What do I have to Manage? # 5. Hiring & Keeping good employees – Part 4

Thursday, June 24th, 2010


 In an article by Jill Hamlyn (MD of The People Business), published in Business Day some years ago, she said this:

“MISERABLE employees are a danger to your business. Making them happy helps to equip your enterprise for almost anything that the market throws at it.”

 She goes on to recommend that all business owners, managers, follow what she calls her “10 Commandments” for establishing an environment in which people thrive.  They’re relevant to this series, so I’m taking the liberty of highlighting them:

  • Thou shalt not lie

Do not lie to your employees, clients or customers, or expect your employees to collude in lies. Professionalism demands that company and employee present a united front, and professional employees will strive to keep a neutral face when confronted by clients promised one thing but delivered another. When one lie follows another, though, honest employees get uncomfortable and sooner or later, the truth will come out. If you have a culture of lying in your business, you will need to keep checking your back for knives: it stands to reason that your employees and clients may be as dishonest as you are, but with a different agenda.

It is vital to create an atmosphere of trust within the organisation, particularly when times are tough.  Inevitably, when businesses are distressed, owners tend to become very secretive and non-communicative at the best of times.  This creates wrong impressions in the minds of employees and eventually it leads to an “us and them” attitude.  Lying to your employees will only make matters even worse.  I personally believe that transparency and honesty pays huge dividends when the chips are down, and you don’t have to waste valuable time trying to paper over the cracks.

  • Thou shalt not be greedy

Greediness is disparaged, and greedy people are even more so. Money-making at the expense of good service and good people is a one-way ticket to failure. Greed is closely related to exploitation, and few people with alternatives will stand for it.

When a company is struggling financially, and people are being laid off, small business owners have got to set an example by cutting their own drawings “to the bone”, before any other expense.  Many small business owners haven’t yet graduated from the employee mentality.  They still expect a monthly salary like everyone else.  The last thing you should be doing is continuing to live a profilgate lifestyle when everyone around you knows the business can’t afford it; and they’re more than likely subsidising it.

  • Know thy staff

In a company of 1 000 people, the CEO cannot be expected to know everyone. But as the MD of a company of 50, you have no excuse. You should know who they are, how they got there and the details of their contracts. Those who perceive that they are unknown and uncared for, will leave. A high staff turnover leads to an unstable company and a high client turnover.

In small to medium sized businesses there should be no excuse for not knowing your employees – where they live, whether they’re married or single; how many children they have; as well as their health and well-being.  You may disocover aspirations and latent talents in the process that can only benefit your business in the longer term.

  • Thou shalt not upbraid openly

If an employee has done wrong and must be confronted, take the dressing down behind closed doors. Doing it in front of other employees or clients is embarrassing for the client, and breeds fear and resentment in all employees. Resentful, angry and fearful employees will quit, and the reputation it will earn you as an employer will be damaging.

The pressure faced by business-owners when their businesses are in distress is considerable.  It is almost understandable then, that there will be more ‘heated’ exchanges than normal.  However, breeding fear and resentment amongst your employees is the last thing you want when you need their commitment!  There can be nothing more humiliating than being dressed-down in front of your co-workers, and especially if you don’t deserve it!

  •  Thou shalt not divide and rule

 This is closely related to the rule that you should refrain from gossiping about some employees to others. The damage it does to company morale is irreparable, and the damage it does to your authority is worse. And what are they saying about you? Divide-and-rule might have worked as a tactic in the past, but employees are wising up; the result might be a workforce united against you.

Whatever you do, don’t play this game.  In South Africa, where it is particularly difficult to just hire and fire at will because of legislation which protects the worker, don’t try and ‘engineer’ dismissals (constructive dismissal) and use a small issue as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, to get rid of ‘problematic’ employees.  Be consistent; be fair, be transparent and be honest.

  • Thou shalt invest in thy staff

 Staff who have been invested in show greater returns than those who have been neglected – they are keen to invest themselves in your business.

This became compulsory in light of the Skills Development Act.  Small business owners tend to avoid this aspect of personnel management because they think it’s going to cost too much, or that they can’t afford to have employees away from work, while they’re being trained.    Well, it needn’t be that way! What employees need is encouragement from you to develop themselves.  Guide them in what courses to take, what books to read, what motivational training aids to listen to – remember, it’s going to help your business in the long run.  A business cannot grow if its employees don’t!

  •  Thou shalt take staff seriously

This means that you should not keep them waiting if they have an appointment with you. It means that you should pay them on time, and in full. Take their concerns seriously, and work with them to sort out potential problems. Do not stamp on the initiative of your employees, and respect those who you were wise enough to employ sufficiently to keep them employed.

 Don’t be dismissive of employees’ commitment!  If one of them comes up with an idea, don’t undervalue it with a statement like “it’s more than that..!”  It’s so much better saying, “those are valid comments and worth considering.”  You’re not saying you’re going to accept them, but the employee feels he/she’s been listened to and taken seriously.

  • Thou shalt not underestimate the power of employee loyalty

Loyal employees do not leave. They do not have the desire to see your company fail because they like the company and what it stands for. They do not gossip about you to other employees or to clients, friends, enemies, or journalists. They will help prop the door of the cupboard closed as the skeleton inside tries to escape. Disloyal employees – inevitably disloyal as a result of the way they have been treated, or the way they have seen others treated – can wreak enormous damage to any company.

Encourage loyalty all the time – even in the face of severe trial.  If you’ve been consistent over the years of your relationship, you will be pleasantly surprised at the loyalty you engender.  Remember, – people don’t leave companies, they leave people!

  • Thou shalt not kill good ideas

Sometimes the best ideas are brought to light by those at the coal face. Those at the bottom or the middle of the hierarchy are able to perceive things differently from those at the top, and can use their experience to put a company head and shoulders above the rest. Listen to them.

This is particularly relevant for businesses in distress.  Often, it’s the ideas from ‘the shop floor’ that can make the difference. Perceptions on the shop floor can be very different from that of management, and it’s very useful to gain some different perspectives.

  • Thou shalt support thy staff

If you are on your employees’ side and they know this, they will be confident decision-makers who earn respect. If you do not assure your employees that you are behind them, they will not stick their necks out for you. “

We all know the old saying that the customer is always right!  Even though we know that the customer is not always right!  Well, there’s nothing worse than taking the side of a customer at the expense of an employee, when the customer is clearly wrong.  There is a way to handle a situation like this can be a win-win for everyone.  Listen to the customer and ensure he/she goes away feeling like they’ve been heard.  Do the same with the employee, and let the employee know that you agree with him.  Tell him what you have done with the customer and why.  Never, and I repeat, never tell the employee off in front of the customer, especially if the customer is in the wrong.  It’s wrong, it’s insincere and your employee will never be able to trust you again.