Jane Applegate is the author of four books on small business success, including 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by Bloomberg/Wiley in all formats. She’s also the producer and host of Tech Essentials with Jane Applegate, an online talk show sponsored by Microsoft. Check it out at: www.myfirstserver.com, Applegate’s new website – www.theapplegatenetwork.com, – features video profiles, interviews and advice from national experts. Below is a recent post she shared with Cox Small Business Network.
During one of my first interviews as a young business reporter, a veteran executive remarked, “Being in business is great, except for the people.” I remember being a bit puzzled, but more than 20 years later, I realize how right he was.
Managing any sort of business – big or small – is tough, but most people admit their biggest challenge is dealing with customers, clients, vendors and employees. Since we can’t avoid dealing with people, whether it be in person, online or on the phone, here are some strategies that work well for me.
They are based on the thousands of interviews I’ve conducted with successful business owners, as well as my own experience as the founder of several small companies.
1. Never work with anyone who gives you a headache or a stomach ache. This is rule one in my book. Life is too short to work with toxic people. Busy entrepreneurs should not spend their time wrangling with negative customers or employees. You can replace all the problem people in your life with great people.
2. There are no bad people, just bad fits. If you have a problem employee, they are most likely not assigned to the right job. Sit down and discuss why they have a negative attitude. Are they overwhelmed by too many tasks? Do they need more training to do a better job? Consider job swapping or creating a new position if you want them to stick around. If not, give them the option to resign. Consider offering them severance or offer to pay for a semester’s tuition at a community college.
3. Honest communication solves most people problems. Asking people directly what is bothering them and then offering to do whatever you can to improve the situation, often defuses the anger. Just listen and let them vent. If you can figure out a way to solve the problem, do it quickly. If you can’t, tell them it’s not possible and suggest they move on.
4. Provide your employees with the best tools and technology is actually more appreciated than a modest raise, according to HR experts. Employees hate working on a clunky computer or a sluggish internet connection. Invest in new tools and technology and watch both morale and productivity soar.
5. If communication and counseling are not working, consult a local labor attorney about how to fire someone without being sued. Laws vary from state to state. In most cases, you have to document behavior and performance problems in writing and counsel employees about how to improve. Put problem employees on probation and set deadlines for improvement. Don’t be afraid to let someone go. There are millions of great people looking for work.
6. Cast a wide net when looking for new employees. First, ask your current team to recommend good candidates. They have a vested interest in bringing in good people because they have to work with them every day. Tell you vendors, suppliers and even competitors that you are looking for help. I’ve hired some great people that my competitors couldn’t hire. Be open-minded about hiring younger and older people. Although it’s against the law to discriminate based on age or ethnicity, many business owners subconsciously limit their hiring to people just like them. Back in the days when people wrote me letters to submit story ideas, my grandparents helped me sort and answer the mail.
7. Rely on gut instinct when hiring. In addition to checking references and verifying credentials, ask yourself how you feel when you are interacting with a job candidate. We spend more time at work than at home, so don’t hire anyone you don’t like.
8. Fire your worst customers. Busy entrepreneurs don’t have the time or energy to deal with crabby people. Let them go and I promise that you will soon replace them with people who you truly enjoy doing business with.