Managing Your Employees 

Most common mistakes small businesses make
Managing employees is often difficult for small business owners, especially if they have not had much experience as the boss. Apart from finding the right staff, the next harder job is to keep them. However, most problems can be easily overcome with some simple guidance. Here are some of the most common mistakes small businesses make and some ideas on how to deal with them.

1. Not talking with employees 
Some managers never talk to their employees. This is easily done when companies rely increasingly on email for communicating matters to their staff. Managers are busy and talking with employees may seem an unproductive exercise or a luxury. However, not talking to employees in a small or medium-sized business has some real downsides for the firm and your managerial role:
  • you may not hear about the problems that really need fixing 
  • you won't get to hear about the good stories either 
  • you won't get those extra ideas which could give your business the edge 
  • you miss positive opportunities for praising employee successes and encouraging employees where things could be done better 
  • your employees may not get to know you — you become the 'grouch in the bunker' or the absentee landlord 
  • your distance from the employees maintains the 'them and us' culture 
  • you may end up a reactive manager responding to situations, rather than a proactive leader creating new opportunities for staff achievement 
2. Not conducting performance planning with employees
Research at University of Southern Queensland (USQ) shows that 74 per cent of Australian SMEs conduct formal performance appraisals, but only 48 per cent of SME managers ask their employees to also evaluate themselves.

Conducting performance planning will give you the opportunity to establish with each employee what the expectations are in terms of his/her contributions to the business and it also affords you and your staff the opportunity to agree on any changes to the performance plans.

3. Not counselling poor performers about their work problems
Seventy eight per cent of Australian SMEs in the USQ study say they employ informal mentoring. However, only 37 per cent reported they do any kind of formal mentoring. Successful managers and leaders do everything they can to help their employees to succeed. Things you could do when a problem arises are:
  • obtain the facts about the problem behaviour 
  • select a private place for corrective feedback to be communicated 
  • discuss the impact of what went wrong 
  • state the facts as you know them 
  • let the employee confirm or correct the facts and present his or her perspectives 
  • share with the employee your standards and expectations 
  • do not be quick to accuse and punish 
  • probe for the causes 
  • seek solutions that will prevent the problem from happening again 
  • give the employee examples of acceptable behaviour 
  • make sure the employee can do the job and gain a sense of achievement 
  • give the employee a chance to correct his/her mistakes 
4. Not being straight with employees 
Communication with employees needs to be straight and consist of honest talk. Joan Lloyd, an American consultant, said in a 2001 article in the Houston Business Journal, that 'if you care enough about your employees to speak honestly, adult-to-adult, they will repay you with honesty and commitment in return'. If times are tough, she says, employees are more likely to ask, 'How can we help?' when communication is open and face-to-face.

It is also a matter of trust. Trust requires managers to tell it as it is. "Gilding the lily" will not earn respect. Likewise, painting a black picture to encourage greater efforts from your employees can backfire and lead to good employees looking for employment elsewhere, or no longer caring about their work. Attempting to frighten employees into greater efforts doesn't work. And it may be unethical.

To achieve a climate of trust means addressing all of the issues in this page.

5. Not praising or rewarding good performance
Always ask the question: "What is the best way to celebrate success?" Never underestimate the power of a simple "thank you" or "you have done a great job". People thrive on being recognised for their efforts. As far as more formal reward systems go:
  • make sure there are clear criteria and measures for individual and team incentives 
  • agree in advance to these criteria and measures for evaluating the performance of the individual or team 
  • use a variety of recognition and reward programs
6. Ignoring or failing to investigate grievances and complaints 
The legal casebooks are full of examples of failure to deal appropriately and in a timely manner with employees' grievances and complaints. To put off dealing with a grievance or complaint, or letting its resolution drag on, can lead to bigger problems, resentment of the management, higher turnover, lower productivity, and grievance creep where unresolved grievances roll over into open conflict.

Put a grievance process into place that provides two or three steps. At the first step provide an opportunity for review of the grievance at the level at which it arises (example between employee and supervisor). The second step comes into play only if the employee feels the grievance has not been resolved. At that level, you may be called in to make a decision. The final step constitutes an appeal process, and this might involve a number of conflict resolution interventions, such as mediation, decision by a board set up for the purpose, or reference to an industrial commission. Your industry association can help with specific advice.

7. Not treating employees equitably
Employees compare what they receive for the effort they put into their own work with what others receive for their efforts. When employees perceive managers "playing favourites", taking employees' commitment for granted, or ignoring employees who demonstrate high level performance in their job, they will ask themselves, "why bother?". It may even lead to good employees resigning or increasing the number of days they are absent from work.

8. Treating employees as a disposable resource
An attitude of not valuing your employees will have a detrimental effect on their motivation and loyalty to you and the business. People do things for their reasons, not for yours. Your attitudes and actions can have a tremendous impact on their morale and initiative, as can whether you enable them to willingly make the additional effort that is the hallmark of high achievers.

9. Selecting the wrong person for the job
In 79 per cent of Australian SMEs the manager is solely responsible for making the selection decision and only 63 per cent of SME managers ask their employees to have input in the selection decision. Greater consultation of staff regarding selection decision could assist in making sure the right person is employed for the job. The following questions will also greatly enhance the quality of your selection decisions:
  • What are we really looking for? 
  • What are the three main things that this person needs to be able to do? 
  • What kind of person would be attracted to this opportunity? 
  • What are the true incentives? 
  • What will be expected of this person in the first month? In six months? In one year? 
  • How will we know if this person is working out? 
  • How is performance measured? 
10. Failing to invest in employees
While the majority of Australian SMEs say their businesses provide training, only 61 per cent report they have a training budget. When times are lean, training is often the first casualty. Training is perceived as a feel-good, expendable perk. However, to make sure you get the most from your training dollar, training should have two more objectives: 
  • application: what do we expect you to do differently? 
  • impact: what business measure will you drive if you do this? 
11. Not satisfying legal requirements
Have you satisfied the requirements set down under equal opportunity legislation, anti-discrimination provisions, occupational health and safety requirements, unfair dismissal laws, or award and enterprise agreement provisions?

Where the requirements of industrial legislation are not adhered to, employers may find themselves called before the Industrial Relations Commission or the courts. The prudent manager will make sure that all of the firm's obligations with respect to managing employees are identified and acted upon.

12. Failing to provide leadership in your organisation
Failing to provide the right kind of leadership means the difference between organisational success and failure. Contemporary leadership is about articulating and rallying the troops around a vision and set of values, promoting self-management and responsibility, as well as ownership of tasks/processes and seeking a balance between the organisation's and your employees' needs.

The author, Retha Wiesner is Associate Professor and Jim McDonald is Senior Lecturer in Industrial Relations in the Department of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations at University of Southern Queensland. 

Tips for preparing employment contracts
In a changing world both employers and employees are constantly challenged in terms of providing acceptable working conditions and meeting performance standards.

It would be naive for an employee to believe that they could continuously adopt work practices that fail to meet minimum standards, as it would for an employer not to reward performance that exceeds an agreed or expected level.

We have seen the evolution of industrial awards (state and federal), union movement, salary packaging, and more recently enterprise bargaining arrangements as ways of trying to bridge the gap between employer and employee views on returns and benefits. The results are not always equitable.

So how can employers and employees strike a win-win situation? To answer this it is necessary to consider some of the objectives of both parties.

Employer objectives in business:
  • maximise profits 
  • add to capital value of the business 
  • minimise disruption to outputs 
  • diversify business products and services by improved skills and technology 
  • right of termination of business and resources 
Employee objectives:
  • maximise earnings 
  • increase skills and knowledge 
  • security of tenure in position 
  • as a minimum, match remuneration to skills and work performance 
  • flexibility of work hours 
Many of these objectives are similar or complementary in that they assist the other party to achieve desired outcomes. However, the challenge to employers remains the ability to motivate employees to perform at a level where both business profits and employee rewards are maximised.

Whilst it is conceded that not all employers and employees will strive for the objectives listed above, for many they remain the primary goals. If this is so, then workplace conditions that support these objectives will, by mutual incentive, provide positive results.

For the best results and clarity of both employer and employee obligations a written employment contract should be prepared.

Key features of an effective employment contract 

Employer's perspective (the employer's requirements of the employee):
  • confidentiality of all work processes, practices and systems 
  • retention of all intellectual property 
  • adoption of all relevant legislative requirements and reasonably accepted commercial practices 
  • acceptance of business risk taken by the stakeholders and acknowledgment of this in any incentive scheme offered 
  • compensation for loss of business clients migrating to a competitor within an agreed timeframe on transfer or termination of an employee. 
Employee's perspective (the employee's requirements of the employer):
  • fixed performance assessment periods 
  • either a defined employment tenure or open tenure subject to measurable performance 
  • minimum remuneration detailed 
  • salary packaging options 
  • supply of training and development with any employee costs defined 
  • incentive scheme clearly defined and measurable 
Mutual requirements of employers and employees:
  • stated measurable performance outcomes 
  • acceptance of minimum industrial conditions under relevant legislation (state or federal) 
  • dispute resolution process 
  • specified core work hours 
  • probationary period of employment 
  • express condition of the contract that a relationship of employer and employee is set by executing the agreement 
  • termination provisions including specification of conditions warranting dismissal and redundancy 
For more information on employment contracts and conditions visit Fair Work Online, provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman. 

Article from: CPA Australia
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