The guide to managing HR in a small business

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Managing staff

People are strange. Jim Morrison of The Doors even sung about it, clearly drawing upon his vast knowledge of managing staff. What Jim failed to mention though, is how to get the best from the mixed bag of personalities and skill sets that you have acquired. The first thing to remember is that each and every one of your employees are different. They have different personal and professional goals, react differently to praise or criticism and are motivated by different things. Some will like Marmite, others won’t. It is only by taking the time to understand our staff and their individualities that we can really help them to maximise their potential and, in turn, the potential of the business. That is the idea after all, isn’t it?

There are several boatloads of management books available out there that will tell you there is a magic formula for managing people. There isn’t. You could attend a hundred seminars, all claiming they can make you an HR rockstar in just a few hours. They can’t. Effective people management comes through experience and takes effort and perseverance. However, there are a few things you can do to make the journey much easier for you AND your staff (and to ensure you’re not on first name terms with the local employment tribunal panel).

Expectations – Keep it Real

Useful Quotes

"The tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach." - Benjamin Mays

Everybody likes to know what’s expected of them. You have a clear idea of the level of effort and commitment you expect from your staff and your employees have expectations of their own too. Of the company, financial expectations, the type of environment they expect to be working in. This is why there should be clear, two way communication every time you make a new hire. You shouldn’t promise the moon and stars if you can’t deliver them and, likewise, you should only set realistic expectations for your staff. Clear, measurable goals should be laid out that require real effort to achieve but that are based in reality with realistic timescales. Your employees will quickly become disenfranchised if they are constantly busting a gut trying to reach the unreachable.

Top Tip

Seek the input of your staff when creating goals and you will find that they are more engaged and motivated towards reaching them. Your staff need to know where they are heading, why they are heading there and what happens when they get there.

Staff Squared allows you to easily set staff goals and keep track of their progress.

Even if there are rewards attached to reaching a goal, a little praise doesn’t go amiss. When someone’s aced it, let them know. Everybody likes to know when they have done a good job.

Talk About It

Effective communication is essential to business success and, unless you’re running a dictatorship, it should be two-way. If you are running a dictatorship then this bit is probably not for you. It’s all well and good telling your staff what is expected of them but they also need a forum where they know they will be heard. Why? Well, quite simply, if you’re doing all the talking, your employees are going to tune out. Let them get a word in and you may even be surprised with what happens. Employees who have a voice are likely to be far more productive and there is no one better placed to let you know how your business is doing than those actually working in it. Encourage your staff to come forward with suggestions.

Top Tip

Rewarding feedback can promote innovation so offer recognition when one of the team contributes or an idea is implemented. Of course, not every suggestion will be a good one (some will be rubbish) but a working environment that promotes the input of its staff is a healthy one.

Trouble in Paradise

So, despite your best efforts the office is a warzone akin to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan and you’ve had to install a revolving door to accommodate all of the staff leaving your business. Your employees are disengaged, productivity is down and somebody ate Steve’s lunch ‘by accident’. What now?

Even the best managers of people face tough times, it’s how they react to adversity that sets them aside. Unrest among the workforce or low levels of motivation can have numerous causes so it’s important to investigate fully as soon as you suspect there’s an issue. Only once the root of the problem has been identified can you set about putting things right.

Get Motivated - Let’s say that, through your investigations (and performance reviews - we’ll talk more on these in the next chapter) you’ve established that the reason your staff are underperforming is that they are not motivated enough in their work. How can you breathe new life into your workforce and help them become the uber-talented and productive employees that they undoubtedly are?

The first question to ask yourself is, does the problem affect a specific department or area of the business? If so, look at who is responsible for managing the department and what they are doing to keep their team motivated. If the issue is localised then there’s a good chance they’re doing it wrong. Look at whether the employee’s job role is too demanding or maybe not challenging enough. Does the company do enough to encourage a work/life balance? Analyse job roles and workload and restructure them if required. When considering motivation you should also look at whether your staff are being adequately compensated for their level of input. Whilst throwing money at a problem is rarely a long term solution you should try to ensure parity when it comes to salary and bonuses. Employees with an IQ in double figures will know their market worth.

Failing the above there is always the radical approach of actually asking your staff how they are feeling. Whether this takes the form of a formal performance review, employee survey or a quick chat by the vending machine, most staff will value the opportunity to put their point across and the feedback you receive could be just what you need to get the business back on track.

Top Tip

Everyone’s motivations are different. Some employees are motivated by financial reward, some by career progression and others simply by recognition. Be sure to understand what motivates your employees when considering how they should be rewarded.

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