For business owners: what are the biggest mistakes you made when starting your business (particularly in leading your employees)?
I'm building my team right now, and I want to be an effective leader. Any advice/past experiences that have helped you become a strong leader? Thanks!
The biggest mistake I made was not getting their in put on certain project (or listening to them). If you trust your hiring an you feel like you made a good decision with those hires, then trust their opinion and ask for their input. I know we want to think we know it all but we don't . Sam Walton made it his business to ask employees what they thought about the business and what could they improve on as a company.
They are normally on the front lines and they hear and see what the customers wants.
There is a fine balance between being supportive and empathetic, and being friends. Don't try and change someone whose inherent style and demeanor is not compatible with their position. Learn to work cooperatively on results and let them formulate solutions to performance challenges. ask questions and invite them to determine solutions. Often poor perfomers will determine they need to pursue a new direction and make your job as a manager easier.
Keeping a professional, and ‘distant’ relationship (mentioned several times here) should certainly be in the forefront of any owner’s mind.
When you emphasis “particularly in leading your employees?”, the biggest mistake I think owners make centers on not leading by example. The most successful owner’s I’ve worked for were willing to do any job needed in crunch time. Another way of saying it is: Don’t ask an employee do something you’re not willing to do yourself.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve run a small firm; you have to get your hands dirty. If your employees happen to see it… so much the better.
Understanding the difference between what motivates people and what makes them merely content with your workplace. Most people think money motivates - in the long run it does not. The primary motivator for people is the feeling of having their efforts appreciated as opposed to being viewed as a cog in the wheel of someone else's money machine.
The five mistakes: 1-Not planning. 2-Using people poorly as sellers and brokers. 3-thinking poorlyand not understanding that the owner can promote to himself 4 - asking long or short time and losing a chance. 5 - selling your business to the wrong customer.
Believing that your employees are motivated just like you.
People are not all motivated the same way. The key is asking the specific questions about what motivates them? Make notes and then give them projects and tasks that will motivate them to be highly successful.
All the best,
1) Not being careful enough with bringing people on board who can be trusted and not acting faster when initial problems were detected.
2) Not contractually documenting goals, expectations and rewards for goals attained (contractual documentation safeguards against later misunderstanding from casual/verbal agreements).
3) Not staying focused on the key area of value your business aims to bring (it's ok to say 'no' to save business from becoming spread too thin).
Hello Zack, good question! Many of the big mistakes I made were covered in the book "Leadership Agility" http://ow.ly/xG6tR Of the other items not covered below, I recommend starting a monthly meeting with other business owners. Their support and experience will be extremely valuable, especially when you need to speak confidentially about employees or business. Finally, don't be afraid to spend the money on coaching, and team building. An outside perspective is extremely valuable and your employees will recognize that you care about them.
So, not to be negative, but it's critical to be able to fire people. Often new businesses will bring in people they know and think they can trust, caught up in the optimism of early growth. But sometimes the personal relationship gets in the way of the business imperatives and the business leader has a hard time doing what's necessary if things don't work out. Be sure you really understand who you're hiring and what your expectations are. At the end of the day, it's a business, and decisions have to be made that support the business, even potentially at the expense of some individuals.
The first business I started was a huge success because of the right reasons. I stayed within my role as President & CEO and relied on everyone else to manage their roles with autonomy. It was a huge success. Later on, with another business I started I got in the way - ego, wanted things done my way, thinking I knew more about "how" they should perform, etc. A bust. Luckily for me those were early in my career and I reverted back to staying within my role. Lead your employees by spelling out their goals, giving them the responsibility and autonomy to do it their way, and holding them accountable for achieving the goals. Weekly 90 minute meetings with your management team to address the ever present issues and obstacles to goal achievement and helping them resolve those issues helps them become better managers, achieve their goals, and moves the company forward in a positive direction. Be good at what you do and allow others to do the same
know exactly what you want to achieve.
Know honestly which skills you have
Know which skills you need to have in house to achieve your goal
Know which skills you need to get from ourside (oursource)
And then ask your friends for recomendations, but also use social media, and other advert sessions...
Engage the potential team members in a story/conversation, about what you want, and see how they respond...are they passionate? are they innovative? do they see your vision? remember, easier and better to bring something from inside people, than put something inside them...!!!
Employee's want to feel empowered, some autonomy and the training to be able to do their job very well. This leads to job satisfaction and the desire to work hard. Empathy is essential always be able to put yourself in their shoes and keep your ears open.
I look for managers who have a glass half full mentality otherwise they feel more like they are pulling you down than up. Build on employee's strengths and know that everyone is different so to round out your team you will need complimentary people.
Hire slow, fire fast.
My error was keeping people on for too long, even when I saw they weren't doing what I wanted done.
Take your time selecting excellent people--not just for skills and experience, but also for personal qualities, such as being a strong team player.
Then, when you see that someone is not working out, let them go right away. Don't hold on to them hoping they will improve, or because you hate firing people.
This means that you "hire at will" and don't give employment contracts. Don't give away pieces of equity to employees you may have to let go.
Two more things:
-- Don't create impossible job descriptions. "I want somebody who can watch the books and also be good with the customers." Hire two people, bookkeeper and customer service rep, even if part-time.
-- Don't confuse "marketing" with "selling." Many small companies hire an experienced marketing rep, then wonder why they never sell anything. "Our website and newsletter and social media are great, but he's terrible at going out and talking with prospects." "Selling" means activity that brings money in the door.
Having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurial founders my experience is that the biggest mistake in starting their businesses is the lack of a well thought out and written business plan. If you haven't developed a business plan then you can't share the plan with prospective employees and management team members. Any well done business plan contains an organization chart describing who is needed to do what, and how their contribution will make the plan happen. Entrepreneurs are typically loners, not leaders. Leadership has to be learned for most, and again without a plan that clearly outlines their vision and mission - it's hard for them or their team to "walk the talk". Good leaders motivate their team to want to make the plan happen, but if you don't have a plan the question becomes - "what are we trying to do around here"?
The biggest mistake you will make will be failing to coach, counsel, direct and hold each employee accountable. You tend to provide a lot of leeway when you start your business because there is so much to focus on. You want to be sure once the engine starts it keeps going so you fail to pay attention to the small things. Catch them before it turns into smoke and never ever let the issues turn into a fire. Don't be afraid to let people go once you realize the dynamics are not there to make it work after you've done all you can to redirect, refocus and realign an employee with your companies goals and strategic plan.
I want to echo what others have said and emphasize to "clone' yourself as quickly as possible. I waited too late to get started on this because I had a little trouble letting go of the control. So, start grooming your replacement right away.
Also, realize or expect to have to keep replacing folks. I think the days of expecting a person to stay working with you for years is unrealistic. I used to get so frustrated and disappointed when a person would choose to leave or it wasn't a fit and I had invested hours of training into them. Not that it happens a lot (cause if it does you have bigger problems) but to not take it personally. It is a natural ebb and flow of the business. Don't expect that this "one" person or these 15 people are going to stay with you forever. You want to invest your time and effort into their training and connect with them but don't be surprised when they move on. Cause it will happen.
In a nutshell:
Provide your employees the resources they need.
Listen to them and help them with what they need (don't micromanage them ask them what they need from you)
Give employees a chance to lead and recognize their accomplishments.
Delegate effectively with clear guidance mutually understood by both parties.
From my book, "The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America", I took my 25 years of management experience and added in feedback soliciting ideas from the 50 best places to work in America. This may be of interest to you.
I would tell you to be very clear with your team on what you expect in production from them and not to deviate from your goals that you want to achieve as a business. Giving each employee a sense of ownership in what they do towards the success of the business is important too. You have hired them for a specific role, and you should want them to feel and understand how important their role is to you and the overall success of your business. Teamwork! :)
Hire a good accountant from the get-go!
Following free advice can really come back to bite you in the butt, costing thousands of dollars.