5 Secrets to Having the Best Employees
Just the word, Employee, will elevate stress levels in every business owner. Are they worth it? How do you find them? How do you keep them? How do you fire them? The anxiety, the worry, the disappointment, and the elation employees create is only matched by those same feelings those of us who are parents have had in our own children.
Truth Bomb: I was a horrible employee. I never realized that until I became a boss. The irony is that I thought I was a great employee and I thought that because I worked long hours, did work no one else could do, and I never turned down an assignment.
1. Do you need to hire help?
As entrepreneurs, we work so hard starting and running our businesses. At first we can do it all, from the work to the sales to the bookkeeping and all of the customer service. It’s the rare owner who recognizes how aspects of their business are suffering because they are stretched too thin. Usually that realization comes from family, friends, or customers.
This step is frightening, and you should think about it seriously. A lot of craftsmen and entrepreneurs find that not hiring is the best decision for them, and that’s perfectly fine. Maybe being self-employed is the goal and being exclusive is great. You get to make your own hours, fill the schedule the way you like, take on customers you prefer, and turn down any work that doesn’t interest you. Your expenses are low and your stress levels might be perfect. You will never hear me criticizing someone who makes the choice to be a self-employed solo operator.
But for many other reasons, maybe you want to grow and build a business or an empire. Maybe you don’t want to turn down work. Maybe you have financial and personal goals that can’t be met by keeping all your business to yourself.
2. What is the position you need to fill?
So many of us jump into hiring by finding unskilled helpers to do the menial tasks with an idea that we’ll train them to become expert craftsmen. I say us and we because that’s exactly what I did and only from the lens of hindsight do I see that this might not have been the best idea.
Here’s where making a list really helps. Write down everything you do in a typical week. Start with prepping and maintaining equipment. List the different services you offer. Put down all of your office work, including phones, emails, texts, bookkeeping, scheduling, and those reports you have to provide to state and federal agencies as well as the information you gather for your insurance company.
Take that list and draw several columns. In the first column give yourself a grade in each of the items on that list. Speak some truth to yourself. What are you good at and what are you not good at. In the next column give a score for what you want to do. What you’re most interested in. Is it the actual work in the field or in your shop (depending on what your craft is)? Is it sales? Do you love talking to customers and booking jobs? I mean you could be my opposite and just love bookkeeping and job tracking. Only you know this.
In another column, average those scores and surprise yourself. You’ve just identified your strengths and weaknesses. It’s quite possible your first priority is to hire or outsource your phone and email communication. It might be that you want to get a part time bookkeeper to straighten your finances out. Find out for yourself. If I had done this I’d have hired in a whole different direction from the start.
3. How to find the right person?
The secret here is to hire character first and ability second. You’re going to sort through applications and interview several people for each position you have. Everyone tries their hardest when they are looking for a job and you’ll develop a rapport with them as you talk. Ask them hypotheticals that put them into situations where they have to choose what to do? For example: “If you found out that I was buying personal items with the business credit card, what would you do?” “If you see your crew leader climbing an unsafe ladder how would you stop her?” I could probably go on for many more questions. Notice how long they think about the question and how careful they are with their response. Tell them about your background check and then ask them what you’re going to find. Check and see if their answer matches what is in the background results.
If you hire for integrity and character you’re going to get someone willing to grow into the job even if their technical skills aren’t the best of all applicants.
4. Keeping Your Team Happy
Make yourself clear. Your employees need to
know what is expected of them and they need that to be clear, consistent, and
predictable. If your standard of quality changes based on your mood, then a
crew member will have no idea where to aim. One day they could be praised and
the next criticized and they feel like they did the same thing both days. Mixed
messages are the quickest way to make your team unhappy.
In order to be clear, write your standards and expectations down. Then you can review what your standards are regularly and they can too.
Positive reinforcement whenever possible. Think about things that employees could be punished, scolded, or written up about, and then reverse it. For example, I give an attendance bonus for regular on-time attendance rather than complaining, cajoling, and writing up crewmembers for chronic lateness.
Listen. That’s one that took me quite a while to learn. When they have something to say, stop what you’re doing and give them your attention. Maybe they’re having a problem or maybe they have a great idea. No matter what it is, listen and think about it and make sure you follow up with them at an appropriate time - same day, in a week, or with continuing goals, maybe in a couple months.
5. Parting Ways
I want every single person who works with me to grow and improve. I want them to be better at their craft and at life and as a result they will often move on. I’ve had employees leave to follow their dreams for travel and I’ve had them go back to college or grad school. I’m proud of them all and them leaving wasn’t commentary on me. It was growth for them, and that’s awesome.
Sometimes I’ve had to fire people. It happens. I feel bad about it because that’s a failure on my part, not theirs. Maybe I wasn’t careful enough when hiring. Maybe I didn’t express expectations clearly enough. Maybe I didn’t listen well. Whatever it was, I am sure that I could have done better and I feel that by terminating the employment, I’m kind of a quitter. It has to be done, but please don’t like it or feel like it’s all their fault, because that’s never the case.
I hope these items help you make decisions about hiring.
Oh, and I’ll tell you why I was a horrible employee. Because I thought I knew everything already and I refused to learn from my bosses who had experience and knowledge that was worth more than a paycheck. I know that now and I regret it. Having to learn everything the hard way is a special kind of punishment reserved for guys like me isn’t it?
I’m here if you have questions.
- Rick Wren