t its core, leadership is how you treat your employees (and customers), as well as how you solve problems. “Effective communication is important, but it’s just as important to be approachable,” says Patrick Ward, vice president of marketing at Rootstrap, an outcome-driven development agency that helps companies scale people, processes and products.
“Having your team be nervous to come to you for advice can be a detriment to both their growth and your shop. Poor managers often get blindsided with resignations and low productivity when they don't actively care about their team. The key? Holistically care about your team's financial, professional and emotional health.”
- Patrick Ward, vice president of marketing at Rootstrap
In today’s competitive business climate, it’s more important than ever to create a work environment that's hospitable and productive, so you can keep and develop good talent when you’ve got it. Here are 5 tips to help you do just that.
1. Lead By Example
When you run your own business, you’re constantly under the microscope. Your employees will compare notes on how you treat them, from everything to salary and schedule to disciplinary issues, like tardiness. The important thing to remember is that it’s best to lead by example. If you’re constantly late, or if you lose your temper regularly, then you’re not setting a good example if you expect your employees to act differently.
“Part of being a good example to your employees is actually listening to what they’re saying. Abig leadership fail is not listening or not asking employees for feedback and their input."
- Deanna Baumgardner, president at human resources outsourcing firm, Employers Advantage
If you really want to make your shop even more professional and a “happier” place to work, talk to your employees and accept their feedback, but don’t be defensive or take it personally. Review their criticisms and suggestions, so you can make positive changes. Baumgardener says an easy way to get feedback is a simple “Start, Stop, Continue” process.
“Ask your employee what your shop should ‘start’ doing, ‘stop’ doing and what should ‘continue. This helps highlight what your employees like, don’t like and any ideas they have to improve operations."
- Deanna Baumgardner, president at Employers Advantage
"One thing to keep in mind when you’re soliciting feedback from employees is to have a follow-up plan. Communicate the results of the feedback you’ve received and what the next steps are. If you solicit feedback from employees with no follow-up or plan of what will happen with the feedback, that will hinder your ability to get feedback from employees on an ongoing basis," she says.
2. Get Organized
Make sure your shop is well organized so it can run like clockwork each day, as you get orders out the door on time.
If your employees come in not knowing what to expect or how to handle a problem, they’re going to be anxious. But, if they can feel confident that everything is running smoothly, they’ll happily hit the ground running in their departments.
One way to get more organized is to prioritize everything. Check your progress on jobs each morning, so you know what needs to be adjusted to keep your orders on track (or get you back in line if you’ve fallen behind).
Hand-in-hand with getting organized is being transparent with your team. “Transparency is big in creating engagement and inspiration,” Baumgardner says. “In particular, focus on transparency in your shop’s financials and operations. It helps your people better understand your business overall and how what they do impacts the operation. Transparency also creates trust in your team and makes it a bit easier for people to understand when you make certain decisions that they may have not understood before because they didn’t have the complete data and information.”
3. Clearly Communicate Your Goals and Expectations
One of the biggest issues in any shop is communication. Don’t leave your employees in the dark about what’s happening and what they should be doing.
“It’s a good idea to keep the mission, vision, and core values in front of your team. Start your meetings by reviewing your shop’s vision. Recognize when an employee embodies one of your core values. If everyone’s in alignment on those three things, it makes the day-to-day operations much easier to lead.”
- Julie Bee, CEO and founder of Lead From Anywhere and BeeSmart Social Media.
Goals and job assignments need to be clearly posted and communicated to your employees. Your staff can’t meet these goals and expectations if they don’t know what they are.
One way to communicate this is with regular performance reviews and goals. Be honest with your employees about how they’re doing and whether they are exceeding your expectations or falling short. Create strong relationships with all your employees so you know what motivates them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for all.
4. Communicate Feedback Regularly and Hold Staff Accountable, But Don’t Micromanage
An owner or manager should be on the shop floor daily. Motivate your employees to try new things. Give them opportunities to grow in their profession and add new skills. Most importantly, thank your staff often and don’t take them for granted.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to take control as the boss. Employees who aren’t pulling their weight may have to be disciplined and even let go if necessary. However, that shouldn’t be all that you do at work. You’ll have fewer problems with slacking employees if you show they’re appreciated, and concern about what’s happening in their lives.
“The practices you can put in place range from the small, like a regular monthly meeting to talk about an employee's future, with no mention of day-to-day tasks – to the large, such as encouraging a remote employee to move countries when their location wasn't supporting their mental health,” Ward says. “But, all of them serve to make your employees happy, healthy and ultimately, more productive.” Ward also notes that micromanaging can be the kiss of death and send employees running for the door.
“Have faith that your team will get their tasks done, independent of tracking software or persistent check-ins. Not only does this practice fail to achieve the desired result, it also isn't scalable. To achieve huge growth as a manager, you need to scale beyond what you can directly manage."
- Patrick Ward, vice president of marketing at Rootstrap
"That means creating micro-cultures and environments where your employees can thrive, make autonomous decisions on the best way to achieve an outcome, and paint a vision for what the team should be aiming to accomplish within a certain timeframe," he says.
5. Grow Your Knowledge and Keep Looking at Your Business' Future
Expanding your business means increasing your knowledge base in that field. Reading books, attending seminars and gaining information on new printing techniques and technology are all ways to ensure you stay on top of the business.
A good shop is always looking to innovate and expand. If you don’t do this, you’ll find your business stagnating and becoming less competitive.
Continuing to learn through professional development allows you to anticipate changes around the corner for your business. If you can anticipate new problems or changes that will revolutionize your industry, you’re poised to become a leader in your niches.