Businesses spend a lot of time dealing with the rights of employees. Law firms have been built on these rights, human resource professionals spend considerable effort in getting managers to abide by them, and managers often feel paralyzed by them.
But business owners and their managers have rights, as well. They often hesitate to exercise them for fear of offending someone. Yet if you practice them, you can become a more relaxed manager with a more productive staff.
1. The Right to Set Clear Expectations
In clear, concise language, spell out exactly what you want from your employees. Questions to ask yourself include: What does top performance look like for my company or division? What would people be thinking, saying, doing, feeling if they were achieving top performance? What results do I expect from top performance and how do the results help achieve your organization’s goals?
Write down the specific behaviors and actions you expect and meet with each of your employees to set out the expectations, and develop plans to meet those expectations. Clarity is especially important. Owners and managers can’t afford to make assumptions that everyone knows what to do and how to do it. Exercising this right takes time, yet it’s a high-yield investment.
2. The Right to Expect Top Performance
Don’t all business owners expect top performance? Well, sort of. Many give lip service to what performance is expected, showing reluctance to articulate what top performance looks like and how to achieve it. Managers will accept inefficiencies rather than deal with the issues that affect performance. It’s especially critical for a new manager to expect the best and to deliver that message.
Case in point: A business owner laments mediocre results from his sales team. Not wanting to be seen as cruel, the director let the poor performance of the local sales person go unaddressed, in part because he had been with the company for many years. The solution was to make up the shortfall in other sales territories; the director had given up the right to expect top performance, and instead piled inflated expectations of performance on other employees. The director should have established and communicated clear performance standards, then worked with the sales person to address poor results. (If that doesn’t work, see Right #4.)
3. The Right to Make Changes
Like the director mentioned above, too many managers give up trying to change their employees’ behaviors to achieve success. While you may not be able to change a person’s basic nature, you can invest wisely in developing strengths and mitigating weaknesses. Examine what’s preventing top performance. Where are the obstacles? Are they:
- Knowledge, skills, or ability?
- Stress level?
- Clarity around goals and direction?
- Something else?
Look at what you’ve done so far to encourage top performance. Have you outlined specific behavioral expectations, as opposed to only quantitative ones? Have you provided the employee with all needed resources? Have you conducted regular performance conversations? Is the person in the appropriate job? Does he excel in one thing when you need another? Is there a place for his competencies in your company? Can you move him around to benefit from his talents? Can you be the architect of your part of the organization, not just the developer? If you’ve done all the appropriate managerial work and still don’t see the required performance, you can exercise Right #4.
4. The Right to Let Employees Go
There are times when the employee just isn’t right for the job. If there’s a lack of necessary skills, or a mismatch with the business culture, the time has come to end his or her employment. Before you do so, make sure you’ve taken the appropriate steps to minimize the risk of a lawsuit; but don’t let that risk paralyze you and prevent you from making the right decision for your company.
5. The Right to Make Mistakes (and Fix Them)
No one knows all the correct things to do in a situation. This is true whether you’re a new business owner or one with years of experience. You have the right to make mistakes—and to fix them. Most mistakes aren’t fatal. It’s most important to admit when you’ve erred. Your employees likely know it already. You can increase their trust and respect in you when you speak it, correct it, and move on. It can also be a good opportunity to allow your staff input on how to solve a problem.
These five rights take an investment of time and energy. Yet like any good investment, the returns—a better workplace, a more productive workforce, a more relaxed and effective manager—are worth it.
Barbara Kurka, an experienced HR professional, offers executive coaching; management training, and HR consulting, the latter uniquely geared toward small businesses. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.