Include Every Team Member in Setting Goals

Common company wide goals – we don’t have them. We’re all self-interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes it’s hard to understand each other’s pictures. Not sure if we’re lacking the patience or the perspective we need. When we do make goals, they seem loose, they don’t get transferred to the entire team, and we don’t take them seriously. There are no consequences to not meeting our goals.

Thoughts of the Day: Even if you don’t have written goals, you do have goals, you just don’t know it yet. As owners it’s important that you take hold and decide what you stand for. There are always consequences for your actions or inactions. Remember that there is strength in numbers, learn to help each other get ahead.

Every day, people get up, go to work, get things done, and then go home. Intentionally planned out, or simply drifting along, most people manage each day to get moving and accomplish some things. Conscious and unconscious activities are the outgrowth of conscious or unconscious goals – to get moving, to earn some money, to be in contact with other people, to get something done.

Thinking through long and short term goals, actions and consequences allows one to act pre-emptively to achieve what’s desired. Written goals, backed up by a list of action steps needed to achieve those goals, tends to increase the likelihood of the goals coming to be. Working consciously through goals and actions can also increase the chance that undesired consequences can be anticipated, and avoided or minimized.

Human behavior starts with thinking selfishly, what’s good for me. For some people it evolves to, “How can I accomplish what I need while also thinking about the needs and wants of others?” Expanding one’s horizon beyond self-interest allows for the possibility of taking in additional ideas and contributions from others.

No one person has all the answers. A group working to solve problems and learn from each other’s experiences tends to result in higher level outcomes than does a single person working alone. In the process of working out bugs, communicating about what needs to happen, and sharing individual know-how, a higher level of performance emerges based upon the group’s collective abilities.

It does take patience to listen as one member of the group, and then another, talks about how their experiences are relevant to the situation at hand. It may feel as though there isn’t enough time to wade through the clutter of multiple participants inputting what they consider to be important. In the process of trying to saving time, it’s easy to overlook the nuggets that each team member can add to a group project.

People in the organization look to the owners for leadership and guidance. Behaving without regard for your peers, ignoring the goals and motivations of other team members, shutting off discussion – are these really the things you want to be known for? Or would you rather be seen as a person who encourages the talent around you, as someone who helps people grow by fostering an environment of cooperation and collaboration while working towards the greater good?

Consider compromise to find the balance between what you want and accommodating the needs of other team members. Allow for the possibility that helping each other may lead to new insights and experiences that could never have emerged if you were working on your own.

Use the process of defining and setting specific, tangible goals to your advantage. Discussion, documentation and negotiation are all great toold to help you better understand where your teammates are coming from, and to educate them about what you consider to be important. Ask all team members to join in it will remind them that they are crucial to the growth of the company, and will make them committed to achieving the goals. Use breakdowns in communication and teamwork to your advantage, treat them as learning and strengthening opportunities. Refuse to walk away when things get tough. Hold your team members accountable for doing the same.

Looking for a good book? Good Luck, Creating the Conditions for Success in Life and in Business, by Alex Rovira and Fernando Trias de Bes.


Bring on Employees the Right Way

It takes a while for employees to get on solid footing with their new employer. There are people to meet, forms to fill out, rules to learn, culture to understand and fit into, as well as a job to master.

We have yet to define a good onboarding process. New employees tend to start and get thrown into the mix. I know that’s not right. How should we do things better, so we can get new employees started right.

Thoughts of the Day: It’s easier to onboard employees if you think of it as a process rather than an event. Divide up the work of onboarding. Build tools and checklists to help insure everything gets done. Use the onboarding process to assess the employee. Think of it as the difference between orienting someone to the company and starting a long term plan for success.

It takes a while for employees to get on solid footing with their new employer. There are people to meet, forms to fill out, rules to learn, culture to understand and fit into, as well as a job to master. There’s a rush of activity, from finding out where the desk is, to filling out legally required paperwork. Learning where things are kept, how things work, meeting peers, bosses and subordinates – don’t try to master it all the first week.

Some things are required by law. Some things are optional, but can cause a lot of problems if overlooked. Some things will contribute to long term retention. Have a plan to get through all of them, within a defined timeframe. Know who is responsible for getting the new employee through each piece.

Have a team of people involved on onboarding. One person is responsible for a tour of the facilities. Another goes over paperwork. Each department has someone who gives a tour appropriate to the level of the new employee. Someone talks about formal rules within the company. Another provides an orientation to the company culture. People in the department hiring the new employee should lay out a schedule for introductions and job training.

Make sure the legally required forms get filled out right away. Include non-compete and non-disclosure forms along with the w-2 and other government forms. Ask the new hire to initial a copy of the offer letter, and put that on file.

Make sure the company rules and protocols are clearly laid out. It’s unfair to be upset with an employee who breaks the rules, if no one has clearly explained what the rules are. What’s the company’s start time? Policy for taking sick days? Rules about who to call if you’re not going to be on time? Who to go to if your boss isn’t available? What to do if you think something needs to be escalated? Social media and computer use rules? This should mostly be covered in the employee manual. A crib sheet handout with essential information can also be helpful.

Talk with employees about the company overall. What’s the culture? What’s the history? What are the goals? New hires are easily overwhelmed with information. Boost retention by giving the new hire documents to refer to on their own time.

Consider giving a test periodically to assess how much information has been retained, and how much needs to be repeated. Keep track each day, each week, of how the new employee is doing mastering basics. Is the individual demonstrating the skills represented on the resume? How much on the job training will be required? Is the individual making connections with other people in the company? Is there a good fit?

Every jobholder needs a training plan. Start with the basics. Check in weekly. Should training go faster, or slower. Set goals for what to master within 1 -3 months. Make a list of outside training, mandatory and optional, and plan time off from the job to get that training.

Once you build an onboarding process, you can use it as a tool in recruiting new hires. You’re looking for people who want long term success with your company. Show them your company is serious about doing its part to make that happen.

In the interview process, make notes on what the candidate is looking for in terms of growth and development. Once hired, pull out those notes out and use them to craft the individualized portion of the onboarding process. Go from generalized introduction to the company to specific areas of interest, so that each employee gets an overview of what could be in store.

Looking for a good book? Successful Onboarding: Strategies to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization, by Mark Stein, Lilith Christiansen


Enlist a Team of Leaders to Avoid Micromanaging

Someone suggested recently that I spend too much time plugging holes and fixing problems. I thought it was my job as owner to ensure things run well. I realized that I’m not my staff’s backfill; they are my backfill. Can you help me get my head around this change?

Thoughts of the Day: A pyramid cannot stand on its point; it needs to stand on its base. Build your pyramid by building a group of strong, cross-supporting people under you. Expect people to help each other become leaders. Unleash results that come from people who willingly deal with difficulties and challenges. Take the weight off your shoulders by stepping back.

Think of your company as a total structure made up of individual blocks, built up from foundation to pinnacle. No one block could hold up the entire structure, but when set together in a common structure, interlocked, cross-supporting, they create one of the strongest structures on the planet — a pyramid.
Give people more opportunity to come up with answers, not less. Give them more room to crack open problems, inspect details and learn by making mistakes as they strive to develop winning solutions. Hold everyone, individually and as teams, accountable. If they come to you for answers, provide guidance but challenge them to develop their own solutions.

Your goal is to have a group of people who see themselves as colleagues serving a common mission, each leading in their own way while collaborating to achieve common results. Build a team of people who are ready to lead and able to back up each other. That gets you free from the drudgery of the day to day. That means more time for you to work on the strategic opportunities and long-term development of the business.

Develop leaders by treating all the people in your company as leaders. Foster leadership by giving people control over decision-making. Ask people to brainstorm together how to get the company where it needs to go. Put everyone in charge of protecting and nurturing the organization’s future. There should be no more looking to one person for a solution.

Make it clear to everyone that they are in it together. If they work as a group, collaborate and support each other, they will tackle more issues, identify more opportunities and come up with better overall solutions.
When team members back off of a problem or get stuck, have them reach out to each other rather than coming to you for the answers. Facilitate conversations, if necessary, by asking team members to gather. Instead of playing a director role in the conversation, sit back and watch how the dialogue unfolds. Ask pointed questions if you think the group may be missing something: “What about … ?” “What if you tried … ?”. Then back out and let the team work on solving the problems.

Do provide an overall framework: “We need to be on a mission this year to achieve a, b, c.” Then ask everyone to come together to create their plan, detailing the goals and actions they believe will lead to the accomplishment of that mission. Think of it as laying out a challenge, and let the group formulate how they think that challenge can best be met.

Encourage people in the company to form many teams, or mini pyramids, breaking down barriers to cooperation and collaboration, in order to accomplish the work ahead. People working across disciplines can often solve problems that people in silos can’t even begin to understand.

Looking for a good book? A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results, by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff.



Managing to Keep Key Employees

We have a couple of people who are really important to the business. We call them our key employees. It’s no joking matter – I worry about it all the time – if one of our key employees were to leave, or if something happened to them, we’d be screwed. How do I protect the business from something bad happening to these important individuals?

Thoughts of the Day: Key employees have probably earned the right to that designation over time. Keeping people engaged is essential to the well-being of the company. Protecting the business from unexpected events is part of any owner’s job. Know what your people want, where’ they’re going, and how your company fits into their overall plans. Make sure to build back-up solutions as part of a well-rounded contingency plan B.

Key employees are called that for a variety of reasons. Some have unique knowledge of the business. Others have special skills that are hard to replace. Some provide a level of support or planning that has taken a long time to figure out how to do it. Some could be very valuable to competitors.

When thinking about how to protect the company from the loss of a key employee, the first step is to insure you know who is considered to be key. There is host of reasons why people are considered essential. The list usually includes more than top executive. Think about who in your company might be seriously missed or difficult to replace if they left or couldn’t make it in for work.

Take time to reflect on each key individual. Is he fully engaged with the work he’s doing? Is she aware that the company values her contributions? Are plans in sync – yours for where you want to take the company, theirs for what they want to achieve. Do you even know what each key employee wants personally and professionally?

Many business owners, used to being in the position of command and control, make the mistake of assuming they should map out a future for each key employee. Actually, it’s a two way street, starting with a dialog about the future. Have an open and frank conversation with each key person – where do they want to be in 3-5 years, what does their life look like, what would cause them to say they were satisfied, want concerns do they have.

Listen carefully, without judgment. Try not to take control. Be open to the possibility that the person you’re talking to may want to go somewhere else for work sometime in the future.

Tune in to what motivates each individual, and what needs each has. Think about how you can use the resources of your company to help each key individual achieve what they want, as they help to get your company where you want it to go.
Be willing to think outside the box as to how you can help a key employee, but make sure it’s a fair trade.

Do they want to get additional education? Offer that, with the agreement that they’ll stick around for a period of time post-graduation, or reimburse part to the tuition if they leave sooner. Planning to have a family? Consider flexible work schedules. Many key employees work long hours and have concerns that they may not be able to spend quality time with their family. Get back-up so they can.

Consider ways to bond people to the company. Ask every key employee about why the company is important to them. It may be how your company treats its employees. It may be about the type of work or the clients served. It may be about the community they share. Look for common themes you can build on to create a culture to bond people together.

It may be possible to meet employees’ financial growth needs through profit sharing. Shares of stock may be valuable, but make sure to keep ownership internally focused by having a stock ownership agreement requires shares to be returned to the company when the employee leaves.

Make cross training a requirement for every key employee. It may take more than one employee to perform the functions of one key employee. Whatever it takes, make sure that someone can back-up every key employee up so that they can take a vacation, get sick, move on to learn something else, or even leave the company, and the company continues to function well.
Looking for a good book? Retaining Your Best Employees, by Patricia Pulliam Phillips and Jack J. Phillips.


Build a Talent Bank to Grow Your Company

There are 10 other companies using the same job advertising sources to look for the same kind of employees we want to hire. We know there’s a limited talent pool for certain positions. Without more people we don’t grow. How do we set ourselves apart as employers?

Thoughts of the Day: One of the big obstacles to growing small business is when companies can’t get the talent they need, when they need it. You need to understand why your current employees are your current employees, and not past employees. Use that insight to market the perks of working for your company to any future candidates. Get ahead of the low staffing problem by planning your talent needs for the next 3 years. Think outside the box as to who else might be interested.

As unemployment rates drop competition for labor will go up. For some positions, it will become more difficult to attract and retain the employees you want. At the same time, employees who’ve waited a long time to switch jobs may decide to go once they think there are more jobs available in the marketplace – thus your company may have even more positions to fill.

Ask your employees what they value about working for your company. Put out job ads that emphasize those things. Whether employees value being part of a team, having a place to work that’s fun, being able to learn and grow, or knowing that the compensation is fair, you want to advertise want what your company can provide. One of the best ways to attract ‘A’ players is to offer candidates an opportunity to join a top notch performance team. Make you ad different by talking about what makes your company special.

Get employees to think of themselves as ambassadors to the workforce at large. Employees may hang out with peers who could be interested in the same jobs that they like doing. Employees may be able to spot candidates you’ve overlooked. Employees who are committed to what they are doing can help to recruit more of the same.

Don’t leave recruiting to the last minute. Lay out company goals for the next 3 years. Estimate the number of replacements and new jobs that will need to be filled, assuming the company hits its goals. Build a resume bank of qualified talent for every level of the company.

When at trade shows ask around about who’s already good at the positions you’ll need to fill now and in the future. Be ready to talk up the company as a great employer. Of course advertise to pull in future talent.

Recruit internally and back fill at more entry level with new employees. Talk to existing employees about what they’d like to learn to do next. Tie salary growth to adding skills and responsibilities. Ask employees to get ready for promotion by finding and training their replacements.

When hiring, hire people with ambition and drive. Then give them opportunity to learn, prove what they can do and move up. Think about hiring as the way to grow talent with the habits and skills you want them to have.

Offer existing employees incentives to build back-up skills in areas where the company needs help. Don’t try to fill shortages of critical positions with temporary workers. Instead, ask people who already work for you to learn how to be the skilled back-ups. Then hire temporary workers to do less critical, more menial labor. Existing employees can get special duty pay and have the opportunity to try out a different job and prove themselves.

Expect increased turnover as the economy heats up. The severity of an economic downturn results in employees being unwilling to risk leaving a sure bet. As the economy recovers, more jobs open up. Good employees consider jumping ship for another opportunity, more confident that if it doesn’t work out they’ll be able to find something else. Build replacements into your hiring and training plan. And minimize losses by giving good employees plenty of opportunity to grow skills, responsibilities and compensation.

Looking for a good book? Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude, by Mark Murphy.