Over the past 15 years, I have had the same conversation with business owners thousands of times.
“What frustrates you the most about your business today? “
“Well, [insert name here] didn’t finish his project on time, frustrated our best client, made a huge mistake, never listens ”, and so on.
Dealing with staff is the most difficult part of running a small business. They can be unpredictable, emotional, lazy, combative, dishonest, or worse. As a business owner what you really want are mini versions of yourself.
It’s hard to see why your team, who seemed so competent in their interviews, can’t behave exactly the way you would. You would never make all of these mistakes, and you would definitely care a lot more about exceeding the boss’s expectations.
No matter what you are told, getting the most out of your team will never be an easy task. However, you can increase your chances of success (and reduce the amount of stress they cause) by following these simple practices.
1. Be empathetic
Unless there are some serious advances in artificial intelligence, you won’t have a robotic version of yourself anytime soon. As a result, you will have to deal with people who are likely to be very different in many ways, including:
• Training and professional experience
• Communication styles
• Work ethic
• Motivation, etc.
Because of these differences, the best way to influence employee behavior is to do whatever it takes to put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine how they interpret your leadership approach.
In other words, learn to listen, not just talk. Think about how they will interpret your message instead of designing communication around how it sounds best to you.
Replace the thought “They will do what I ask if they want to be paid” with the question “How do I change to get the most out of my most valuable (and possibly most expensive) resource?” “
2. Start at the end
People come to work for a variety of reasons, and almost every employee has a similar goal in mind – they want more than they have today.
It can mean more money, promotion, better office, flexibility, diverse job skills, less time on the road, etc. Either way, your team wants growth one way or another.
The most effective way to improve the performance of your employees is to help them achieve that growth. Before trying another leadership trick (eg, foosball in the break room), understand each person’s “why”. Be clear about how they would like to see their careers grow.
Most executives believe they ticked that box by occasionally saying “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But this question usually leads to vague ramblings which reveal very little meaning.
My clients ask their employees to carefully consider the following points for discussion:
“Fast forward three years and imagine your career has gone perfectly. What do you do ? How much do you earn? And what do you learn? “
Give your team members a week to collect their ideas and encourage them to forward any comments or concerns if they are unsure how to respond. You’ll be amazed at how more productive your staff will be once they understand that you are committed to helping them achieve their career goals and not just focusing on just achieving your business goals.
3. Set clear expectations
Early in my career I worked for Arthur Andersen, one of the largest consulting firms in the world at the time. During my first annual review, I asked my manager what I needed to do to get promoted. His response was, “Don’t worry too much. I’ll know when you’re ready.
For the next six months, I floundered, never knowing if what I was doing was the right thing. Less than 18 months after starting my “dream job” I quit to try something new.
Every member of your team wants to do a good job, make you happy, and advance their career (or at least make more money). The problem is, despite the best of intentions, most leaders rarely set clear expectations and, as a result, their employees have no idea what is needed to earn a promotion or raise. This often leads to frustration, resentment, and the loss of some of your best people.
To maximize employee motivation, answer the following questions:
1. What is required of each employee to fulfill their current job responsibilities?
2. What improvements do they need to make to meet their three-year career goals?
These expectations should be clearly documented during an annual review. In addition, you should also review their progress on a regular basis (quarterly, weekly and even daily if necessary).
If you think your employees can read your mind, the simple answer is, they can’t. Discipline yourself to set clear expectations and you’ll be rewarded with productive employees who enjoy their jobs.
4. Practice responsibility
How many times in your career has a supervisor told you that you are not doing your job well and that you need to improve significantly?
When I ask this question to professionals, on average the answer I get is less than one.
Either I only associate with the most amazing professionals the world has ever seen, or, more than likely, this is a clear example of managers who don’t care enough about the development of their employees to hold them accountable.
Unless you have a perfect team (which you don’t have), you need to have uncomfortable conversations in order to improve yourself and achieve business goals. Everyone makes mistakes and has blind spots, and it’s our job as leaders to point them out and correct the behavior. To decrease discomfort, consider a few simple rules:
1. Be consistent. Do not choose the times when you are going to point out their flaws.
2. Remind your employees that this process is designed to help them improve both for the company and for their own professional development.
3. End the process by asking them how they think they can improve.
While it is never easy, building effective teams is the most essential part of running a successful business.