Some theories about running a small business (or even a large one) are worth implementing and others should be ignored at all costs. In fact, the best strategy might be to try going against the grain. I’d like to talk about a few of those (good & bad) in this column, beginning with a basic foundation of human resources: filling a new position.[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen you have a position to be filled, searching elsewhere for the right person should be your last resort. If it is at all possible, promote from within.
Consider the ramifications—by evaluating your internal staff, you give hope to your current employees. By improving their performance, those candidates will work harder. Morale is also elevated for those staff members who are looking to the future for increase responsibility and recognition for their own efforts.
If you assign new duties to a current staff member, delegate but do not abdicate. Turning over some responsibilities to trusted employees could actually lead to new improved methods of operation, as long as you are available to consider such proposals. Then everyone benefits.
By choosing to bring in someone from outside the company, internal staff members may also be forced to assist that individual, creating more work for them. And if the new staff member does not blend in, there are other ramifications that could affect the operation of your business. Employees who were not given serious consideration may begin looking for a position elsewhere.
If it turns out that you must go outside your organization to fill the position in question, choose wisely.
To make the most of the situation, you can offer the new employee a compensation package with a hidden incentive. Let them tell you what they want in compensation for the work they will be doing, if you can afford that figure. No probation periods or other stalling tactics. By telling that individual you will pay him or her the salary suited to their talents and needs, that person will do everything possible to justify your support of their compensation, as well as their ideas.
If your business merits a performance appraisal system, such evaluations can often be a source of conflict. Many valued employees actually dread them.
Here’s a suggested solution. Discuss the rating with the employee after you have given him or her a blank version of the form for their own evaluation. The employees often give themselves lower ratings than you had in mind. After reviewing the staff member’s evaluation, complete the form with your viewpoint. Then the final session should lead to an equitable compromise.
It can also be beneficial to select an independent advisory board to review your business operation. Those individuals may offer suggestions from their own experience. Such sessions should be held on a regular schedule, preferably after the work day ends or before it begins. That limits interruptions. The most effective one I encountered had only five members. They were rewarded with a free breakfast before or during morning discussions and a classy diner each quarter. Sessions were scheduled twice a month by the business owner with an agenda he prepared, plus open discussions on any problem he was facing.
Praise in Public. Criticize in Private.
I learned a great deal early in my career from a supervisor who was basically a tyrant. He screamed his criticism at employees in front of all the other staff members. Newer employees or sensitive staffers were especially vulnerable. And such “victims” often took other positions.
The lesson learned? Discuss key issues behind closed doors, so the employee is not humiliated. When praise is merited, make such announcements in front of all employees and post such notices of commendation on the bulletin board or in the company newsletter. The ultimate goal is continued or improved performance.
What Sets You Apart…
Small business owners often get so absorbed in the day-to-day operations that they have little time to look at the big picture. But that could be vital to future growth of the company. For example, it would be beneficial to arrange a meeting with key customers to see if you are providing services that help them reach their objectives.
That maneuver could be handled by asking key questions…How are we doing? Do you have plans for expansion where we can help?
In terms of self-preservation, what is the status of your competition? Is there a new kid on the block? For example, recently in Asheville, Harris Teeter was forced to drop prices after facing Trader Joe’s across the street, plus a new Publix, Whole Foods, and others in or near Asheville. And Ingles just announced a huge revenue base compared to the previous year.
Are you positioned for future growth in your own market? Are you seeking suggestions from your own employees? You might be surprised or amazed at what they have in mind for your mutual benefit. When vital decisions have to be made, it is wise to ask your key executives for their candid insights. Before making a final decision, ask them: “What do you think?”
Regardless of the outcome, they will be grateful that you asked.
There is a simple gesture that can add substantially to your image with customers or clients: send them birthday cards. It requires only a staff member with a calendar to make the initial contacts. As a vintage business owner once said to me, “aside from family members, only Aunt Mary remembers my birthday.”
If your business depends on frequent contact with clientele, phone messages can be vital. The chairman of a successful employment company based in this region recognized that voice mail endorsed by the phone company was both a blessing and a curse.
Yes, voice mail does offer some advantages. But it also was costing his company business when callers were bounced around without reaching the right party.
He promptly chose a friendly staff member to handle incoming calls personally. She was given a new title: Director of First Impressions. She was very cordial and directed callers to the right person. Compliments soon flowed from satisfied customers.
Chuck has experience in PR with major companies including J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett Company, & Miller Brewing Co. He authored an executives’ guidebook on press relations that was distributed by Harvard University’s Business School.