12 Lessons I’ve Learned From My Mistakes Managing Employees

12 Lessons I’ve Learned From My Mistakes Managing EmployeesEver since I discovered a phenomenal app called Evernote (it works on all my devices!!!), I have been diligently documenting the lessons I learn each day. I also write drafts of blog articles whenever inspiration hits. If you don’t have Evernote, get it; it will change the way you work. That said, in the last couple of weeks, several conversations with my consulting clients and venture-running friends motivated me to dig into my notes and produce this post.

Since people management seems to be the dominant discussion I am having these days (sales operations and marketing automation are a close second), here are 12 lessons I’ve picked up along the way about leading and managing employees (in no particular order):

  • “Business is business and should not be personal” is BS sold to you by “thought leaders” without any experience what your team will do for you, if you genuinely care about them and treat them with compassion. Your employees are humans – they have emotions and families. Things happen, and if you can’t deal with that, you have no place in the ranks of leaders.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the higher your rank or importance in the organization, the more service requirements you have. Dictating and acting in privilege no longer works, unless you want to have corporate cockroaches on your team. Lead by example. If you want people to do something or act in a certain way, you should be the first one to do it and embody it 24x7x365.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are hiring a marketing executive or an intern, if you don’t feel they are smarter than you (note: I am talking about smarts, not experience), don’t hire them. I have had some fresh out of school interns share wisdom with me that I still use to this day.
  • Don’t wait to accumulate major evidence of someone being unethical – fire them immediately, even when it is just your gut setting off the red flags (caveat: you have to rely on data you have, not on what you’ve heard via hearsay). In my experience, waiting for more evidence costs the company dearly.
  • Settling for someone because you are desperate (I see this every day now for sales, marketing, and tech talent), will cost you more in damage to the company than work not being done. Bust your behind to fill the top of the candidate funnel so you’re never desperate.
  • Peoples’ work ethics and general attitudes do not change. You can’t turn a lazy employee into an efficient employer or a brown-nosed employee into a productive member of the team. Either don’t hire them, or replace them ASAP!
  • Investments in a better workplace atmosphere and quality of life pay at least a 3x dividend. Noise levels, comfort, light, quality of air, and break areas matter!
  • If you put your personal needs, as a founder, executive, or manager, higher than those of your employees, don’t complain when people become disengaged and will not go above and beyond for you. Don’t make someone miss family time because your deadline suddenly became shorter or choose an office location because it is a shorter commute for you. Those who look at themselves as servant leaders get the highest output out of their teams.
  • If you let your customer or vendor treat your employees like crap, you are communicating a very bad message to your team. It does not matter how strategically important your customers or vendors are, your employees come first, then the company, then your customers, then your investors. In my experience, this is the magic formula to building a profitable business with happy employees, customers, and investors.
  • Stop falling into “girlfriend/boyfriend syndrome” of fixing your people. Invest in your team, amplify their strengths, and work to offset their weaknesses operationally.
  • Always have a “rainy day” fund in case you meet someone really talented you know you will need six months or even a year down the line. Otherwise, because you will eventually get desperate, you will be paying huge sums to outside recruiters for mediocre talent.
  • Even a top-rated MBA program will not turn an incompetent person into a business maven. All it will do is increase their incompetence and their illusion of prudence. Don’t ever rely on someone’s education to predict their performance.

Photo credit: Chris Ingrassia

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