An interview post: tips for managing your staff as a business owner

For most business owners, growing a team is essential for scaling their business. If we're being honest, I don't know much about how to grow a team and manage people, since I'm a one-woman shop. Lucky for you, the tips in this blog post are not from me. I sat down with one of the best managers I know, to get some information on how to best manage a team and be a leader - my dad. He has been has been in a some sort of managerial position at a few different companies over the last 27 years. 

Q: The first step in growing a team is hiring the right people to start with. What tips do you have for interviewing people for your team?

A: You have to keep an open mind when hiring people - not everything is black and white. There are definitely red flags to look out for, but let the applicants explain. The best questions are open-ended questions, so you can really hear from the applicants. Yes and no questions don't provide much insight. 

Q: What are red flags that you look for when hiring?

A: Why did they leave their last position? How long have they worked at their last few jobs? I actually prefer to hire people who are still employed, even if it's not a great situation at their current job. If they're unhappy, but still working, it shows they're willing to stick it out. 

Q: After you hire someone, training is the next step. How do you handle training your employees?

A: I make sure to familiarize the employee with where everything is at, reiterate what his job duties are, cover company policies and provide him with an employee handbook. For us, not everything is black and white. They might have their "main" job duties, but their job isn't black and white. They may have other duties/tasks during busy seasons. After initial training, we also do employee cross-training. 

Q: Why do you cross-train your employees?

A: Cross-training gives the employees a clear idea of how other areas operate. It also makes it possible for me to be gone, and they can keep the department running. We started cross-training with going one person at a time, but eventually I rotated everyone for longer periods of time. 

Cross-training also comes into play with training new employees. I like to try and handle the training of new employees, but if I'm gone or too busy to train, one of my employees can train them. We don't have a particular person under me that handles training, it's just whoever is available. Since everyone is cross-trained, everyone can train new employees. 

Q: Why did you rotate?

A: Well, you can cross-train and let the employees get a brief look at other areas in one day, but it's unlikely that they will retain everything. If you let your accounting person spend a few months doing work orders, rather than just a day or two, they'll be more likely to remember the information a year or two from now. Cross-training is a continual process.

Q: Did you get any push-back on the cross-training or rotating of jobs?

A: Yes, a little bit. Some people though it meant they weren't doing their job well enough. In some cases, it was the truth - but cross-training was an easy way to disguise it. But, for those who were doing their job fine, I just had to explain that it was helping the team as a whole. 

Q: What do you do when employees are resistant to any sort of change?

A: I hold a team meeting, to discuss the changes or the issues, and try to make it feel more like a group effort. I'll outline the steps we'll take, clarify why we need to make the changes, discuss the goals of making this change, the benefits of making the change, and what our timeline will be for the change (i.e. - we'll try it for a year, and if it doesn't work, we'll switch back). I also ask for input and ideas from the employees as well. Even though I'm a manager, I don't know everything. Allowing them to contribute also reinforces the team mentality. 

Right now, I'm trying to go paperless in our office. First, I have to see if it's possible, system-wise. If we can, I'll set up some basics steps - how we would operate and function with this new workflow. I'll bring the staff together, let them know I want to go paperless, the advantages of going paperless, and how I think we can achieve it. I let them know that I'll need their help figuring out if this really is possible and the best system.

If your business has a team, check out these tips for being a great leader!

Q: So, you let your employees contribute ideas – how do you handle that process?

A: I let them know if they have a different idea for something, let's sit down and talk about it. Just like I do with them, they have to tell me the benefits of their idea, and how we're going to do it. If they have an idea, but don't know how to implement it, we can sit there and brainstorm ideas. I've had employees come with ideas, some that work and some that I know won't work. If we've tried it and it didn't work, I just let them know we did try it and why it didn't work out. Sometimes that sparks another idea or a tweak to the process. If we can, we try it out.

Q: What do you do when your employees aren't performing well? 

A: I'll pull them into my office and ask, "How's work going?" and first see if they can first identify that things aren't going well on their own. Other times, I'll ask, "What's going on?" and try to see if something is happening at home to cause stress, or if there's something wrong at work. 

If it's work problems, I'll train them. Re-training is easier and quicker than letting them go and trying to hire someone else. If it's personal problems, I first always ask if there's anything I can do anything to help. I'll make recommendations of people they can talk to and that sort of thing. Maybe they need to leave an hour early for awhile, which I'll try to accommodate as best I can. 

Q: I know a lot of people have trouble with delegating and/or trusting their employees. What advice would you offer?

A: I'm also one of those people who struggle with wanting everything to be just right. It's hard to delegate. But, when you delegate to other people, even though you're not in charge of that part of the project, you are still in charge of the person.

I try to remind myself to let things go if they're not hurting anything. If you're selling chocolate chip cookies, and half of the cookie doesn't have any chocolate chips, no one is going to want to buy it and that's a problem. But, if you're just mad that the chocolate chips aren't in a perfectly arranged pattern, that's not going to affect sales. 

Q: How do you keep your employees accountable?

A: We have a daily team meeting, where we discuss everyone's agenda for the day, ask questions, etc. The employees actually pretty much hold the meeting themselves now, and I just step in as needed if things aren't getting done. Creating their own to-do lists helps them feel empowered, instead of just taking orders from a boss. When they come to me with questions, instead of just giving them answers, I try to ask them questions that will lead them to figure out the answer - this is another great way of training them. 

We also do a yearly review. We go over a checklist which covers punctuality, quality of work, quantity of work, efficiency, policies, communication, three accomplishments from the previous year and goals for the year ahead. (Get a free copy of this checklist right here!) 

Q: You seem to have a great relationship with your employees. Why do you put an emphasis on building those relationships and building up your employees?

A: As managers, we should always be striving to help our employees grow and improve. When the employees look good, it makes me look good. When my department and I look good, it makes the CEO look good. When he looks good, it makes the company look good. That, in turn, makes people want to come work for our company, which makes it easier to hire great people. 

Q: Looking back, what are some mistakes you've made as a boss?

A: Making changes too soon when you come into a new job. When I moved between branches at a previous job, I tried to change how we did things to be like the previous branch. What works for one branch in one city, isn't necessarily going to work for another. Also, when you make changes too soon, it tends to make employees feel like there were doing something wrong before - maybe they were, or maybe there's just a way to do it faster/better. If you're moving into a new manager position, I suggest waiting six months to make changes. This gives you time to learn the ropes, and helps gain the trust of the employees.

I don't micro-manage my employees, but I've seen others do it. I don't agree with micro-managing employees because then the employees lack the freedom to think and grow for themselves. To me, micro-managing your employees means you can't trust your employees. If you can't trust them, you need to let them go and get ones that you do trust. 

Q: If you could give your 25-year-old self business advice, what would you say?

A: Make work fun and enjoyable for your staff. This doesn't mean it has to be games and horse-playing all day, but make it so they enjoy coming to work. We spend more time with co-workers than our family, so that time should be enjoyable. Treat others like you want to be treated - including your employees. And most importantly, tell them you appreciate them, and be sincere about it. 

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