Fix Your Biggest People Problems

by Marcia Hoeck

You started your business to have the freedom to be creative on your own terms, to be your own boss. Freedom was a big part of it; control was another. You imagined your business growing steadily and affording you the luxury to call your own shots, come and go as you please, indulge your interests and make lots of money.

You imagined bright, passionate, loyal employees rolling up their sleeves alongside you, helping to make all your dreams come true.

Yeah, right.

Most small-business owners do not experience this; in fact, many find managing employees one of their biggest challenges. Employee problems are not only driving you crazy, they’re costing you money. If you’re having a problem retaining and engaging good employees, you’re probably making at least one of these three mistakes:

You’re working too hard.
Fix: You’ve got to let go of the idea that you’re the only person who can handle the important work in your company.

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes: you just got a great job at a great company, you see some fantastic design work for cool clients and can’t wait to be a part of it. Then you find out that it doesn’t actually work that way: it’s a small shop, so the owner makes most of the decisions. Client strategy? The owner sets strategy. Design? If she doesn’t do it herself, she directs it or picks it apart. Hmmm. . . not much for you to dig your teeth into here, is there?

You’ve got to let others grow into their capabilities. Let them do the difficult, important work, too. They’ll become engaged, and you can move on to other things. Sure, you still have to keep your eye on the ball, you still have to guide and direct, but they’ll be constantly growing to take on more, with your approval, and, if you do it right, the results will surprise and delight you.

You’re not clear about your expectations.
Fix: You need an internal communications plan that you share with your staff so they know what to expect.

Employees want direction and feedback. They want to know your philosophy, what they’re working toward, and how they fit into the plan. They look to you for direction, and it can be frustrating for them if you leave them on their own too much. A program of employee communication is a must for every company, even if you only have one employee.

You haven’t asked the right questions or listened well enough to the answers.
Fix: Ask your employees  outright what motivates them, what they need to have in order to feel supported in their work, and what they expect from you.

You may be surprised. They may want less, or something entirely different, than what you think. And the fact that you ask will give them pause — because most of them have not been asked these questions from a boss before. They’ll give you great answers. I’ve had employees want more money, more (or less) responsibility, more recognition. I’ve had employees take advantage of me, and I’ve turned down a few requests. But I’ve had more wins than losses.

Empowered employees—who feel that you’re giving them the opportunity to do their best work and the responsibility for making themselves, the client and the business look good— will be more likely to stick around. Employees who understand how their jobs impact the organization and get regular feedback and direction will motivate themselves to excel. And employees who feel listened to by their employers will be thoughtful, careful and respectful of the needs of the organization in their requests. They’ll work hard for the opportunity to be part of a workplace that has meaning to them.

Eric Sturdevant Illustration of a person playing chess

Creative staffers want to feel like more than pawns on a chessboard, subject to the boss’s whims; they want to feel empowered and invested in your business.

Illustration by: Eric Sturdevant

Quick Tips
You have an employee problem if:

1. Your staff is a revolving door; you train employees and then they leave.

2. You hired employees to grow your business, but you spend too much time managing them to tend to that growth.

3. Your team knows that you’re coddling a star employee or that you’re letting slackers get away with it.

Dig Deeper!
1. Marcia Hoeck runs My Breakthrough Business, which helps entrepreneurs build businesses that will run without them.

2. ReCourses Inc. offers free position papers that address hiring and managing a creative team.

3. Find out more about managing a a team from The Creative Group