Communication is key
Just like in your personal life, how you communicate in your business will impact your relationships with every employee and customer. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, lost business, conflicts and other issues in your workplace. Likewise, clear, open communication can help you attract workers, inspire your employees to do their best, build a positive reputation among customers and stop conflicts before they start. When it comes to communication, these tips will get you off to a strong start:
- Explain policies, payroll, salaries and expectations clearly
Make sure employees have a positive experience with you from the very first conversation. Be clear about what’s expected of each employee in his or her specific role, your workplace policies and your goals for the business. When employees know where they stand, they feel more comfortable and are more likely to succeed at work.
- Treat vendors, employees and customers with respect
As the owner of the business, you’re likely to come into contact with a wide range of personalities, some of which you’ll probably find easier to work with than others. When you dedicate yourself to maintaining a positive, respectful tone in every conversation, you’ll find that others will follow your example. Relying on empathy, or your ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, is an important step toward creating a work environment where everyone feels respected, valued and understood. Treating everyone with the same level of respect, no matter their position, will also set a good example for your employees.
- Hold regular check-ins and/or reviews
No matter how small your business, setting aside time to check in with employees on a regular basis will allow you to keep communication open and get to the bottom of potential issues before they start. Some topics to cover during these meetings may include: challenges the employee is facing, goals he or she would like to meet, whether workload is manageable, if there is anything you can do better as the employee’s manager and any additional support the employee may need to succeed. During these check-ins, and any communications with employees, work to create an environment where everyone feels safe acknowledging mistakes. When this is the case, it’s easier for all members of the team — including you as the leader — to address missteps when they happen, minimize any damage and figure out a plan to help ensure they don’t happen again.
For a team of more than two, consider brief, weekly all-staff meetings. Set a structure or agenda for these meetings, with an opportunity for every participant to bring up questions or issues. Just make sure not to let meetings get sidetracked or go beyond the time you’ve planned. If there are still ongoing items to discuss when the time is up, consider adding them to the agenda for next week’s meeting. If you have just one employee, consider a monthly lunch or “check-in” to ask how they are doing at work and how you can support them best.
- Recognize employees’ improvements and contributions
Every worker, no matter their background, role or level of experience, wants and deserves to be recognized for what they do well. This may mean a quick verbal thank you for going above and beyond with a customer, or a quick note acknowledging the employee’s strengths. Another option is to have a special box where anyone in your business can submit notes thanking or acknowledging others. You can post the notes on a board or read them off at a group meeting. For a staff of more than four, consider recognizing an “employee of the month” with a certificate or a small gift.
- Maintain an open-door policy
Being a good listener is one of the best ways to ensure great business communications. Start by making it clear to employees that you’re available to discuss questions or issues. During these conversations, limit distractions by silencing your phone. Be responsive about issues brought to your attention, confirming what you’ve heard, taking notes on the conversation and setting follow-up steps to show you’re taking the matter seriously.
- Handle challenges with grace
No matter how well you communicate, conflicts may be unavoidable. Facing them head-on is always a more effective approach than avoiding them. Sit down with the person or people involved, ask each person for his or her input about the issue and voice your understanding. Repeat back what they’ve told you, brainstorm solutions to the problem, decide on next steps for a resolution, make a written note about the discussion and follow up to make sure it was resolved. As the leader of the business, this sets an important example for others. Note that serious conflicts related to discrimination will require a very specific response, particularly depending on how many employees you have. Get familiar with which federal anti-discrimination and harassment laws may apply to your business. Be sure to also make yourself familiar with the anti-discrimination and harassment laws for your state, county and city by contacting your local department of labor or consulting with an attorney.
Have a plan
Businesses and employees perform better when they have a specific plan of action. Your plan is your vision for the company broken down into clear, achievable steps or milestones, each with a timeline. Make sure all of your employees are aware of the plan and know their role in bringing it to life. Check in regularly, via your staff meeting or a weekly status email, to discuss how well you as a group are moving toward your goal. You can also follow our step-by-step guide to Creating a Business Plan.
Planning also means taking a thoughtful approach to your time, by day and by week. Consider making a to-do list for the next day before you leave work each day. This simple act can help you ensure high-priority tasks are handled first and that important tasks don’t fall off the list.
Create a collaborative workplace
A strong company takes advantage of the unique strengths of each member of the team. Companies where employees collaborate, or work together, on ideas, products, marketing efforts and more tend to be more efficient and more powerful because they tap into the strengths of the group, not just its leader. The goal is for every employee to feel like he or she has an important role to play in the business’s success and its growth. Delegation, or the act of assigning specific tasks to others to complete, is another important way to ensure a collaborative and efficient business. By dividing and conquering business tasks, you help your employees feel like a more important part of the business and you free yourself up to focus on leadership tasks that you may be best qualified to take on, like planning and sales.
Another important aspect of creating a collaborative work environment is to request regular feedback from your staff about your performance as a leader. This could be through a questionnaire passed out twice a year, a box where employees can leave notes of suggestion or appreciation or through discussions or check-ins. Ask about the aspects of your leadership employees most appreciate and whether there is anything you can do better. Although it can be difficult to hear feedback like this about yourself, it will help you continually improve and it will show your staff that you are dedicated to being a strong and thoughtful leader.
Realize that mistakes are part of the process
Mistakes can feel like a failure, whether it is you who has made the error or an employee. Yet they happen in every business, and they can be an important way for you and your team to learn and improve. Whether an employee lost an order, a customer received the wrong product or you could have handled a work conversation with more grace, mistakes are par for the course. What matters is how you, and your staff, address them. If a problem occurs, the first step is to acknowledge what happened. Ask everyone involved how the mistake occurred and what they think would be the best way to resolve the problem. Remember that everyone makes errors sometimes, and taking an understanding stance rather than a blaming one will help you build trust with employees and solve the issue more effectively. If it’s a lost or incorrect order, acknowledge the mistake, send the correct one immediately and consider offering a discount card or free gift to show good will. Then figure out what you’ll change to ensure that whatever caused the mistake — whether it was a faulty process or miscommunication — is unlikely to happen again.
Lead by example
How you dress, approach the workday, treat others and feel about your product or service will influence how employees and customers see your business too. Motivating others to do good work is rarely about requiring or demanding them to; it’s about setting up a workplace where hard work and a professional attitude are an important part of the business’s culture, meaning the kind of workplace it is.
As the leader of a growing business, you are likely to make mistakes no matter how carefully you plan. Yet your success relies on your ability to have a clear objective, take action and inspire your team, even if you make missteps and have to adjust your approach over time. Make sure you communicate these decisions to your employees and be prepared to explain why you’re taking the actions you are. Strong leaders aren’t afraid to make tough calls, whether it’s ending a product line that isn’t performing well, switching to a vendor that’s a better fit for your business or buying a new piece of equipment that will help your business grow.
Calling on experts who have found success is a great way to make decisions about, and grow, your business. For this reason, having mentors in or outside of your industry who you can speak to about challenges, ideas and more can be valuable. Mentors are likely to be people who have found success in their industry, who have time to meet with you and who’d like to help. To find a mentor, consider friends or family who may be a good fit, get to know other business owners through community and industry events and even check out mentor matching services online. The perfect mentor may be someone in your community or just a phone call or email away.
For some small business owners, building a volunteer-based board of directors is another way to get ideas and insights about the business. This board of directors is a group of experts you can rely on for support, input and advice.
Fine tune your leadership skills
Behind every great leader is a will to be great. Whether or not leadership comes naturally to you, you can continue to improve by setting personal leadership goals and tracking how well you meet them over time. You can also attend online and community classes to pick up new leadership skills. In addition, many leaders ask for input about their performance from other business owners or from employees. Asking others how you’re doing can be an important opportunity to identify areas of strength and improvement, and create more open lines of communication.
You may have stepped into your business assuming you would lead the company on your own forever, only to realize you must build a team of employees in order to complete the work that must be done. Whether or not you imagined this as your role, being a leader is a wonderful chance to learn about others, get to know your own strengths, pick up important communication skills that will serve you in all walks of life and help your business become more collaborative, positive and successful than you ever thought possible.