How to manage employees in a small business (6 practical steps)

Employee management can be hard. It’s one of the biggest things we all struggle with as small business owners.

But here’s the thing: Your business is like a children’s playground.

You put up the fences around the playground so that it creates a safe space, then you let the kids play & everyone can relax & have more fun.

Once you’ve created that structure around what’s expected, your employees are empowered to perform at their best within those boundaries… 

…and you get to step away & focus your time on other things.

But instead of creating a secure playground, maybe you’ve ended up trying to fix your employee management challenges by trying on a few different management styles to see if they worked.

Have you ever unintentionally been guilty of being / doing one of the following? (You may resonate with more than one.)

Signs of a poor manager

Magpie Management – You make everything an extreme “number 1 priority.” Everything is urgent. Constantly screeching and annoying everyone.

Seagull Management – You swoop in and shit all over everybody, then swoop back out again. Leaving a path of destruction.

Ostrich Management – You put your head in the sand and ignore what’s going on and hope it’s going to go away.

Eagle Management – You don’t check-in, don’t follow up, you’re just doing your own thing. Your vision is so high up that you can’t see what’s right in front of you.

Vulture Management– You’re preying on people, kicking them when they’re down, constantly finding their faults (even if it’s not intentional). Tearing them apart slowly. One emotion at a time.

That’s clearly not working for you, which is why you’re here.

So what should you be doing instead?

6 skills of a good manager

1. Setting clear and realistic expectations

Your employees need to understand exactly what’s expected.

It’s harder than it sounds because most business owners forget how much they’ve learned over a long period and how many mistakes they made while they were learning.

“Oh my goodness, it took them 8 hours to do something that should’ve been done in an hour and a half.”

But how long a task takes depends on whether your employee has the technical skills to independently do the task right now — and they need to know how to apply the skill.

First, you need to have a clear understanding of what skill sets are required to do the task.

Then, ask yourself what skill sets the person has, so you can identify the gap between what’s required & what they have.

That will help you align your expectations & identify what’s realistic.

Next, you need to clearly outline what you’re expecting:

  • How often should they update you?
  • What’s the deadline?
  • What should they do if they get stuck?
  • What does success look like if you hit that deadline? “At the end of this project, I want to be able to look at this thing and know XYZ.”

2. Confirm what support the person will need to perform well

We always think, “can they do the job?

But there’s more to it than just skills for the job. That’s just the starting point for competence.

There are actually 3 factors that determine whether you’re going to have a successful employee. Each person will need support in many (or all) of these areas

Competence 

This is literally their skillset. Do they have the ability to do the task? Yes or no.

Do they need additional support or training to do the task? Yes or no.

This is the easiest thing to train and probably where you’ve focused your attention the most, until now.

Conditioning

How are they conditioned to respond in good and stressful times?

People learn patterns of behaviour across their careers and that conditions them to respond in a certain way under stress.

Conditioning creates most management problems. It’s what creates the bad habits & attitude problems that you might be experiencing.

Do they need help improving their attitude? 

If yes, help them understand what you see in them, how they should be thinking about things & how their attitude is holding them back.

Capacity

Capacity is where overwhelm shows up.

What is their limit to how much effective work they can get done in a specific period?

Those limits are set by what exposure have they had to your environment. If they’ve never dealt with something before their capacity will be lower than if they’ve done it 3,000x in the past.

You need to be aware of how much they can handle before their performance goes rapidly downhill. Good managers know how much they can ask of their team members before quality & performance drops.

Once you know whether you’re dealing with a competence, conditioning or capacity issue, you can come up with a plan to solve the problem.

3. Embracing management

Have you ever thought, “I hired this person because they had XYZ skillset. They should just do their job!

That’s a sign that you’re fatigued & don’t want to manage your people.

You might have an assumption that because you’ve hired “good quality people” you shouldn’t have to manage them.

Unfortunately, that’s a fantasy that doesn’t happen in the real world.

You do them a disservice by assuming everyone is going to be a self-starter & not require any help. Even if your employee is a self-starter, they may be taking the initiative with good intention and still not going in the direction you want them to.

All humans need help & guidance with something. You need to be willing to embrace management to get the best out of your people.

4. Training people to be more efficient with their time & energy

There’s a lot of misconceptions about how to get your people to be more productive.

It’s easy to assume that everybody does this naturally. But it’s the exact opposite.

Business owner’s think from a productivity perspective, but employees don’t. They think from a task perspective without worrying about speed or performance.

The way you’re thinking is an advanced form of thinking.

True performance mindset is something that business owners either learn or have naturally, but employees usually don’t have that.

Let’s use time management as an example…

Time management practices usually don’t work because they’re simple in concept, but extremely hard to implement because they’re a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Time is NOT the problem. 

The thing we need to focus on is how your energy works. You can accomplish more in 2 hours when you’re energized & alert than you can in the same 2 hrs when you’re feeling flat or exhausted.

Training people to be more efficient isn’t about getting them to pump out more work. It’s about getting them to do the work at their right time and their optimum speed.

When that happens, they’ll probably get the work done quickly with fewer mistakes, fewer errors and less stress. It’s a win, win, win.

It helps them to build up the efficiency muscle.

Best of all, when they’re working in their prime zone, they’ll produce fewer errors too.

The employee will also be able to see their speed and performance improve as they monitor their energy levels. That’ll help them know they’re doing well & motivate to perform even better.

5. Understanding how to motivate employees & bring out the best in them

Getting your team to work in their zone of genius makes your job as a motivator infinitely easier.

But everyone has a different motivation formula. That’s why it never works to try & motivate everyone the same way.

Encouragement is the only thing that you can do for all your employees that will deliver a positive outcome.

So, think of one of your team members right now. 

What are they most brilliant at? 

It’s usually the thing that comes most naturally to them. And if you asked them that question, they probably wouldn’t know the answer because they think it’s too easy.

Next, ask yourself:

  • Do they like to win?
  • Do they like a pat on the back?
  • Do they talk about money all the time?
  • Do they like public recognition?

Pro Tip: Create a leadership file and start recording what you’re noticing about each employee.

There are always clues about what motivates and distracts them.

When you apply all these motivators, you’ll be able to stop thinking about “kicking their butt” and focus on positively motivating them to achieve the results you need.

It’s the difference between going to the store by turning your car on & driving there in the comfort of air-conditioning vs pushing your car all the way there with your bare strength. 

6. Empower your employees to take ownership of their role

When people are empowered, they take on more responsibility. They feel better about what they’re doing & they deliver better results.

So what does it take to empower your employees? You need to make sure they…

  • are fully trained
  • have a clear understanding of what is most important to the business
  • understand the context of the job you’ve allocated them 
  • know when the job needs to be completed
  • manage their own tasks
  • get to set goals that motivate them.

When all that happens, they know how to get themselves activated.

They know what’s expected of them & feel they’re in control of the success of that task.

They have the power to contribute — and most importantly, they want to contribute & do their best.

It’s like free will on steroids. They have free will to do what needs to be done to control their success.

They’ll feel like they’re “winning” & accomplishing things, which will make them want to keep winning for you.


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