Monday, January 5, 2009

Small business, big hope, fresh thoughts

Along with our customer service woes, I had an incredibly busy holiday. The college I work for closes down and we are off for almost two weeks. It is quite relaxing to be off but I had lots happening on the personal front.

I was approached by a friend who own a small business and needed some HR business advice. There is no HR department, no personnel, no payroll. That's outsourced. Just a good group of people working hard in this economy, doing hard work. We talked about some of her business and she asked for any insight or input. I had five areas I covered.

1. So what's the plan? I have come to loathe the word strategic. Everyone thinks s/he is. My strengths say that I am. But so what? If it were my business, I would want all the employees to know the plan. What we are doing this year, 3-5 years and beyond. I worked for a woman years ago who made all of us look at the financial statements - the sales people, branch and regional managers, along with the staffing consultants. We needed to know where every penny went. Made us sensitive to costs and how it affected our bottom line. We knew the plan. And my friend needs help in casting and communicating the vision - the plan. She can have a vision and mission statement but if no one knows it, or reads it, what's the value?

2. So what's my job? Job descriptions are such a pain in the neck, and other anatomical parts of the body, but it's important to know what's expected. And playing to people's strength, keep them working where they do their best work. I don't do benefits, can't stand the details. But I can talk to people til the cows come home. Do you want your sales people doing clerical work? I want them out selling. Interns can file.

3. What's in it for me? Reward people well. Pay for performance. Nuff said. But if you have to cut expenses, or heaven forbid, salaries, make sure it's across the board, meaning the boss takes a hit too. Nothing more hypocritical than letting the little people take the hit. (are you listening GM?) If you do have to cut costs, ASK YOUR STAFF for input. People have great ideas, put them to use.

4. How am I doing? It's all about communication. Feedback. As hard as it can be, employees need to know how they are doing. That means having clear expectations of what needs to get done, having time-lines with deadlines, and being able to provide course correction when things aren't going exactly well.

5. A listening ear. My friend runs the business. She doesn't have a peer at work, nor does she have a lot of colleagues. She needs a non-partisan person with whom to trade war stories, provide a listening ear and offer insight when needed. Like therapy, only free.

She appreciated the thoughts and dialogue. It's tough being the boss, lonely at the top, all of those cliche's. This isn't rocket science but rather a refresher. A boost to help energerize her for what could be a tough year. Anything else that you would like to add for my friend?

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