I learned about hands-on management in my small retail business when I was still in my 20s. Oh, the things I would do differently! I can’t say I blitzed people management at that time. I was still very green and to be honest – way too trusting of people! I had to learn from a few less than awesome moments which included being deceived. But I’ve since discovered that the hard times produce the best growth (if you’re willing to learn and bite into a few pieces of humble pie).
When you’re in the trenches so to speak, you can find yourself so involved in the hands-on ‘now’ of operations that your people can become just another resource. I don’t think it’s an intention in many cases. It happens when a passionate business owner trying to make a dollar gets swept up in the whirlwind of doing.
I thought I’d take a trip back down memory lane and enlighten you on a few learnings…
- Don’t make friends with the staff. For some of you in small communities, this might be challenging! You may even employ friends. It’s not something I’d recommend, but it is certainly not wrong. Be aware that it is very difficult to manage when issues come up with your best friend’s performance. How do you deal with that? Let’s face it; it is going to affect your pre-dinner drinks. Whether you employ friends or a friendship develops in the workplace, you need to draw some very clear lines in the sand for you and your workers. Effectively, you need a procedure that says, “This is work where I am your manager and we do ABC” and “This is our personal friendship where we do XYZ”. Once you’ve invited someone into your home, they’ve met your family (and even looked after your kids) it is not comfortable to turn up to work and say, “Hey, we need to talk about your performance!” If you do have friends in the workplace, be extremely aware of the risk of favouritism! On the flip side, I know of managers who are extra hard on their employees who are family members…they simply expect more. That is also not fair.
- Be clear with your expectations right from day one. Write them down – preferably in job descriptions and procedures. My good friend and Quality Manger for over 40 years had this saying, “If it isn’t written down, it never happened!” While this might be a good thing for your social media page – it’s not great for contractual agreements! If you don’t tell someone how to do something and the level of quality you expect, then how can you tell them they haven’t performed well enough? This is a small example of what Fair Work would call unfair when it comes to dismissing someone without proper training, development and intervention. It’s up to you to set the expectations for the behaviours you want in your workplace.
- Don’t ever, ever, assume! Remember that time when you assumed? What went wrong? From a simple awkward laugh with a friend, to a large business contract lost forever – assumption is never a good exercise. As a young business owner, I assumed that my more experienced worker would just do what I did, think the way I did and produce what I did. When she didn’t, it became an interesting challenge for both of us! Just because someone comes with a history of work experience resembling the skill-set you need, don’t assume that they know your business or that the little voice in your head is speaking to them! Communication is your job. Leave chance to the casinos.
- Trust people…but exercise some wisdom. Customers, clients, staff and contractors are all people. It’s great to be open-handed with people. People can perceive when you are wary and this is not a good business strategy. But there is a balance between entering into a trust relationship, which by nature has some vulnerability, and exercising wisdom. Wisdom uses contracts and agreements and gets things signed off. Blind trust may assume that the smiling and warm person walking through your employment door is wonderful and risk-free. One such smiling fast talking person slipped past my defences in year one of business and nearly cost me my business! Lesson learned. The smiling assassin is real.
The themes that stand out amongst these 4 matters are that every workplace needs:
- Clear and open communication
- Defined boundaries for operating in a work environment
- Easily accessible information for workplace participants
Management is very transactional in nature. The best tools are therefore also transactional and include your written contracts, procedures etc. They form the framework for “How we do things around here” and can go a long way to protect your business – and your working relationships!