When I worked for a pretty big regional coffee company we had a board of directors with very high-up CEO’s from much bigger national company’s on it. Although there wasn’t a direct matching system, as the VP of my division I had a board member whose business most matched what I was responsible for. His was a publicly traded company which today has 680 locations. Back when I was with the coffee company this board member’s company was going through headquarter changes, business divestures and many other complex business strategy changes.
As his phone rang non-stop, and we were traveling Baton Rouge to look at my locations, I asked him the question I really wanted to know. I wanted to know the answer to this question because I was working a ton of hours and there was so much to get done. We were in a huge growth phase for us, trying to open 6-8 coffee houses a year. I was having a blast, but I was worried that there wasn’t enough hours in the day to make the plans come to fruition. If you are a busy small business owner you have probably felt this same sense of excitement and adventure tinged with “how will I get it all done”. My questions was,
“Where do you focus your time?”
Seriously. His situation was way more overwhelming than mine. I believe it is a business advantage to effectively manage our priorities. He was answering to the stock analysts on Wall Street. They were in the middle of moving their headquarters and training center to another state. He had hundreds of locations which meant thousands of employees.
It took him all of 5 seconds to respond, “At least 30-40% of my time is spent on employee issues – hiring, training, problems, opportunities, succession planning and turnover.” Even at his level of CEO of a really big national company he was still spending more time on people issues than any other single area of focus. He started the company and said that even in the beginning he had always spent at least this much time on his team.
His company employed dishwashers and CFO’s, waiters and marketing specialists. The restaurant business has a turnover rate of over 100% by industry standard. He knew that he could have a cracker jack HR team and that wasn’t enough. It required his direct interaction.
Are People Your Most Important Asset?
As a Christian business owner we would all agree that our people are our Christian business advantage. As Christians it is part of our Christian values to treat employees fairly and for them to in fact to be paramount to our business success. We get that people are our most important asset.
My question to you is “How much time do you spend on the people who work for you?” I don’t think we can get away with saying “I am not a great manager” or “I have an HR department to handle that”.
We all start our businesses for different reasons. Most of us wouldn’t say I want to start a business so I can manage people. We are usually passionate about baking pies or selling widgets. We think we can do this as well or better for ourselves than we can working for someone else. But, whatever the reason, at some point in our growth we will have other employees. These employees represent us, fulfill our vision and become our business.
We need to be good managers and we need to prioritize our people as one of the most important areas in our business.
How do you do this?
- Start with putting your time and attention into your team. They say you can tell where someone’s heart is by what they spend money on and where they spend their time.
- Develop plans for who you need on your team. It doesn’t need to be complex. Make a list of what needs to get done in the next 1-3 years and think about what skills are needed to compliment your current team and yourself.
- Set up a structural safety net. As simple as another list. If you were an employee (we all probably were at some point) what would be important to you? How I was going to get paid. What is expected of me in my job? What holidays do I get off? People perform better if they know what is expected of them and have a structural foundation. (Just a foundation, we need a safety net, not a spider web!)
- Practice Jesus commandments to Love God and Love Others. Jesus tells us that we are loving God when we love others. We can’t effectively love our employees if we turn them over to HR or if we just expect them to “get it” by themselves. Keep in touch with your team. Make sure they are trained. Appreciate them. Discipline them – yes, part of God’s love is appropriate discipline and accountability.
I would recommend that if you do not feel that leadership and management are areas of strength for you that you make it a personal development plan to improve in this area. The need won’t go away. You may want to read one of John Maxwell’s books on leadership or his Leadership Bible. Or attend a workshop. The best leadership workshop I went to was at The Center for Creative Leadership. If you need specific help on a few areas of development like delegation, recruiting or conflict management you may want to check out one of my many leadership coaching programs. Leadership is a life long pursuit. Let’s get started.
Where do you feel Christian business owners should spend most of their time? What else works for you?