Your employees are the lifeblood of your business, the messengers of your company’s mission, ethics, and worldview. They are the conduit between customer and product, not only ensuring a successful transaction but eliciting a level of satisfaction that keeps them coming back. It’s a vital role they play, one that can be fraught with challenges that you can greatly reduce with a few key actions. These seven tips are a guide to helping your employees succeed, benefiting both them and your company.
1. Know what you need
You can’t expect your employees to succeed if you don’t know what you need them to do. The buck starts (not just stops) with you. Often business owners and managers hire employees to offload work without much thought or planning. They just know they’re overwhelmed and need help.
Whether you have employees or are thinking of hiring some, consider what you truly need them to do. This is more than a hodge-podge list of tasks. Decide what the ultimate goal is for every position and ensure the tasks you do assign lead them to achieve that goal.
This process should be well thought out and thorough. By the end, you should not only have precise roles for each position but a crystal clear understanding of how everyone in your operation interacts and supports one another. Your company’s structure will become apparent, and you will know what you truly need from everyone on your team.
2. Define their role
Now that you know what you need, the next step is telling your employees exactly how they’ll do it. This is the position description. This keystone document does more than simply list duties of the job; it also includes what results they’ll achieve, skills they’ll learn, and behaviors they’ll exhibit.
These details are a product of the work you did to determine what you need from your employees. That need is more than just how many sales to close or gallons of beer to make—it’s also what you need them to contribute to the overall operation and how you want them to conduct themselves while doing it.
Just as vital, you should identify what you want them to learn while in the position because it’s not just about executing tasks but also gaining knowledge and attaining mastery.
3. Set clear expectations
Here is where you set everyone up for success by clearly defining the expectations you have for them, as well as what they can expect in return, while holding the position. This is essentially an employee handbook that covers everything from sick days to annual reviews. No matter how small your business, this set of well-defined human resource documents is crucial.
Here are some basics to include:
New employee affidavit
- This is a simple statement of the terms of employment, including official start date, pay rate, and any “at-will,” “right-to-work,” or other state-based employment law language.
Description of employee benefits
- This document describes the additional benefits available to an employee (outside of their pay rate). Include policies detailing paid time off, stipends for cell phone, personal car use, and wellness; discounts on products and services; and any other applicable benefits.
- These can be specific to particular positions within your organization, so create as many as needed.
Outline of the employee feedback and review process
- This includes your schedule for regular employee reviews, grievance procedures, and corrective action policy.
- This doesn’t need to be a novel, but it needs to be thorough. Here is where you list various protocols and procedures for all aspects of your business that employees are responsible for conducting.
- From storefront opening to the manufacturing process of a product, clearly outline the steps required to correctly execute all tasks you expect your employees to complete. Without those steps, you can’t expect someone to do them correctly, let alone consistently.
4. Provide structured feedback
Give your employees feedback and allow them to do the same. Reviews, grievance procedures, and corrective actions are simply part of what it is to have employees. Don’t let this scare you. There’s no need to hire a company to create procedures with enough legalese to keep a team of attorneys busy for a month. You only need a set of simple, easy-to-understand protocols that you implement consistently.
- Even if you have only one employee, you should regularly and formally review their performance and provide constructive feedback. This process not only gives you a clear process for assessing each employee but also provides them with the opportunity to ask questions and provide you with feedback.
- Creating a two-way path for open communication around employee performance is key to fostering trust, ensuring employees know how you feel about their work, and offering both of you opportunities to improve.
- Inevitably you’ll need to address issues with employee performance or behavior. When this happens, you should have a formal process in place to conduct such interactions.
- Having a defined procedure in place forces you to sit down and provide factual information surrounding the issue, rather than approaching the employee in a heated, emotional state. It also requires you to define what you consider acceptable improvement in a set timeline with clear consequences if those improvements are not made in that time frame.
- This is not only good for you, but it also honors the employee’s humanity, allowing them the opportunity to meet your expectations and become an even better member of your team.
- There will also be times when an employee needs to bring something to your attention. They may be having a difficult time with another employee, a procedure, a customer, or any number of possible issues and will want you to be aware and possibly find a solution.
- Employees need to feel safe and supported when bringing their concerns to your attention. One good way to do this is to create a formal grievance procedure for them to follow.
- This can be as simple as an anonymous suggestion box for ideas and constructive criticism for things that don’t require a live conversation. Be sure to include a section that provides them the opportunity to request a face-to-face meeting with their direct supervisor (or someone higher up if the issue is with that person) with the assurance of follow-through and non-retaliation.
- Just as you do for an employee review or corrective action, have a formal document they can use to fill out prior to the meeting with actionable items that you both agree to and the date of expected action.
5. Be consistent
Inconsistency is the kryptonite to success. Without it, your employees won’t respect you nor the roles, expectations, and feedback you provide. When you say one thing yet do another, or treat a person or situation differently from one to the next, you will ruin your credibility. If that happens, trust is broken, and it’s nearly impossible for employees to be successful.
The underlying purposes of the documents and procedures detailed above are to help you stay consistent. Combined, they create a framework for the uniform handling of most employee-inclusive interactions and expectations.
Be aware and do your best to be consistent in all aspects of your business. When you inevitably make a mistake and admit to your error—because nobody is perfect—your employees will be far more likely to be forgiving and continue to offer their respect and loyalty.
6. Communicate openly
Uncertainty in any business leads to rumor which leads to assumptions that ultimately erode employee confidence and corrode any sense of loyalty. How do you avoid this? Communicate openly and honestly with your team.
Here’s an example: Say you don’t want to place a big inventory order because finances are tight. While you don’t need to share your P&L statement, explain to your procurement manager that you’re being conservative with spending for the time being and ask them to focus on ordering only key items until you give the word.
A good overall communication practice is holding regular employee meetings. These don’t take the place of individual employee evaluations, rather they’re “state-of-the-state”-style meetings where you first update everyone on topics you feel are important, and then give them the opportunity to share wins and learning experiences with you and one another.
The content and frequency are up to you, monthly is ideal if that’s doable. It doesn’t have to be fancy or long. Set aside an hour and maybe pick up some pizzas. Have a written agenda to keep you on track and stick to the allotted time. The most important part is that you’re communicating with your people, keeping uncertainty and assumptions to a minimum.
Also, be sure to pay everyone for being there. After all, these are mandatory and should be treated as official work time. This goes for employee reviews and corrective actions done outside their regularly scheduled work hours.
7. Maintain professional relations
For many employers, this can be one of the most challenging steps of all. We value human relationships, and our employees can become like family. However, becoming best buds with your people opens you up for an awkward relationship, at best, and an adversarial one, at worst.
Why does becoming too chummy with your team cause problems? The employer-employee relationship is, at its core, a professional one. Not only because you’re exchanging money for time, but because you each have a well-defined role to play where one has inherently more power than the other. When you complicate that with close friendship or romantic liaisons, it takes things from professional to personal, leaving you flip-flopping between boss and buddy which ultimately breaks down the relationship.
It’s not that you can’t care for your employees or be friendly and kind. Maintaining a professional relationship helps you do this far better and can help you bond together far more effectively than doing shots at the bar. Celebrate wins and tackle challenges together as colleagues, with mutual respect and honesty, rather than try to be friends.
With deep thought and consistent effort, you can implement procedures, practices, and behaviors that will help your employees succeed. You can have the best people in the world on your team, but if you don’t do the work to support them, they’re not being put in a position to succeed.
The buck ultimately both starts and stops with you. When you understand and embrace that you are ultimately responsible for your employees’ success, great things will be in store for all.
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