Ditch the defensive approach to people management
Small businesses are faced with increasingly complex and arduous employment law. Sometimes, it can appear designed to catch out the results-driven MD. You’d be forgiven for becoming ever more fearful of making the wrong move when it comes to managing your people.
The flames of fear are often fanned by the scaremongering approach of employment lawyers and HR advisors. They remind me of Harry Enfield’s character, Mr You-Don’t-Wanna-Do-It-Like-That. The way they suggest dealing with people issues is all about avoiding potential damages at a tribunal. Their advice can make the small business leader feel penned in and forced to take a defensive position – an uncomfortable and frustrating place for any proactive and positive entrepreneur.
Confident and energised when it comes to taking risks with new markets, products and technology, today’s entrepreneur is often found cowering in the face of a people issue, made impotent by the imagined or real threat of employees taking action if he puts a foot wrong.
Causes for concern?
Maybe you’ve been frightened to probe too deeply in an interview in case you stray into the waters of ‘inappropriate’ questions. Or shied away from taking action with an underperforming employee who might turn the tables with his or her own grievance. Perhaps you’ve felt obliged to send an employee on an unsuitable training course simply because he’s requested it having complained about a lack of attention.
In these kinds of situations, the normally brave and pioneering MD can end up acting entirely out of character when it comes to people issues.
But inertia, acquiescence and procrastination are counterproductive. An MD who is nervous about expressing dissatisfaction with an employee’s performance will also tend to feel inhibited and disinclined to compliment when it comes to recognising success.
Towards a more proactive and imaginative approach
Far from shying away, the solution lies in taking a far more proactive, imaginative and, dare I say, aggressive approach to managing people. Developing a people strategy, linked to the business strategy, puts the driver back in the driver’s seat.
Using entrepreneurial flair and creativity to come up with key HR initiatives and practices aligned to business goals will empower the leader and enable the business to grow. And it offers the business far more than just damage limitation – for instance, lower operating costs or, even more exciting, greater revenue.
For example, a business that wants to increase sales of a new product should determine how it will attract the talent needed to sell it, establish the performance and behaviour standards expected of the sales force, decide the training and development needed to close skill gaps and define how success will be recognised and rewarded.
The knock-on effect of taking the time to do this up front is a less constrained and unimpeded approach – whether that’s to recruitment, addressing underperformance or providing training and development. Ultimately, that frees the entrepreneur to manage people in the same way he manages the rest of his business – with energy, enthusiasm and optimism.