If you spend too much of your time dealing with personnel problems, it’s probably your fault. Or maybe it’s that asshole you hired. Either way, it’s your problem. If you have a profitable business, you’re doing some things correctly, but do you know which ones they are? If we assume you have a good product, let’s consider an upgrade to how you view your staff.
Running a sustainable, profitable business is all about having processes in place that can be learned, repeated, and work well. The sweet spot has a set of processes that are easy to manage and light. Having a solid staff lightens up the requirements for rigid, unsustainable rules and excruciating training and retraining. A core business process is finding and exploiting employees. If you shook your head in approval, you won’t like the rest of this article. If you want your business to go fast and not always break down, don’t treat it poorly and fill it with low-grade fuel.
Finding good employees has always been tricky since we don’t spend much time with someone before hiring them, but clarifying what you’re looking for can help. I found that when I stopped focusing on skills and concentrated on interviewing for a few core attributes the quality and the attitude of the staff improved. Having a clear idea of what attributes, you value not only simplifies the interview process, but more importantly, it determines your organization’s culture. Having a consistent message and actions about your organization’s culture sends a clear message of high expectations. So, do you get high performance just from having high expectations? In a word, yes, but the transaction between you and your employee needs to be mutually beneficial. Once you’ve found them, what do you offer these high performers to stick around?
The package you have to offer should be appealing in some way to everyone. I highlight respect and learning because they are a key part of my argument. How people feel about their day is what brings them back. Respect is a pivotal part of that equation that can’t be understated. The best model for respect is empathizing with someone as if they were in their position. If you can also widen your view of job training so it leans to benefit the employee it becomes a benefit, but it is shared with the organization. I define learning as progress in someone’s skills and/or knowledge that fills them with confidence. Training for one’s job is the necessary foundation, but it doesn’t quench the need for personal progress after one becomes proficient. Continuing to improve the employee’s skills and knowledge broadly will result in unexpected benefits.
Many jobs have some downtime when things are slow, so if there is extra time it can be filled with learning a skill or researching a topic. Keep a list in hand and have them research a topic you’re interested in a report back to you on it. You don’t need a full report, just have a conversation when you can be engaged, even for as short as 5 minutes. Ultimately, have them propose topics of interest. Some ideas:
If you’re still on board, decide on a short list of core attributes that you value. I have a list of four that I have found to be valid. It comes from the belief that if you can find motivated and constructive people then can learn the job, be effective, and create value beyond their paycheck. For reference, if someone has all the traits listed for each attribute, they would be a star.
There are plenty of more attributes that you might want to substitute or add like customer service, communication skills, or specific skills that you must have on day one. Ask interview questions to reveal how they stack up in each of the areas. You should also do this immediately from memory with all your current employees and see which ones are lacking and why. Is it possible you haven’t been clear about what your expectations are? This list isn’t meant to be secret. If you share it with your team, they will understand what you expect. Adding context to why you do things always helps provide motivation.
Darren Verebelyi, PhD
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