Any leader worthy of the title will tell you that the essential element in any business or endeavor is PEOPLE. Managing any group, from a corner store to a multi-billion dollar corporation, depends on how well one handles people, how well one takes care of employees and customers, and how one coordinates and aligns actions so as to achieve objectives both large and small.
After PEOPLE, the most fundamental component in running any group or business is COMMUNICATION. If you don’t have smooth and accurate communication, you will get chaos and you will be slowed or stopped from reaching your aims.
According to multiple sources, including the Small Business Administration, 25% percent of startups fail in the first year, while over 50% fail by the five-year mark. That may come as a surprise if you were taught that “90-95% fail after five years.” Perhaps the “90-95%” statement is simply the propaganda of successful businesses that want to discourage their competition. Of course, we’re not interested in “five years.” We’re in it for the long haul, right?
“Failure” in this case means you shut your doors or stop filling orders or whatever is the context of the business in question. “Success” however is a far more subjective term. Success for one man can mean paying his bills and living in relative comfort. For another, it could mean dominating his industry and exponential growth. You’ll have to decide what it means for you, but I recommend aiming high and then doubling that. Abundance – having more than enough – is the only thing that would even remotely guarantee your continued survival and success.
Name Your Destination
The first thing you do is name your objectives. What do you want to accomplish? Then you’d formulate your basic business plan. This is the broad agenda of what you’ll be dedicating your life to for a while. Then you get down to the more detailed step-by-step actions to undertake. The first task you’ll be faced with – depending on the size of your operation – is building a team. A sports team is an excellent analogy for a business. You have positions and each member is assigned their position according to his or her skills and training. When the ball is thrown, someone has to be there to catch it and run with it. You can have specialty teams for specific situations. Here then is a rough outline for team building in the volatile world of business:
Hiring! A book could be written on this, and many have. Once you have some resumes you are at least mildly interested in, you conduct some interviews. I’ll be honest with you; simply having a degree, some letters after one’s name, is hardly an index of competence in my book. There are certain highly technical skills that require specialized training and certificates, like tax attorney or brain surgeon, but the vast majority of positions you’re likely to be hiring for do not require a college degree.
Some of the things I look for are the person’s skills, their level of integrity, and their enthusiasm for what we are trying to do. Ask them some questions that are unrelated to the hiring process (within legal boundaries obviously). This is so you can bypass the rote and mechanical answers they may have rehearsed and determine their general attitude. Are they prone to accept when things go wrong or are they proactive? Do they blame others and point an accusative finger or do they seek to enlist others’ cooperation and build rapport? The positions you’re filling will also affect your decisions. An IT position would have different qualifications than a sales or marketing position. A delivery van driver would have a different skill-set than an executive.
Once you have someone there doing their basic job, you move right into the realm of communication. This is what distinguishes a leader from a boss. Can you get your ideas across so they are really understood? Are you listened to? Are you able to motivate others in a positive fashion? These are the kinds of searching questions you ask yourself as you develop your communication skills and build your team. Anyone can clock in and clock out, just sort of nine-to-five their job, but if people feel they have a personal stake in what is happening at the firm or office, when they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in the endeavor – that is when you start moving into real leadership. It’s not really a popularity contest. It’s a more down to earth affair – reaching people and getting them on board and genuinely interested.
Coordination is an extension of communication. The left hands need to know what the right hands are doing. When people know the overall objectives and how the various parts work together, things can really start to click. So you hold meetings and tell people what is going on, what you need from them, and what’s in the works. Sometimes security measures mean you can’t provide all the details, but you can certainly give them the broad picture.
You also make sure people know what they are doing. Either show them how yourself or delegate the action. You should also have company policy drawn up at the soonest possible date. And make sure that it is clear and understandable. Some companies’ policies are an endless maze of minutia that do not differentiate the BASIC AND FUNDAMENTAL POLICY from the instructions on what font to use for a memo or how many initials go on an application. An example of basic and fundamental policy would be ALWAYS BE FRIENDLY AND PROMPT WITH CUSTOMERS or THE PHONE MUST ALWAYS BE ANSWERED. That would be more important than about a zillion other things. It’s not that those other things are not important, but it is the RELATIVE IMPORTANCE that should be stressed – what is most important and what is secondary, etc.
Accountability & Acknowledgment
Accountability, also called responsibility, is indispensable. Ideally, people are responsible for their jobs because of a sense of personal pride, not because someone is threatening to fire them. That’s another test of you team-building mettle. Do people do it right simply because they want to? When they do it right, tell them. Acknowledge your team when they do well. Let there be no mystery between right and wrong on your team. When someone messes up, it was usually unintentional. Unless you’re the cigar-chewing police chief who calls the two partners into his office so he can blow their hair back with a harshly delivered salvo or wit and wisdom (as he pounds the desk repeatedly), you’ll probably want to settle for a more civilized approach. Straighten it out with them privately, show them how they can do better and give them a chance. Obviously you’ll have to let some people go, but hopefully not too many if you did your hiring right in the first place.
Something that can be lacking in the workplace is…fun. Fun is a commodity in itself. When it’s fun, people get way more done. Sense of humor is very useful. When things are tough, try lightening the mood. You’re more likely to come up with solutions the less seriously you take things. That may seem counterintuitive, but give it a try.
Competence, professionalism, brilliance, sense of humor, pride in accomplishment, as well as priceless commodities like laughter, fun and joy seem to all go hand in hand. An effective team would tend to be a very happy one that people want to be a part of. You’ll also start to attract some of the best people that way. Good luck!