We've all heard, perhaps sung, the skilled-labor-shortage blues. But the ballad of the woebegone boss - a timeless tale of a company owner wondering how best to manage the good people he already has - has been creeping up the charts. The queries are many: How do I teach employees to do what I do? How do I grow staff into managers? How do I know that we share the same vision and values? How do I become a leader, not just the boss? And how do I do all this with limited time and money?
The answers vary, but a refrain emerges: If you don't make the time to review and develop your staff, you will face uncontrolled growth, owner overwork and employees losing heart or leaving, often followed by the need to downsize and regroup. Read this month's Remodelers' Exchange, Growing Pains, to hear from remodelers who have been there.
At our 2003 Benchmark Conference, keynote speaker Ram Charan, management consultant and co-author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, said that in his experience, great leaders spend 30 to 40 percent of their time working with their people. Getting the right people in the right jobs, he added, is the most important part of a CEO's job.
What works for big corporations applies to smaller firms, even if it doesn't seem like it at first. After all, when it comes to human resources, one of the greatest advantages of a small business is the often-referenced "family feel." Birthdays, illnesses and the other ups and downs of daily life are shared in the workplace. People care about each other and try hard to listen and to get along.
But the family feel can only go so far at the job. Answering a "why" question with "because I said so" doesn't deepen a worker's understanding of the business. Avoiding a necessary but unpleasant conversation with a sibling might simply postpone the inevitable dustup, but with an employee, the delay could mean serious losses in profits, morale and productivity.
Finding the right balance in your management approach requires a combination of formal and informal communication systems and reviews. You make the time to have regular project meetings with employees and clients to discuss expectations, progress and performance and to make adjustments as necessary - don't your employees deserve the same consideration as your jobs?
The remodelers and consultants in this month's cover story think so. Their performance review and development programs are a critical part of their overall culture and human resource strategy. These programs take real commitment on the part of managers, a willingness to do more than hold staff accountable, critique their work or even set goals. The next step - the harder one - is to help employees figure out how to strengthen their weaknesses and maximize their strengths to reach those goals.
For most managers, this requires some serious professional growth and training on our part. Trial and error can do that. So can a business coach, a board of directors, a class or a book. Personality testing has become a popular part of the hiring process and also can help you figure out how to manage different people for the best results.
My inexpensive idea: a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press). Price of purchase includes a user code for an online test, based on Gallup Organization research, that reveals the taker's strengths. The book provides insight on the personalities that correspond to those qualities and tips for helping all types to succeed. It might help change your tune.