you? Franchises also often cross train. Particularly in small companies, cross training can help relieve the stress of absent employees or unfilled positions by allowing each person to fulfill several functions.
Next, its essential that you meet regularly with your staff to find out what their assumptions and expectations are about you and their jobs, and to motivate them to be excited about your mission and vision.
Lets look first at assumptions and expectations. How do you feel when you assume an employee will complete a task in a specific way and they fail to do so? Sometimes this happens even after you let someone know that what you expect of them. Usually when theres a gap between expectations and results, theres been a breakdown in communication. We often assume things about others without letting them know (my husband would agree with that!). That assumption leads to an expectation that another will act in a certain way. If they dont we become disappointed or angry. This is the point at which some owners fail to resolve the communication problem and instead begin to micro manage or just do it themselves. Employees become silently dissatisfied and begin to be less productive or look for another position. Providing a regular forum to discuss assumptions and expectations can have amazing results in creating a high performing, motivated team. Ferreting out assumptions and expectations is an integral part of any management coaching we do, because its so effective in building strong teams.
Recently, I wrote about the importance of being passionate about your business and communicating that passion to your employees. If you can help them become aligned with your vision, how you plan to achieve it and how important their help is, you will empower them to work harder. Organizing regular awards programs, praising a job well done, showing that you respect their abilities, values and time will often motivate more than monetary incentives. Just like in other parts of your business, its important to have a plan for how youll motivate your staff. And finally, find a way to help your employees by providing quality-of-life perks. Companies such as SAS have been quite successful at this and Ive spoken directly with employees who are very appreciative. Even if your business is very small you can find creative ways to accomplish this goal.
The basic systems described here, combined with regular performance assessment, are essential to any business owner who wants to achieve some level of independence. Building a stronger employee support infrastructure is a great goal to have for 2005 if your goal is to have a business that supports your life and not the other way around.