Being the leader of a small business has challenges. In her session, Team Talk, presented as a Claris Engage 2020 On-Demand recording, Susan Fennema talks about the ways to empower your team by being a good leader.
Please find the full video transcript below.
I’m Susan Fennema. I’m the Chaos Eradicating Officer for Beyond the Chaos. Beyond the Chaos exists to help small businesses simplify their operations and manage their projects so that the owners can get their lives back and also be able to grow their businesses at the same time. Most of the reason that we do that is that I have 30 years of experience in operations and in project management, and I hire a great staff that comes mostly from the advertising and marketing world, and also software development. We all have that type of experience and enjoy helping the small business owner. The team sees such huge transformations when they bring technology into their world too. We help a lot of the small business owners that might even be still using Excel or those types of things transition into some software that can really help exponentially change their business.
I was a past lead facilitator for Women Innovating Together. I enjoyed working with those women. And, I still do work with those women. And we’ve been able to make an impact on having more women in the Claris product line. We want to continue to do that. If you’re interested in joining please, give a shout at email@example.com.
I am also a Texan. I run a virtual business and serve the United States, but I am here in McKinney, Texas, a little small town. It’s not that little really, but I am in a smaller town in Texas. I also am a home chef. I love cooking and being able to put together amazing dinner parties, 7-course meals, those types of things. Before I got married, I cooked in a small apartment in Chicago. And if you think that you can do a 7-course dinner without some project management, well just imagine how those things would come out of order, would not go over well. I am married as I mentioned to a field service mechanic, and I have a cat and a dog, and I’m very interested in getting into this material with you here.
Welcome to Team Talk.
This session is about taking yourself and making yourself the leader that you need to be to allow your team to communicate well and to succeed. So I really want you to leave this session as a leader. There are definitely things to consider to make that communication with your team work. And absolutely you being a leader is the first part of that.
One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Dave Ramsey. He leads a management consulting workshop called Entreleadership. It’s certainly something I recommend that you look into if you haven’t. But the quote is, “If you as a leader, allow people to halfway do their jobs and don’t demand excellence as a prerequisite to keeping their jobs, you will create a culture of mediocrity.”
Funny story about that. I worked at a company way back in the ’90s, and I always laughed that I felt like management was striving for mediocrity, like that was their goal. They had a lot of good things. They wanted to reduce stress and for everybody to speak nicely to each other. All of those things are very positive. But they didn’t do anything to push people. They didn’t do anything to demand excellence. So there were a lot of times that I felt like were going above and beyond, and they didn’t like it. So here we go. We’re striving for mediocrity.
And the thing that came out of that for me was realizing that the communication of your expectation is so important. And you cannot get excellence from people without that communication. An important part to note about all of this is it starts with you. In order to manage a team, in order to get them to communicate, you first have to be a good leader. So how do you do that?
It’s important to know that you as a leader set the tone. Everything starts with you. Your main role as a business owner with a team is to be the leader. So that is something that you have to really dig deep to understand. While you might think of yourself as, “I drive the business or I set the rules,” being the leader is really your main job. Your main task is communication. You have to be very clear on what you expect or what you want, and when you want it by. And without that communication — and remember communication goes both ways. It’s not a dictatorship. Even though you are in charge, you want that communication coming back to you too. So you have to be open to that either way.
Your main goal has to be to support your team. One of the things that I’ve heard business owners say before is, “I work for my team,” and that’s important to remember is that you are servicing or you are demonstrating to them how to be of service. And that translates to how they treat your clients. So getting into that servant leader mentality is really important. And that support you give your team is part of that. The result, if you put all these things together, your team’s going to grow, your company is going to grow. Your team is going to work well together, and they’re going to serve your clients really well.
What Makes a Good Leader?
So what makes a good leader? The number one quality is integrity. You have to do the right thing. Always, without question, you do what you say. You do it when you say you’re going to do it, you are reliable. You’re responsible. All those things sound kind of boring, but that stability is what helps you be a good leader. And your team knowing that you’re going to do the right thing. That you’re not going to do anything shady. There isn’t lying. Everything is true. That doesn’t mean you have to say everything you know, but it does mean that everything you say needs to be the truth.
Another important skill or trait of a leader is commitment and passion. So you demonstrating that you care tremendously about your company, about your team, about your clients, that you’re passionate about what you create for them, and how you serve those clients. Your team will pick up on that and they’ll follow that commitment and passion.
You also have to have vision and purpose. So where are you going? Where is the company going? What is the goal of the company? At Beyond the Chaos, we are here because we want to improve American society exponentially. It’s a pretty big purpose there. It’s one of our values. We make sure that those values are shared. We have several other values, but we make sure that those values are shared out to our team. They’re on our website. And we drive our decisions based on those. So sharing that vision and purpose is also important to get your team involved.
Another is decision-making ability. You have to be able to decide something, you need to do it quickly. You need to do it clearly. And you need to move on. Many times we’re wrong. I know I’ve certainly been wrong. But being able to make quick decisions and to share them clearly is important. It keeps your team moving. It keeps your clients having confidence in you, and your team as well.
Also, accountability is a big thing that makes a leader a good one. If you hold yourself accountable; if you hold your team accountable. Both of those things are important to make sure that everybody is living up to their expectations. There are a ton of different ways to do that. Whether that be regular reviews. If you are a business owner that struggles in holding yourself accountable, you can join a mastermind. They will help. Or even better, ask one of your team members to hold you accountable. You can get them involved in that too.
As far as accountability for your team, that could be reviews. It could be monthly meetings. For my team, we don’t do reviews. But we do monthly meetings just to talk through what did we say we were going to do last month, where are we, how are things going?
Another thing that’s important to be a good leader is the ability to delegate. Delegation is a challenge most of the time. You really have to be clear. You have to make sure that the person that you’re delegating to knows exactly what your expectations are. We write detailed processes around those things so that people can refer back to them. Or you can make a movie to reflect what you want them to do. But delegation and not keeping everything yourself is a great quality of a good leader.
Let’s also talk about humility. I screw up, right? And I’m sure you do too. Trying to hide that from your team, not acknowledging a mistake, not acknowledging that it could always be you. That’s part of the approach I tend to take is, “Oh, wow. That didn’t turn out I expected. What did I do? Did I not communicate that clearly? Is our process not clear?” Things like that, make sure that that humility drives you.
And empathy. This is a big one. Feel how your team feels, put yourself in their shoes. Same with your client; put yourself in their shoes. This kind of thing is going to help you be a good leader, and it’s going to make your team work harder for you. The fact that you can put yourself in their shoes is a big thing. Can be hard, but definitely a quality of a good leader.
What Makes a Bad Leader?
So what makes a bad leader? A blamer or a reactionary. Something goes wrong because they didn’t do it your way. And you blame them for failure, as opposed to as we talked in the previous one, taking that step back, that humility, and making sure that it’s actually not the system’s fault that you wrote, or the process, or yours because you weren’t clear.
If you’ve hired good people and they’re not working for you, that’s something to consider that there’s something else going on there. Could be poor communication, could be poor processes or systems. But if you are the type of leader who feels like nobody on your team can do it right, you have to come back and do it yourself. This is an example of you’re not really getting the gist of leading. So consider that. Blaming people or reacting poorly? Those are bad leadership techniques.
If you have an inability to change, that’s a good one. If you’re stuck in a rut, if you won’t listen to what your team is saying, and you can’t change to improve, that’s a problem. A lot of business owners are perfectionists. I know I am. And you have to accept a lot of times that good enough is actually good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If it works, the client’s happy, everybody’s happy, you made the money. That’s something to consider as good enough, and you might have to change your mindset to be able to accept that.
Don’t micromanage. That’s a big one, getting in everybody’s business all the time. And you have to be able to let things go sometimes. Pick your battles, so to speak. Make sure that you aren’t telling them every little thing to do, but that you’re there for support. It’s a balance, but something that you have to really keep an eye on.
If you are micromanaging, you might as well not have that employee. You might as well do it yourself. So you’re going to have to let things go and let them do it their way in some cases. It’s not wrong if they don’t do it your way
Fear-based management is another bad, bad leader technique where you’re threatening. If you’re threatening that they’re never getting another project, or “Don’t do that again or I’m going to fire you, or we’ll withhold pay if you make another mistake.” That’s bullying. So if you get to that point, you might have an HR issue that you need to resolve with the employee. It might be that they don’t need to be there anymore. But being a bully, and dictating, and scaring your team is definitely a bad leader technique.
Volatility is another. Do you fly off the handle? Are you not listening and then overreacting when things didn’t come out the way that you expected, even though maybe the team member told you something different? So make sure that if you’re feeling stressed or angry, that you might walk away and come back to that conversation.
Lack of empathy is another. Just like being empathetic makes you a good leader, not having that empathy makes you a bad leader.
Not listening. That is another big one. You’ve got to listen to what your team says. They’re on the front lines. If you are not hearing them, that’s important to address. You want to make sure that you’re sitting down with them if they’re raising a concern. Listen.
And the last bad, it’s not the last, these aren’t the only ones. There are more, but these are the ones that I want to point out the most. But that lack of vision or tunnel vision is really something that makes a bad leader. So if you’re always staring down the same path, you can’t see beyond what’s right in front of you, that’s going to challenge your leadership skills.
As a leader, you really reap what you sow. Your company culture is set by you. It doesn’t get better at the bottom of the hill, let’s put it that way. It all rolls downhill. So if you’re starting as a fear-based leader, by the time they are working with your clients, they are blaming the clients. So remember that again, you’re setting the tone. And that company culture is set by you. Respect goes both ways. They need to respect you, absolutely. But you need to respect them as well. Give credit where credit’s due. That absolutely is one thing that your team will appreciate.
Whatever you tolerate makes it okay. So if you let it go with one person in one situation, you’ve just given permission for everybody to do it all the time. If you don’t have a lot of experience in these types of areas, seek out a leadership coach or get involved in EntreLeadership or other similar programs. Being a good leader is really a challenge and it takes experience, and it takes practice. And of course, it comes with failure. So remember you reap what you sow.
So let’s dig into some of the more tactical parts of being a good leader in getting that team communication going. The first portion of that is really setting expectations is. So you want to make it easier to manage your team by being very clear on what the expectations are. I love this image here of the no bicycles, please, which is pretty clear expectations. Yet someone is still doing it. We can address that later as to how to resolve those types of issues. But setting clear expectations is the first part of that. So communication is part of that expectation setting.
Let’s talk about the main keys of how to set good expectations. So first is who you communicate to.
A lot of times, people will share an expectation with the whole team. And then everybody has that information. If you can write it down, even better. Keep that in a process area where they can refer back to it. But then if something is not happening, don’t communicate it to everyone again. You want to be just communicating back to the one who is not following or meeting your expectation or following your guidelines.
If you are constantly telling the whole team the same thing over and over again, and, “No one is doing it,” then something is wrong in your communication or in the way you hold them accountable. If it’s one person and you tell the whole team again, a whole team’s going to hear it. The ones that are doing it are going to say, “Oh yeah, did I do my timesheet last week? That that must be me.” And the one who’s not doing their timesheet is the one that is completely oblivious because you’ve just made a general announcement again. So target those people that are not meeting your expectations or following your guidelines. Make sure it’s clear who you’re communicating to.
What you communicate is the other thing. Are you giving the whole story? Making sure that the details are there. If the details aren’t there, they’re going to probably come back to you and ask you more questions later. That’s okay if you’re open to that. So let’s think about that from when you communicate, right? General information is usually communicated in a team meeting or something like that. But there are questions that arise all the time.
How often are you available to support your team? One thing that I often suggest is to set office hours if you need to. So you can tell your team, “Hey, if you’re struggling with a technical issue and you need some of my time, I’m always available between 1 and 2:30 every afternoon.” That way you’re not getting peppered with questions throughout the week, throughout the day. The other opportunity there too is to have them set an appointment. So if you don’t want to set regular hours, you can say, “If you have questions, please collect them. And then let’s schedule a half-hour call to go through all of them.” And have them put it on your calendar. That’s another way to make sure that you’re available to communicate clearly with your team.
There is a book called The New One Minute Manager. I think that that is a great book for a review of how to quickly address things. The theory in the book is very short too, a very quick read. But the theory is when somebody does something great, tell them right away. When someone’s doing something wrong, tell them right away. And then that way, that communication and feedback are always there. You’re not waiting for an annual review to find out that you did something wrong in January and now it’s December. It also makes communication a lot easier. If you’re telling them the good things, when you tell them the bad things, it doesn’t hurt as much. They’re used to hearing feedback from you. So that’s important too, is when you’re communicating. And instantly when you can is a good time.
Where you communicate is important as well. Are you talking in person to someone in their offices, through Zoom? Are you doing it with or without video, if you’re on a Zoom call? What about in Slack or in email? However you’re communicating, all of those are great methods to get your point across. But you can’t use one exclusively.
Now I have an employee who has worked for me for three years. I’ve never met her in person. I live in Texas. She lives in New York City. But, we communicate all the time. We’re talking in Slack all the time. We do Zoom calls and we make sure we’re on video so we can see each other’s faces and react, be able to see those reactions. So it’s important that if you have a team that you’re meeting on a regular basis, however often regular is to you, that’s up to you. I understand that as a leader that is an expensive meeting, right? All of your team is there and they’re not doing billable work. So you can keep it quick, but it’s important to gather everybody, get that bonding, get that communication going.
Why you communicate is another one. Is your communication intentional? So that’s important to think about when you’re communicating with a team member. Are you supporting them? Are you building your company vision? What is the purpose of that communication? So keep that in mind. Sometimes, it could be even empathetic support that this person’s struggling and you want to find out what’s going on with them. But if you’re intentional about what you’re communicating, you’re going to have better results from the conversation with your team.
How you communicate is another one. Processes are a big deal. So sharing verbally is one thing. Having it written down is much more important. You can always refer people back to that. And they can go look it up without interrupting you. If you want a little bit more information on setting up processes, you can check out my other session here at Engage, Creating Freedom Using Structure. That will really help with the process set up to aid in your communication.
When something happens. And I touched on this a little bit earlier, but when something happens, blame your system, not the person. I’m a firm believer, you’ll hear me say it a bunch. Clear, concise communication with consequences. So this is how I think that you should communicate not only with your team, but with your clients. And if you’re not clear and you share consequences, this is going to be very challenging for them to meet your expectations. So using the example of doing timesheets, “I expect you to do your timesheet in our specific program where you capture the time assigned to a specific task with a note of what you did. Not a paragraph, a note. And I expect them all in every Friday by 5:00 PM Central.”
Notice how I even added a time and a time zone. If you’re working with other time zones, that’s important. And to that end, I usually like something like 6:00 AM Central on Monday, that way they have the weekend to catch up. But being that clear, now there’s no confusion about what you expect. That consequence? Yeah. If you don’t have it by Monday at that time, that’s when we bill our clients. So your paycheck might get delayed. Because if I can’t bill them, I can’t pay you. There’s your consequence.
So being clear, that gives them the expectation. Providing a consequence gives a little motivation. So being clear also allows you then to come back and blame the system. So let’s talk a little bit about that. If you believe in your team, which you should if they’re working for you. They’re qualified and talented. If you do not believe that, then maybe you need a different team. But if they are who you think they are, then working with them is important. And if they can’t get it, start blaming the system first. They’re making mistakes or they’re not doing what you ask.
First, look back and say, “Did I communicate that clearly?” Maybe I just said, “Do your timesheet by the end of every week.” And I wasn’t clear on the details of the rest of the expectation. So I do this all the time with my team. Somebody will come back and I’ll get something that is not what I expected. And I can look back really quickly and go, “Yeah, I don’t think I was really clear on that. I didn’t give good instruction.” “Go create a social media graphic” is not the same as I want it to say “this and it’s directed at this audience.” If I didn’t give them all the information, that’s on me. What they could have done might be great. But if they don’t know the parameters, it’s very hard to fit in it.
The other is to blame the system. If it is a systemized thing or a work on your own thing, where did the system fail us? I worked with a client way back when, when I was a project manager. And we had a whole project that was just going down the tubes, and we could not figure out where the disconnect was. The client had all these expectations that we didn’t understand. Finally, in looking back at it, we realized that what had happened is the owner had hired an operations director and put the operations director in charge of the project.
Well, the operations director had a completely different set of expectations about what we were delivering as opposed to what we had talked with the owner about in the first place. And that’s where it went off the rails. And it was easy to fix the system. It never happened again, because we went back and we said if there becomes another player involved in the system, then we will always go back and go through the defined scope with that new person first.
So we fixed the system. But it could have been very easy to blame a developer for not doing what he was told, or for doing what he was told by the client. But being able to come back and figure out that that was the issue. It was part of the system. It was part of the process that broke down, was a really good step into healing the whole thing for the client internally, and make the bleeding stop so to speak.
Delegating is another place where you can look at how to set expectations clear. One of the things I always say is don’t fix it. If they didn’t do it right, don’t take it back and do it yourself. The best way to make sure you will never get out of working in your business instead of on it is to keep taking those things back. You really need to educate, or train, or show, teach your team how to do it if they did not do it properly.
And back to the previous, yeah, sometimes they did make a mistake. So if you just clean up their mistake, they’ve learned nothing. They’re going to make the same mistake next time. You need to explain to them what you’re doing. And I’ve done that where I’ve taken something back. And if I don’t have time to show them or to teach them, or they’re not available, I make a video of everything that I did to fix it. Then we reeducate, we reteach the employee how to do it. And then that’s also documented for the future as part of our education. So that’s a way to do it if you can’t get them one-on-one. But getting them one-on-one and showing them and explaining what you need is more important.
And then let them fix it. Don’t do the work yourself, if it can be avoided at all. If it’s an emergency, of course sometimes you’re going to have to do that. But make sure that you give them the opportunity to fix their mistakes. They’re going to learn from that, and they’re going to be better for that. And here’s the big kicker. You as the leader, you’re even going to be majorly relieved. Because now next time, they’re going to do it right. And you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
Supporting Your Team
Now let’s talk a little bit about how you can support your team. Number one, be available and systemize for sure, but be available. So respond quickly whenever possible. You want to keep your team moving. So don’t be the bottleneck. If you are very busy working on something, but you have three team members who are waiting for you for an answer to keep them going, your first priority as a leader is to get them the answers so they can keep going and then come back to your work. You have to make sure that your team is working for you, not sitting there waiting. You cut the work your team can do for you pretty quickly if you just aren’t getting them their answers. So don’t be the bottleneck. That’s a hard one, but don’t be the bottleneck.
Set the office hours. Like we spoke before about make sure that you have some time on your calendar that you are always available to talk to them, or that they can set a meeting up with you to walk through something. So if there’s something that’s really much more difficult, maybe office hours don’t work. Maybe you need an hour and a half to sit and talk as developers together, or as creatives together, to make sure that you are solving the problem and educating at the same time. So you can schedule those times as well.
And always in a system especially, when a question arises, document that answer into your process and system. So for example, I’ve had team members, my virtual assistant helped me with parts of my sales process. Well, when she asks me a question. “Oh hey, this happened. What do we do?” Well, I know the answer. I can tell her the answer, but that doesn’t document that answer forever. So I even ask her to go into our process and edit it to reflect the answer. So she’s writing it in her words. And she knows what that means. And, she also knows then where in that process the question arose to answer it there. So that’s a good place to look at that. But make sure you’re being available in that systemization prolongs that communication. Once you’ve done it once, it’s there.
Otherwise, be a solution-minded problem-solving leader. Don’t come with problems, your team shouldn’t either. Maintain a positive mindset. So I had a boss once. And man, I loved the fact that he could suck the emotion out of a situation. I was working in advertising. So stressful with a lot of really challenging personalities in that environment. And I could come into his office red-faced, mad, frustrated, whatever. And he would just be very, very clear. “Okay, let’s figure out what’s going on. Let’s ask questions to figure out the root of the problem. Not the emotional reaction, but the root of the problem.” So you can start asking questions of your team member to drive them to the solution.
He could suck that emotion out of the room so quickly just by saying, “What happened? Tell me what happened.” And then I could tell the story. And if I started getting off on an emotional part of it, he’d be like, “Okay nope. Back to the story, what happened?” He just wouldn’t let me get sucked into that. And within seconds, the emotion was gone. And I was able to solve the problem.
He didn’t ever solve it for me either. He asked for my suggestions. So that was just brilliant for him as a leader. A brilliant approach for him not to fix the problem. He got me to come up with the solution. And then next time, I could come up with that solution on my own. And that’s one of the things I’ve tried to emulate with my team is to be that non-emotional leader. So something very important in that.
Don’t Be the Bottleneck
Here’s another one. It’s going to keep coming up. Don’t be the bottleneck. Did I say not to be the bottleneck before? Still, don’t be the bottleneck. It’s still part of problem solving. If you have information you’re not sharing or sharing well, you are still the bottleneck to the solution. So make sure you’re not doing that. And also make sure you’re getting them working on that solution so you can go back to work. Asking those questions to drive them to the answer.
Even if you have to send them away to go come up with a solution, that’s great. A lot of leaders will say don’t bring me problems. Bring me decisions, or bring me solutions. So making sure that a team member comes to you with, “I think you need to make the decision between A and B.” That’s something a leader should expect to have to make the call on. But the other is a solution. “Hey, this happened. This is how I’m going to solve it. I just want your okay.” Those are the types of things that you should be looking for from your employees.
Make sure that everybody’s thinking outside the box on the solutions you included. And sometimes that just needs somebody to bounce the idea off of. And guess what? That doesn’t always have to be you. You can always set up a team member with another team member to get to the solution. Let them brainstorm together a little bit.
Make sure you’re putting the team first with empathy. If they’re having personal issues, make sure you’re showing some understanding. You might even give them some guidance. If you’ve experienced that situation before, they’re hurting. Maybe some of that guidance is to take a day off and get a personal day in there to get back on top of whatever personal issue they’re dealing with.
But you understanding it. And perhaps even saying, “Hey listen, I know how that can be when a spouse loses a job,” or something like that. “That’s very frustrating. Maybe there are some ways we can help you pick up some more hours here.” Or, “Maybe I know somebody who might be interested in hiring your spouse.” So giving understanding as well as guidance. It’s that empathy, right?
And by all means, if a family member dies, please send flowers. Acknowledge the fact that they’re suffering a loss. If flowers are not the right solution, maybe it’s making sure that a donation is made to the charity. But acknowledge their loss in a real, tangible way. It means a lot.
With professional issues, as their leader, you also need to put the team first. Let them use their vacation. Don’t get mad if they’re using a benefit that you’ve offered. Help them figure out how to cover it. That’s actually one of the things that I always ask my team is, “Do you need my help while you’re gone? You can go on vacation. You can take whatever time you want, really. But I want your clients covered. I want the clients to feel comfortable. And I want to know what to do in an emergency. That could be coverage from another team member. It could be you covering.” But help them figure out how they’re going to cover. They can’t just throw up their hands and be gone for two weeks without making sure that their work is covered.
Another big thing is that if you’re having a problem employee, if they’re making mistakes, if they’re refusing to do their timesheet even after you’ve been clear and concise with consequences, then make sure you’re helping them improve or setting them free. There were several people that I fired back in my ad agency days. They needed to be set free. Otherwise, they probably would have kept trying to do what they were doing. They weren’t good at it, or they weren’t a fit for that agency or that company. So setting them free to go find something that fits them better is actually a benefit to them. And while it’s very difficult, you’re going to find a lot of relief in the way that it is affecting your company. Because I guarantee it’s not just affecting you. It is affecting the other team.
So let’s jump into some tips for growth. And these are just some general tips on how you and your team can grow together. First, your vision. Make sure you have a clear vision of where a company is going. This is going to include things like how we do work. What do you expect your team to look like to your client? That’s branding to a degree. Who do you serve and how do you serve them? Is there a personality that you want in serving them? Is there language even that could be important?
Share that vision early, share it often. It is important to make sure you review it and update it as you evolve. Just because you’ve created a vision for your company when it was 3 people, doesn’t mean it’s the same vision when it’s 10 people. Communicating what that vision is, is really important for your team. You can have that written, you can read it, you can take snippets of it. You can remind in your language. But that’s really important to succeed is having a vision.
Having values. This is the next one. What values do you expect your company to have? And by that company, that means your team as well. So your company as a whole needs to reflect this. Mine are a U.S. societal impact as we discussed. We are service-minded. We interact based on a service-minded Christian belief system. You don’t have to be Christian to work here, but that’s how I expect our clients to be treated. We’re lifestyle-oriented. We want our team and our clients to have a lifestyle of work, and play, and family that works well together.
We are tech-savvy. That is one of our values as well. We believe the right technology helps businesses run more effectively. We’re client committed. We believe we are an extension of our client’s businesses. And we create chaos-free environments. We want drama to be gone. We want chaos to be gone in our clients’ environments. And that is also in ours.
These values are on our website, and they’re physically printed and framed in each of my team’s virtual offices. So being very clear on what they are is important. Posting them and sharing them is important. If you don’t have a clear set of values for your team to follow, then that should be something that you work on. Because you do have them. They might be in your head. And that expectation being clear is important.
Guess what? We’re coming back to communication. That’s tip number three. So communicate regularly. How you do it is important. One of the things that we suggest is daily check-ins. If you’re using a Slack or any other chat tool, if you’re a virtual business, do a daily check-in on Slack. I worked for a company once where when you arrived at work, you had to walk around to everyone and say good morning. It was a nice way to see that everyone saw everyone every day.
So make sure that there is some sort of daily check-in. During our daily check-ins, we ask 3 questions on Slack. This is what everybody answers every morning:
- What did you do yesterday? Or what was the main thing you did yesterday?
- What is your main goal for today?
- And do you have any blockers? Is there anything you need help with?
So one thing you don’t want is a laundry list of everything somebody did. But one good thing that comes out of that is what’s the thing that you provided value to us yesterday? What’s the thing that you’re going to provide value to us today. It also makes the team member think about the value of their work. So those daily check-ins on Slack or however you want to do them is really important.
Weekly meetings on Zoom. Weekly, biweekly, at least monthly. Get everybody’s face on there, use your video. If you are in person, meet in person monthly if it’s possible and in budget. Even travel if you have team members that are nearby and you can meet in a common location. I think that that is also a good thing to do if possible.
Those in-person things are not to be taken for granted. Do it as often as you can. But if it’s not possible or in budget, using your video for Zoom type meetings are important. Have company happy hours in person, if you can, if you’re in the same location. Or do it on Zoom. And no, everybody on your team doesn’t have to drink. You don’t have to drink. Make it coffee hour if you prefer. But make sure that you’re doing something fun with your team too that I don’t think you have to pay them for. You probably need to pay them for the weekly meetings that you have. But for outside of work, fun things, not necessarily. And you don’t have to make them required. The thing is though if you don’t make them required, you still know who’s there. You’ll see who’s committed and who’s not.
This is a big one for me. This is all about setting the expectations so that you’re not frustrated or angry when they’re not met. For example, what are your holidays? What days is the company closed? This is a big thing around the Christmas or Thanksgiving holidays. Be clear. Is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and/or the Friday after Thanksgiving, are those company holidays? Or is that something that somebody is going to have to take a vacation day for?
Be clear on your vacation policy as well. How much notice do they need to give? What is their responsibility when they’re on vacation? How are they paid for vacation? And let them take it. This is part of their compensation package. So fighting back on it is bad. If there are times that you don’t want people to take vacation, then put that out there as part of your policy. No one can take vacation during the week of Claris Engage for example, or something like that. Make sure that you’re very clear on that.
Do you want to know when people are working? And how do you want to know that? I have mostly a team of contractors. And when you hire contractors, you cannot set their hours. That’s actually not legal. So I don’t set my team’s hours, but I do want to know when they’re working. So we have a schedule that everyone can look at to see when someone’s working or when to expect them the next time. If we’re not getting an answer to a question, that kind of thing, they can change it at a moment’s notice because they get to as contractors. But we just ask that they keep in communication with us when they’re actively working on projects.
How much information do you want them to share about the clients that they work with? So if you have team members that are working independently with clients, what do you want to hear? Do you just want to know when there are problems? Do you want them to check in once a week to give you a status update? Maybe it’s once a month. But what information do you want from them when they’re working independently? Don’t get mad if they’re hiding information or not sharing, so to speak, if you haven’t asked for it.
And then also, do you have specific language that’s important to your brand? One of my contractors noticed that I use a lot of phraseology when I’m talking with clients, when I’m speaking in public, or doing podcasts or videos. And she’s like, “Hey, can we start to collect a document of the phraseology that you use and what it means so that when we’re communicating with our clients, we use the same language?” What a brilliant idea. Yes, absolutely. That’s not really a policy, but it’s definitely a reference document that really helps you be able to set expectations really clearly with your team.
Hire a Project Manager
Tip number five, this is a big one. Hire a project manager if you’re running projects. This will help you keep your projects moving. It will help you manage client expectations. It will help manage your team’s workload. And it will even help you prevent emergencies. Believe it or not, it will.
This really takes all the day to day details off your plate so you can work on growing the business instead of working in it constantly. Think about all of the challenges you have in those little details. Having a project manager helps you make happier clients, a happier team, happier owner, and overall happier life. So get somebody to help you with that.
You can hire a part-time person, does not have to be full time. Shoot, 5 or 6 hours a week might make a huge difference in managing all of that. So definitely consider doing that to help your team succeed.
This is especially for virtual teams. Use your communication software such as Slack. That’s our favorite one, but you can also use Teams or Basecamp’s Campfire, or any of those that come separately that you prefer, WhatsApp. There are a ton of them out there. So make sure you’re using some sort of communication software to talk with your teams quickly.
Use project management software, such as Teamwork or Asana. There are a bunch of others out there, Basecamp, monday.com. We can go on and on listing them forever. I know many of you listening to this are software developers but don’t reinvent the wheel. Just build the parts of these tools that are lacking in your tool of choice. Try to combine them when you can. But trying to rebuild things that are already out there as software as a service is not an efficient use of your time. And you can instead use those skillsets to sell people and the people that need it, as opposed to putting all that work into something in-house.
CRM software. That’s another one. This is mostly sales software. HubSpot is a good one for our fellow FileMaker people, you can use something like Jarvis. It’s a great CRM software. There are also other tools out there. There’s one called Less Annoying CRM. It’s a really small tool. It doesn’t have that much functionality, but it’s a great tool. Inexpensive. HubSpot, there is a free version. So make sure you’re using that for your sales.
And you can tie them all together and fill any gaps using FileMaker and/or Connect to make sure that they’re talking to each other and you’re not duplicating contact information or that kind of thing. Using software will improve your team communications tremendously. So please make sure that you’re using the right stuff at the right time.
Here we go. Let’s make sure that we’re streamlining. Let’s make sure that you can delegate. So how do we do this? One, automate as much as humanly possible so that it just does it itself. Create systems for everything else. So you might have to write process for the gaps between things that can’t be automated. And then delegate, delegate, delegate. Give it away, get it off your plate, empower your team. This is so important. And all of that automation that you can put in place totally prevent frustration.
My husband works for a company that won’t do things like that. He is constantly frustrated by having to repeat silly things like entering in client information every single time he goes to a worksite. So those are things to think about that not only is it streamlining your business, it is also making your team happier that they don’t have to deal with some things that can be considered inefficient or not productive. And again, find the bottlenecks and then do all of that again.
So after you do all the automation, creating the systems, and delegate, you are still going to find bottlenecks. And often it is you. So go back through, do it again. Can you automate that? Can you create a system for it? And then delegate, delegate, delegate. Again, if you want to dig more into the systems, please see Creating Structure for Freedom. That session that I did really will walk you through how to set those systems up.
You Set the Tone
All right, here’s the last tip. You need to lead. You set the tone. Make sure you remember that. If you are ever in doubt, see how your reactions affect your team. With that, I hope you’re able to have some great conversations with your team. I hope you’re able to improve those team communications. And by that, I hope you’re able to grow your business.
Thanks so much for having me. I hope you have enjoyed Claris Engage 2020.
Originally published at Beyond the Chaos: Small Business Project Management and Operations Consulting.