If you are at the very beginning of your startup journey, learning to be a good boss might be way down your list of things to do. And that’s understandable. Getting your business up and running, securing seed money and sorting out operations is your priority right now. After all, without a business there will be no employees.
But even in the early stages of business, be it a small business or high-growth startup, you probably already have some people in your employ. Even if you’re a solo-entrepreneur, it’s quite likely that you rely on freelancers to help deliver your products or services or that you will need to in the future.
Knowing how to be a good boss – from day one – is invaluable.
First, it is one of the main things that will help you build the right team (because you will be someone that people actually want to work for). This will not only help successfully launch your company, but assist in its ongoing growth. It is also attractive to investors. A CEO with strong leadership skills, effective communication and engaged employees is much better placed for success through the often turbulent startup period than the boss that everybody hates working for.
It will also help you retain talent. A 2015 Gallup poll showed around 50% of employees leave their jobs because of their manager. That is huge. And it’s completely avoidable. By becoming a great boss and training your managers to be effective bosses to their teams, you can cut your employee churn in half, which is definitely good for business.
The same poll also found that over two-thirds of Americans are not engaged with their jobs – a figure that has not changed since 2000. This is a frightening statistic given the link between employee engagement and key performance indicators like profitability, productivity and workplace safety. The research went on to show that managers accounted for some 70% of variance in employee engagement scores – driving home again how critical it is to have the right leadership for a successful business.
For first-time managers, especially those without any formal training, knowing what to do and what not to do, can be tough. And while nothing can take the place of experience, learning some key skills in advance will definitely help. Here are five tips to help get you started, plus some links to further reading and helpful tools below.
Communication is Key
Being an active listener is one of the strongest attributes of an effective communicator. If you haven’t learned this skill yet, now is the time to start. The best managers are those that truly listen and actively encourage feedback. It’s also important to be open, approachable and make an effort to get to know your employees. Showing that you genuinely care about them and their opinions will lead to an inclusive environment and increased morale, which will foster higher employee engagement.
Make Sure Employees Are Challenged, But Not Overwhelmed
It can often be a fine line between being challenged in your job and feeling burnt out. If you consistently check in with your team and practice that active listening, you are better positioned to gauge whether the work is engaging for each of your team members. Just be sure not to micromanage, as autonomy is just as important as challenging, engaging work for job satisfaction. Set reasonable targets and make sure staff are empowered to escalate any problems sooner rather than later.
Share Your Vision
It’s not enough that you know where the company is headed; your employees need this information too. Why? Because when people have a good understanding of what the business is working towards and the importance of their contribution, they are more intrinsically motivated. Couple that with a clear path for career advancement, and you’ve got the perfect combination for employee engagement.
Set Clear Expectations, Foster Accountability & Reward Performance
By clearly communicating expectations and setting goals that are measurable, you are empowering your employees to set themselves up for success. Knowing what is expected of them, how it will be assessed, and being held accountable for the outcomes allows employees to set priorities and goals that align with the company mission.
Just as important as accountability and setting reasonable milestones though, is providing feedback and rewarding performance. Value the contributions of your team members – and make sure they know it. Share praise when it is deserved and provide performance-based rewards to continually motivate your people. Likewise, don’t back away from addressing poor performance. Provide constructive criticism when it is necessary and provide pathways for success in the future, whether that is through mentoring, further training or providing other learning opportunities.
Work Hard To Create Strong Morale
Good morale is not something that just happens on its own. It is something you have to work at every day to build, and it should be a priority, because retention will plummet in a negative work environment. Focus first and foremost on building trust. A trusting, inclusive and collaborative environment makes all team members feel valued and secure.
Secondly, make sure you recognize good work. Do so privately and publicly, but don’t always limit your recognition to praise. Reward teams and staff members appropriately to show them you appreciate their hard work, and remember that rewards don’t always have to be fiscal. Sure, bonuses, promotions and raises should be a key part of performance remuneration, but things like giving the company the afternoon off, paid training opportunities or providing regular happy hours can be powerful rewards as well.
To learn more about your leadership style or assess your management skills, try one (or both) of these quizzes: Are You A Good Boss? and What’s Your Leadership Style? And if you want a quick kick starter for developing your leadership skills, check out this resource or this one to learn more about active listening.