Business lessons from an ex-human resource manager on how to get the right attitude for success and build your small business team.
I was not always a small business copywriter and web designer. My first role out of uni was as a Personnel Officer with 500 staff in freshly built retail store in Bateau Bay on the NSW central coast.
In that role, I had the dubious honour of sacking Santa the week before Christmas (more went into his sack than came out). I also manually calculated and counted out wages for all my staff into little beige pay envelopes each and every week (this was pre-computers and direct credit banking); and recruited for every role from pastry cooks through to checkout operators.
After moving to QLD, my human resources and employment relations career followed a very meandering trajectory, working in roles where up to 8000 staff knew my name and expected HR miracles.
There are parts of HR I will never miss such as always being the one to tell an employee that they needed help with their body odour problem; or helping drunken office juniors get safely home from staff Christmas parties before lecherous managers could have their way with them. There were also some amazing business lessons that are always a part of me.
Here are a few things I learned along the way.
1. Income is not an indicator of worth
After working with people ranging from minimum wage to million dollar pay cheques, I know that income and worth are not correlated.
The highest paid do not work longer hours. They are not smarter than their employees. They don’t have any special knowledge that the rest of the world doesn’t have. They are not super talented or gifted.
I have seen business consultants charge $15,000 a day and deliver fewer results on a planning day than an entry-level HR practitioner running a similar planning day with a different group.
Income is only related to perceived value. It is the price a person or organisation is willing to pay for a particular brand (remembering that each person is their own individual brand).
A higher income does not mean that someone is a better person – simply their brand is stronger. If your income is not where you want it to be, then build your personal brand.
2. 70% of managers suffer Impostor Syndrome
One of my roles involved debriefing and mentoring a few hundred senior executive 360-degree performance appraisals. In a 360 review, the person rates their performance against a range of criteria. They are then rated on the same criteria by their peers, subordinates and their manager.
In the debriefing, 70% of managers were harder on themselves than the people who rated them were. When asked about this, they all felt that if people “really knew what they were like” then people would rate them harder. They felt like they were imposters in their roles, and only held them by luck. They regularly reported feelings of incompetence, confusion and “what the heck do I do now” moments.
What about the rest of the managers? 20% had a consistent worldview with their raters, and 10% were somewhere along the narcissist/psychopath scale with delusions of grandeur.
If you have moments of doubt about yourself and your work performance, you are totally human! Breathe through the Imposter Syndrome and Comparisonitis wobble and then get on with it. Don’t let the doubt stop you from doing what you need to do.
3. Hire the best person for the job (… which is not necessarily the best person)
Finding a job can be tough. That’s why many highly skilled people apply for entry-level roles. Where managers hire overqualified people, they are often confronted by rapid boredom, demands for more money, high turnover as the person moves on to better things or workplace unrest as the people knew more than the manager (and weren’t afraid to let the other team members know).
If you have a vacancy or are looking for a consultant, then hire the best person for the job and not the best person.
This means matching the level of skills required with the skills of the person. Don’t go for overkill on the skills just because they are available and on the market. Yes, you can allow for a little bit of stretch, but hiring the biggest and the brightest is often an expensive exercise in futility and frustration.
4. Planning and clear expectations pre-empt a world of strife
Most of the matters that end in disputes between managers and staff could have been avoided if there was a bit of planning and clear communication of expectations.
I have seen workplaces where managers never gave clear direction (or any direction) to their team. They were always unavailable for meetings, they changed their mind based on every bright shiny fad that went past them, and constantly harped at how bad the team were at delivering results but never set down KPIs or clarified what they expected to be delivered.
Unless your team consists purely of psychics, then you need to spend time planning the direction you want your team to go in, and communicating that direction to the team.
If your team is not performing (or you have a poor performer on the team), then start by looking at your own behaviour and leadership style. Often you are the problem and not the victim.
While you are in planning mode, remember to plan for the unthinkable – your death. Too many small businesses fold if a business owner dies.
Want help setting clear HR expectations? Check out our employee manual.
5. Hire Slow – Fire Fast
When choosing to hire someone to fill a vacancy, too many managers leap in and hire the first person with a pulse, and then live to regret it as the person didn’t fit the role. They then feel guilty and go through long, convoluted processes before finally the person (or the manager) leaves.
I see the same behaviour with small businesses taking on clients. Small business owners take on anyone who turns up, and then struggle when it isn’t a good fit for their business.
Take your time to hire. Do your due diligence. Check out references. Ask loads of questions. If they are not a fit, then don’t let them into your business.
If you find you have made a wrong hire either because the person has the wrong skill set or your skills as a recruiter or manager leave a bit to be desired, then fire fast.
You usually know that a mistake has been made in the first couple of weeks. Don’t drag it on. If there is a problem, then fire the employee or client quickly and let them move on to a better fit.
6. Don’t nickel and dime people you want to keep
You may have been lucky and hired a person or consultant who was not aware of their true value or worth to your company. This person or business may have grown in their skills with you and is now one of your star performers upon which your business relies.
At some point, people always wake up to their true worth on the market. If you try and keep their pay low, or haggle over each tiny benefit, then you are likely to lose them.
If the person or supplier is valuable to you or your business and you want to keep them, pay them accordingly (even before they ask for a raise).
7. Trust your gut
Always trust your gut when you first meet someone. If they are scattered, rude or dismissive in their first meeting, they will be the same when they work with you.
Do they harp on money or what they want you to give them? Do they big-note themselves? Do they answer phone calls or texts in the middle of conversations?
Also look at how they treat people in your workplace that have no power or benefit to them. Do they treat them as if they are invisible, or are they warm and friendly?
Always look at people’s behaviours and don’t just listen to the words. If your gut is not sure, then over-rule it at your peril.
If you want to talk through ways to boost your personal brand or business strategy, then book a mentoring session with Ingrid. You will come away with loads of good ideas and strategies to help you take the next step with your business.