Communication is crucial to effective leadership. With all professional relationships, one must clearly convey and maintain company guidelines and standards.
Your business reflects your ethos, which explains why it is critical to communicate company culture and goals clearly to new employees, new clients, and new suppliers. A leader lays the ground rules, describes operations, distributes priorities, and defines the values of the business. I focus a tremendous amount of energy into verbal and non-verbal communication. Asking questions, activating curiosity, and engaging as an active listener assists me in assessing clearly if an interviewee is a match, or if a supplier and client will connect and provide for my needs.
I see applicants as potential consultants, asking myself, “will this person provide the services he promises?” I notice their body language and verbal reactions to my questions, especially eye contact, which communicates confidence and honesty, or lack thereof. I learned to pay attention to a “feeling” of unsettledness. I pursue questioning until I understand the answer. If there continues to be an “unsettledness,” I listen to my inner spirit and may choose not to hire that person. I select people whom I believe will be assets to my business and examine their character. I observe the chemistry between the two of us and other staff members. Is there a willingness to take initiative and complete tasks efficiently and correctly?
My company publishes and prints on precise schedules, and if we make a single mistake on a client’s order, the entire print run is a waste. These conditions set the parameters for my employee training protocol. A four-month probation period is mandatory, and orientation explains my expectations and ground rules. A tool called “Company Protocol” becomes the bible. New hires create a protocol document, under my guidance, listing all the specific training and information they will need to identify, understand, and remember specific to their job descriptions. A new task, or updated company policy, is documented, discussed, and implemented. The independence level and skill acuity increases and those individuals who exhibit their character and value become long-time employees.
Earlier in my business, I leaned toward hiring people who I believed needed rescuing and a second chance in life. However, I neglected to think about the consequences and potential damage to my company if the candidate turned out to be an apathetic worker. I would wait too long to terminate that employee, and it hurt my business.
After experiencing seven years of intense adversity, I went through some soul searching. As a result, I became wiser in handling ineffective, unfit employees. In my book, I detailed the occurrence where some of my former employees slandered my name. Upon reflection, I realized I had not handled their termination correctly. Subsequently, I delineate a more gracious method here.
First, own the responsibility for hiring the wrong person. Second, give the employee an opportunity to correct their behavior. When a worker does not perform adequately, the issue relates to skill and aptitude more than a character problem. Meet with the worker twice to discuss the problem and provide help. At the end of the second meeting, if the person has not shown improvement, it is time to terminate. These probation opportunities create a hopeful work atmosphere and a preparation for either outcome: work or termination. When the third meeting occurs, there will be termination with “grace,” and I offer encouragement and support. I keep in mind an employee may be fragile at the time of termination, emotionally and psychologically, and needs to be handled with care and strategy. The opportunity for further conversation and mentoring remains solidly available. A person may not match or work well for my company but will excel in another type of working environment. One exception to the three-meeting rule, causing immediate termination, is when the safety and wellbeing of myself or other employees is at stake. For example, I had a warehouse worker who used inappropriate language and threatened me directly. I immediately terminated his employment.
Relationships with your staff are a delicate balance of caring for your workers and their personal lives and being responsible for the success of your company. I urge you to set boundaries and not mix professional and personal ties. If you act like a “best friend” with your staff, you will make unwise business decisions damaging to your company’s welfare. For this reason, I generally choose not to mix business with friendships. When friends approach me about their printing project with my company, I will review their work and offer advice, then recommend them to work with another supplier to preserve our relationship.
As the leader, you create space and energy for clear, open dialogue within your team. Every human being deserves respect and to be treated with dignity, and I operate my company with this standard regardless of their status in the company. As leaders, we need to actively listen to, understand, and help staff prosper in professional skill and personal development. Small things matter! Interact with each worker a few moments each day, give advice, express gratitude for their work, point out the strengths you see and areas for improvement. Recognize each employee’s contribution, award certificates, and provide volunteer opportunities as a team in community projects. Along with managing staff, we manage the business and must keep in mind what is realistic and logical. Legally, we need to constantly assess what is appropriate to avoid any potential discrimination allegations because of unequal treatment. Grow loyal, responsible team members alongside the business. Recently, I prepared the Stepping Stone Project for my workers to pursue growth opportunities within the company which further their career goals. Whether they remain in my employment or not, my workers build marketable skills for the future.
A few more tips: Create a physical manual which explains your vision and goals, states expectations for employees, and sets the rules of operations. This will evolve as your business changes. Read business books, blogs, and journals, listen to business podcasts, and attend conferences. Apply knowledge and wisdom from other leaders to produce a successful ethos of growth and development.
Sarah Y. Tse is founder and CEO of United Yearbook Company and co-founder and CEO of TSE Worldwide Press. Her new book is 7 YEARS ON THE FRONT LINE: True Stories And Tough Lessons About A Small Business That You Won’t Learn In A Classroom (CLICK HERE to get your copy). For more information, please visit www.sarahytse.com
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