Owning a business or leading a team can be one of the most challenging things you can do, but it can be fun and rewarding if done right. I always say I’d take the worst day in my life as a business owner than the best day I had working for someone else, and I say this because for the most part (since I got to choose the industry I want to be in-sportswear), going to work has always felt like a lot of fun, instead of a tedious obligation.
It is easy to take for granted that my team members may not feel all the excitement and vision I have for the company. One of the biggest yet seldom addressed pitfalls of a small business is the psyche of the team members and how they feel about you, the company and the brand. I have learned over the years that pre-maintenance is a lot easier than damage control so in order to keep my office up and running on all cylinders there are 7 things I like to do:
1. Have a plan and write it - Sounds so simple but one of the biggest failures of small business owners is that you have dreams and ambition but it doesn’t make it on paper. This leads to constant changes, instability and employees losing trust that you’re the right person to lead them. Nobody wants to be lead by someone who changes their mind about the direction of the company on a whim (I’ve learned this the hard way). You may have a ton of brilliant ideas and in time you will get to them but remember you must first “plan your work and work your plan”.
2. Communication - Nobody will tell you that they like meetings but it’s vitally important that you have at least one scheduled each week to talk about where the company is at, what direction the company is headed and at least one personal victory story from the week before. Personally, I like to start my meetings by casually talking about the weekend events and really try to get the team involved. When you are meeting with 12 and under this shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish; if the group is larger you may have to be a little creative. Next we go over each team members highs and lows of the previous week so we can learn from each other and finally we cap it off with this weeks expectations; it’s simple and to the point.
3. Food - Everyone loves food and there’s no quicker way to get a group moving and motivated than bringing in something delicious for them to eat before your meetings or during the week when you feel the momentum has shifted away from what you want. Every once in a while I’ll go out and buy each person the candy of their choice or just pick up a big bag of assorted candy and put it in a bowl… Be careful of candy coma (yes, this has happened to the office before). Also, never underestimate the power of freshly brewed coffee in the morning.
4. Games, games, and more games - I own a sportswear company so games come easy. We have office brackets for the NFL and NBA playoffs, March Madness and pretty much anything else that comes up. We also play in an inner office fantasy football league which creates some very fun and colorful talks each week. Participating in inner office games like these will bond your team members and create a sense of belonging and loyalty.
5. Have a plan for each employee - Everyone wants to achieve and succeed at what they do. Your job is to map out a career path for each person working for you and let them know about it. When an employee knows you have a plan for them, it is easier to get through the hard times when they come (which they will, they always do). The plan also motivates them to work harder to achieve the next step in their careers. As a small business you may not have a lot of opportunity at the moment but you can plan to grow and when you grow, the new positions that become available should be filled by current team members if at all possible. This will give the next guy who’s working his way up some hope for his future as well and boost company morale.
6. Plan trips - Each year I try to take a company vacation with the team. This may sound expensive and unnecessary and at times it is, but if you can budget it in, your team will love you for it and make your company a place everyone wants to work at. We usually make our annual business planning session an excuse to hit the slopes or spend a weekend at the beach. When budget does not permit, be creative! Paintball nights or something that everyone loves to do can go a long way.The benefits far outweigh the costs and create memories that will stay with you forever.
7. Get to know them - In America employers have a phobia about actually getting to know the people who work for them. I find this to be one of the dumbest things American businesses have adopted. Knowing about your team members’ family and kids, or other loved ones and actually asking about them (God forbid) is a great way to help them achieve their goals and let them know you care. For some reason we have been raised up to believe the boss has to be cracking the whip and glaring through their office window at their employees to be effective, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A great leader will know how to balance being personal and objective and when to be what.
Show you care and your team will also care, that’s a win-win if I ever heard one. Morale is one of the most important factors of growth that a leader has to pay attention to in a small business. If your employees give up, your business will soon follow. I have had my share of letting it slip every now and then but it is always good to be reminded that it can turned around if we put the above tips into practice.
By: Todd Marinshaw. Todd owns and operates a sportswear business based in Orlando, FL and recently founded iPrevail, a non profit organization focused on relief and rehabilitation for victims of disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan.