When you take a moment to list all of the functions involved in running a small company, it is easy to see how overwhelming entrepreneurship can be. Having to perform sales, marketing, accounting, purchasing and shipping (along with two dozen other daily tasks) requires set of skills many people simply don’t have . . . which is why most successful entrepreneurs hire highly qualified teams of creative go-getters to do these things for them.
Unfortunately, small company owners and managers are notoriously oblivious when it comes to the job satisfaction of their employees. In exchange for working horribly long hours to increase the owner’s net worth, employees are subjected a level of non-recognition and office politics that would make Kate Gosselin’s personal assistant turn in her resignation. And their managers often have no one to blame but themselves.
The fact is, as much as entrepreneurs enjoy being portrayed as rainmaking over-achievers, very few of them ever become successful by themselves. And in order to keep their companies growing over the long-term, successful ones not only understand what motivates their employees, but also what de-motivates them. If your small company employees have suddenly become unhappy, unproductive or dis-engaged, you are very likely making one or more of these management mistakes.
#1: You Don’t Let Them Have Any of the Credit
Because you spend years if not decades working alone to build your business, over time it becomes easy to visualize yourself as the person who makes absolutely everything happen. But the minute you begin to hire employees, a team is formed—and for the first time, credit for accomplishments needs to be divided multiple ways. If you are an entrepreneur or manager who struggles to step out of the spotlight (or hand out a “Thank You” once in awhile) look at it from the perspective of your employees: you already earn more money than they do. There is no need to take more of the credit as well.
#2: You Don’t Involve Them in Important Decisions
As mentioned above, the transition from Lone Wolf to Team Leader is one the biggest adjustments any entrepreneur or manager will make, and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of decision-making. Although making decisions on the fly probably allowed your company to grow large enough to actually hire people, continuing to run the company AROUND your employees—instead of WITH them—will eventually chase away any talented people you may have managed to attract. When employees don’t feel included in decisions, they will distance themselves not only from your initiatives, but from your company as a whole. If you’re going to hire smart, qualified and motivated people to take your company to the next level, you can’t be afraid to use them.
#3: You Hold Their Lack of Experience Against Them
No one is going to argue that during the 1980s, Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca made some good things happen at their respective companies (General Electric and Chrysler). But the fact is, the world has changed—and you no longer need to be 60 years old and possess 30 years of work experience to make a significant impact on the business world. Comments like “When I started this company 30 years ago” or “In my years of experience” might sound like conversation to you, but to your younger employees these statements are often interpreted as “I’m older, and I know more than you do.“ Think about this for a minute: when the entrepreneurs who developed Twitter, Facebook, EBay and Google first started working on their ideas, their combined ages were less than 100 years old.
#4: You Don’t Allow them to Challenge Your Ideas
After nearly 20 years of working for rapidly growing small companies, two of which were scooped up by Fortune 500 firms, I can say this with 100% certainty: companies managed by people who realize they don’t know everything ALWAYS outperform those managed by people who think they know it all. The fact is, great leaders don’t simply allow their employees to question them—they DEMAND to be questioned. Unfortunately, the first instinct of many small company owners is to react negatively toward employees who challenge them. Regardless of company size, the courage to stand in front of employees and say “Tell me why my idea won’t work” is something every manager should have, but very few do.
#5: You Add Friends and Relatives to the Payroll
Those of you who are regular readers of my column know this is a common theme with me, but I can’t say it enough: adding friends and relatives to your company—even at non-key positions—is the single-most damaging thing an owner or manager can do when it comes to their credibility with other employees. As I have mentioned dozens of times before, hiring friends and relatives can be a significant demotivator to existing employees who have spent years trying to earn your respect, a decent raise, or a spot on the management team. Friends and relatives are also a regular center of unresolved conflict at small companies (has any manager ever settled a conflict in favor of an employee over a relative?) as well as a long-term management nightmare. The lesson? Every degree of happiness you receive by helping out a relative comes at the expense of your employee base.
#6: You Have No Idea How Much Time They Spend Making You Money
We all understand that owning or managing a small company means long hours and short weekends. But you are rarely the only one making this type of time commitment. Unlike their counterparts in the Fortune 500—who show up for work at exactly 8am and check in at Happy Hour promptly at 5:15pm—employees at small companies often work 50, 60 and 70-hour weeks just to keep up. To this day, it surprises me how few small company managers actually take the time to thank, much less compensate, employees who are putting their personal lives on hold to make them wealthy.
#7: You Are Not Up Front With Your Long-Term Intentions
As a career small company executive who has never had an ownership stake outside of stock options, I have spent thousands of hours wondering—and worrying—about the long-term plans of the people I work for. Is he going to sell? Will she transfer power to an in-law? Are they going to retire and walk away? Understanding it is ultimately your investment, as a small company owner or manager you need to understand that the people who work for you have important long-term plans of their own; and being evasive about your future intentions breeds nothing but speculation, mis-interpretation, uncertainty, and a great deal of unnecessary stress among your most loyal employees.
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