People are a pain!

Speaking to small business owners about the pain of scaling up their businesses recently, one of the most common issues for them all was their people. Understanding, or coping, with the changes that employing people brings to their business.

So I thought I would share my thoughts, based on my personal experiences and those of my clients who, like myself, have been through many of these challenges.

When you first start to employ people, maybe just one or two other people it is relatively simple, you have a clear role for them and a very defined need.  They are employed to fulfil a specific task for you like a bookkeeper or an admin assistant. They are there to allow you to focus on growing the business and doing what you are good at. To you, they are part of the team and you rely on them, you value their loyalty but you know that at some point you may have to replace them. So you keep their role defined enough that they can be replaced with as little pain as possible.

As a small business owner, losing people that work for you can be tough. No matter how hard you try, you take it personally. And you don’t need me to tell you that you shouldn’t! But it is hard, your business is you and anyone leaving that or not feeling the same passion for the business as you do hurts! For a multitude of reasons, very few of them pleasant, you have to terminate the relationship with them but, if you have done your job well, it will not come as a surprise or shock to them or you.

The best advice I can give you is “know your people”, spend time understanding them and what makes them tick. This will not only help you be a better boss but it will also help you to see any warning signs. Showing an interest in them and their lives will open up conversations about what is going on outside of work and more often than not that is where the drive for a change will come from. 

But what about when you’ve been through that stage and you are looking to build an empire? Now you need to employ more people, people who are going to be representing your brand, taking the company forward, building the future.

You are excited and looking forward to finding like-minded people who can join you on your journey. Often there is a tendency to employ people just like you, or that you think are just like you – but remember they will want to excel in their own right, and not be overshadowed by your achievements. You will need to trust them to deliver for you and that means a little bit of letting go! You’ll be amazed at the results if you do this right.

This is a critical time in your growth and it is only fair to say that there will probably be some pain and heartache that goes along with the growth and excitement. You work closely with them, they are trained as you want them and hopefully, they also bring something extra to the mix that your business needs. You hired them because you saw something in them that you needed or wanted for the business and more than anything you want them to succeed. But things don’t always go to plan and either they become frustrated with you or you become frustrated with them.

So how do you avoid the pain or at the very least minimise the impact on you personally? It’s not easy but there are a few things you can do that might help minimise the impact or even avoid the situation altogether.

1. From the outset be clear on what you are expecting from them. The recruitment process should be rigorous to make sure that you employ people who genuinely want to work for you. To assist with the hiring process and to get under the skin of your candidates, create really strong interview questions that help you understand the motivations and values of each candidate.

2. Once employed, be clear on how they are doing, be constructive in your feedback but don’t hide from the difficult stuff. If you are not happy with their progress or behaviour YOU need to discuss it with them. Many of the biggest problems in employment come from managers or leaders not being clear and often failing to address the real problem.

3. Be consistent and transparent, never feel you can’t reward someone for fear of upsetting someone else. If you have been clear and transparent it will not build resentment. If you are worried about upsetting someone then you need to find better ways to have open conversations with them. So much in business is assumed – don’t let your management style be one of assumptions!

4. As stated above, KNOW your people, spend time getting to know what makes them tick and check in regularly. Also, know yourself – understand the impact you have and shadow you cast. Know your weaknesses and look to employ people who are strong in those areas. As you grow you might not be able to touch base with everyone so you need to make sure that the people who are supposed to be leading those areas of the business are doing it for you and are feeding back to you openly and honestly. Consider appointing someone you trust to look after the people and culture of the business.

5. As you grow, build a team around you who can support you and listen to you when you need to rant or rave. These people don’t have to be in your business but they do have to understand the challenges you are facing. Friends and family are great for this but often they may have a bias based on their relationship with you. Non-exec directors or other business owners could provide that sounding board or you could use a coach. It’s really a question of what works best for you, your budget, your business and where you are in the ‘business growth’ journey. Getting that external perspective can be so valuable, especially when you are most involved in the day to day managing of your business.

So it’s not all doom and gloom, but the sooner you recognise the symptoms the sooner you can make the changes. The earlier you think about these things and what the future of the company looks like from a people perspective the better prepared you will be and the better decisions you will make.

Mhairi Richardson
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Mhairi Richardson

Mhairi specialises in coaching teams to help them achieve more and improve their wellbeing. Her focus is on building trust within the team and a combination of coaching, mentoring and facilitation and she can tailor the program to the needs of your business. She enjoys working with newly formed teams, established team or teams who just feel they should be achieving more. Mhairi is also a coach with a strong SME background, a focus on the detail, a high level of emotional intelligence and a strong desire to develop talent and grow high performing teams.