For more than 22 years now, I end each year reflecting on what I learned from the past 12 months and how I can improve my business in the new calendar year. In 2014, I cannot say that I learned anything new, but I was reminded of these important lessons-
#1- YOUR PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT
For my business, 2014 was full of issues caused by bad employees. It took me nearly six months to flush the bad, reverse the damage and rebuild my team. I was surprised by the degree of disloyalty and dishonesty displayed by a couple of my employees, and they had to go. The transition from bad employees to a great staff was not easy, but we are better situated today to accomplish great things for our clients and our firm, having replaced bad staff with great staff.
These experiences tested my tendency to trust those closest to me and to treat my employees like extended family members. While I decided that I am not going to stop treating my employees well. . . truly like extended family- I am going to adjust some of my expectations and have contingencies in place to better address employee problems. Here are some things that our firm is doing to make sure that we maintain a strong, dedicated team that is focused on our Mission to help clients solve problems, maximize opportunities and reduce business and legal risks-
- Mission Statement- At least once yearly, each member of our team signs a pledge to live by our firm’s Mission Statement. We talk about our Mission and Core Ideology. We incorporate these important commitments into monthly training. Our Mission Statement is an active component of our business operation, not just a stale document in an old business plan or a page on our website.
- Employee Manual- At least once yearly, each member of our team signs a pledge to live by our firm’s Employee Manual. The Manual sets expectations and gives clarity to how the employer-employee relationship will be managed.
- Team Driven- My current staff is the best staff I have ever had. They are dedicated, client-focused, smart, personable and focused. I solicit their opinions and include them on certain decision-making processes, because we act as a team. And, we are a better operation through this approach. Although the “boss” has to make the final decision, the inclusion of employees in the decision-making process makes for better, more informed decisions.
- Nip It in the Bud- We have a system in place to address employee challenges quicker. Each time an employee performs in a manner inconsistent with our Mission, we have a meeting with the employee to address the issues. Then, and this is the key to our new approach, we have the employee propose definitive ways the employee can correct the problems. The employee completes a form we have created and signs the form as a pledge to correcting the problem. This approach makes the employee the solution, not just the problem.
#2- SYSTEMS ARE ESSENTIAL
In 2014, we realized that we had become too dependent on the individual skills (or perceived skills) of employees. A couple of our employees simply were not as talented as we had hoped. Consequently, we had a gap between what our business required and what our employees could actually do to meet those requirements. While we did upgrade our staff in big ways, the ultimate solution was to reinvent and reinforce the forms, systems and other operational processes that allow us to overcome the challenges caused when an employee is terminated or under-performs.
Also, those processes make it easier for staff to grow and develop new talents, because those processes make the daily, routine tasks easier. More energy and time can now be devoted to personal and professional growth, which makes our business better, which ultimately helps our clients. In the end, it’s all about helping more clients in better ways.
It takes time and effort to create these processes, but it takes even more time to solve problems in the absence of processes. If you have not already, read books by Michael Gerber and Alan Weiss, Ph.D. and a book titled The Checklist Manifesto. Then, build your processes.
#3- MY WIFE IS AWESOME
Owning your own business or managing a business can be tough. It can be stressful, fatiguing and frustrating. Luckily for me, I am married to a very loving, strong and supportive woman. It helps that she is a lawyer who once owned her own law firm.
The point here is that it helps to have a support system. Everyone needs someone to listen and occasionally “push back” with helpful critiques, suggestions and advice. I like to think that I can do it all alone. The reality is that we all need help from time to time. My suggestion is to have someone to talk to on a regular basis. You can find a mentor, get a business partner, join a peer group, or meet regularly with an old college friend. Whatever you do to improve your business in 2015, make sure you find someone to talk with on a regular basis.
Happy New Years!