Unless you’ve been living in a cave like this woman, you know that business ownership is a tough gig right now — it’s nearly an Olympic sport to keep things running and moving ahead.
But, despite all that, being a business owner is also pretty great. And I’d make a guess that a big part of that for YOU is getting to be your own boss. You get to build something that has impact and move it any way you feel is the right way forward.
But the crazy thing is, a lot of business owners fall into the same traps as their previous employers when it comes to employee management.
It’s April. Do you have a plan for analysis of your Q1 numbers?
If you had the ability to understand those financial data points and respond to them quickly, imagine how a pivot now can affect the rest of 2023. In this economy where the banking world is reeling, you’ve got to know what’s happening in your business.
In the same way, employee care is an area where awareness and response pay big dividends. You have to be intentional about how you lead your employees, and you need to make sure you’re creating a work environment that makes them feel like what they’re giving is a central part.
Today I want to specifically target employee empowerment. Making a pivot to let your employees have more “ownership,” a little more autonomy, means really good things for you and the future of your small business.
Let’s look at what I mean…
“Independence is happiness.” – Susan B. Anthony
Eventually, all companies find they need to shift certain responsibilities from the owner to select employees. That time will come in your own growing business (if it hasn’t already) — and when it does, you’re going to need those people to be able to think for themselves in the best interests of your operation.
Don’t wait until you personally are too overburdened and have to roll the dice on one of your employees. Get them ready now by encouraging initiative and independence. This is where leadership development for your employees begins.
Start with yourself
Employee leadership development begins with looking at yourself as a boss. It’s important to be honest with yourself here.
Do you naturally empower your people — or is micromanaging a habit you’re going to have to break? Do you resist delegating? Do you ask for updates to the same project too frequently? Maybe you fixate on details, redo work, or get mad when decisions are made without you? If you want something done right, do you have to do it yourself?
You might have other work to do — on your own attitude. Look at it this way: You must trust the abilities of a given employee. If you don’t, it’s time to change what they do for your company (or get rid of them). Here’s why: If you do trust them, you’re safe making them more independent.
Spotting the right people
Employee leadership development is first about giving them the means to lend their talents and interests to a company. (Didn’t your own talents and interests motivate you to start the company in the first place? …)
This lays the groundwork for giving them more independence and decision-making power — plus it can arm your business with fresh perspectives and skills without having to pay for outsourcing and consultants.
Some bosses (we’re not saying you’re one) like to think you can learn an employee’s interest through the shortcut of a survey. Could be — but your better bet is to simply talk with your people to find out what part of working for your company excites them most (and of course overlaps with what you need done — you’re running a business, not an after-school program …). This identifies who would be a good fit for a promotion or some more responsibility.
What and how to teach
Here’s an idea for leadership development: Try having younger staff take on managerial tasks.
Let’s use meetings as an example. Love’em or hate’em, by Zoom or otherwise, they’re a mainstay of business these days. And more goes into a good one than meets the eye: planning, communication, sticking to an agenda, and thinking on your feet with the dynamics of attendees. An employee’s successful conducting of a meeting is a useful tool for you to see who can work independently and who can take the initiative on a task with a lot of moving parts.
Sit with the employee before they conduct the meeting and go over all those parts. See how they do and afterward debrief on what went right — and wrong. You don’t want to punish and discourage but give feedback and educate. Mention but soft-peddle the negatives, at least for a time in someone’s development.
You’ll also want to keep questions open-ended during your assessment. Instead of just finding out what happened, ask them why they think it happened. What would they do differently next time? What do they think their next initiative should be, and why?
This leadership development strategy can apply to teaching other management skills, from overseeing sales calls to leading whole departments. All of these pointers also work equally well with remote employees, using your usual media.
By the way, you and your senior staff should be prepared to keep your doors unusually open during this empowerment exercise; it’s going to fizzle quickly if your junior employees don’t feel they can always ask questions.
Speaking of which, sound out your senior staff on becoming in-house mentors, which means taking on the responsibility of informal but regular meetings with junior staff. This is a whole other track of training that will be an inexpensive way to solidify your staff at all levels — not to mention probably improve retention.
Things to remember with leadership development
A couple closing points:
- Don’t try to change everything overnight. Talk to a few people at a time — the ones you think are your best candidates for more decision-making power in your operation.
- Give development your constant attention. You don’t want to get a great idea from a promising, really-want-to-keep-’em employee and stick it into your “Someday” file — only to forget about it entirely until the day that employee resigns to take another job.
- Try being out of the office a little more. See how it goes.
When done well, one of the joys of running a business is getting to empower your people and see them grow in their skills. Prioritizing leadership development is key to freeing you up to do bigger and more strategic tasks in your business. Or even lessen your load.
BE THE ROAR not the echo®