SHOW NOTES FROM PODCAST EPISODE 51
You will get a lot of questions from your employees in the early days. You have two choices each time this happens:
Answering the question and moving on is the easy way at first but it makes this employee dependent on you. Instead of thinking for themselves they simply call you. They rely on you more and more. Each time they have a problem they call you and turn it into YOUR PROBLEM.
This turns you into the bottleneck. All important decisions come through you. All fires go straight to you. Nobody in the company is capable of solving problems without your input. If you go on vacation everything stops. If you don’t answer the phone everything stops. If you are busy a line of problems backs up behind you. Customer service suffers. Employees suffer. Everyone gets frustrated.
Don’t let every problem in your company become your problem.
Invest the time it takes to turn your employees into extensions of you that know how to use your logic and the company’s goals to frame decisions and solve problems. This is the important but not urgent stuff that helps you build a strong company. It takes some extra time now but it’s an example of how 2 hours of work now can prevent 1 hour of work a week for the next year.
A side benefit is you’ll learn how employees think and a lot about their competence level. Each one of these interactions is like an interview case study. You’ll learn who you can trust to solve problems and who you can’t. Get rid of the employee you can’t or move them to a position with less decisions to make. You’ll learn who you can promote to oversee other employees. You’ll learn who has the soft skills we talked about: communication, positive & logical thinking and emotional maturity.
Another side benefit is that you will learn from your employees and this environment encourages creative problem solving. Your employees will have a voice. They will be a part of finding the solution. Go into the process with an open mind and you’ll be surprised at what you are able to learn.
Your customer service rep calls you. He has a customer on the line. The customer has a question that he has never heard before and isn’t sure of the correct answer.
Let’s say a customer wants to set up an appointment at an off-time and we don’t have any employees scheduled to do the service during that time.
What do I do? He asks.
It would be easy as a boss to do option #1. Call the customer. Ask them about their order. Find out how large and profitable the work would be. Make the decision if its worth servicing the customer. Then call main employee at that location yourself and see if he can do the job. Schedule him to work. Make a special appointment for the customer. Organize the logistics. Thats faster and easier in the moment. You can just do the work yourself and it gets done right and its faster.
Why is this a problem?
It turns you as the owner or manager into the bottle neck. Next time the rep has a question he’ll call you again. And the next time. And the next one. All of his problems will continue to become your problems.
Here is the better solution:
Ask the employee what the goals of the company are? To get customers and achieve profit without distracting from the main operation.
What information do you need to find out if this aligns with our goals? I need to ask the customer about their order and find out how much revenue it would generate.
How would you make the decision? I’d assumer our labor costs us $20 per hour and the truck rental will cost $100. I’d think about how long the job would take. I’d do some math and find out if there is money to be made.
If there is money to be made how would you make it happen? I’d call the employee at the location and see if they are available to work that day. If they are I’d schedule them and set up the appointment with the customer and organize everything.
There. Boom. Now the employee knows how to approach the problem and think about solving it.
Now you as a business owner need to set up a system. If someone has a special request the first thing we do is find out more about the service and find out if it will be profitable and worth our effort. This is how we calculate it. This is our baseline for it to be worth our time. If it’s worth our time we should set up a special appointment, rent the truck, schedule the workers and make it happen. Here is the contact list so you can contact each employee at each location. Here is how we schedule the customers.
Next time they do all this without your input. No stress for you. It happens automatically.
This is an over-simplified version. There will be more coaching. Some employees aren’t capable of reasoning like this. Others do it very well. Some can’t give you answers that you like. Require those employees to hand off this problem to a manager under you that you trust to make these decisions.
There is a balance here. Not every problem requires a process. Some problems are unique and some are repetitive. Being totally hands off is not the answer and its not what I’m suggesting. There is a balance between being helpful and enabling your employees to continue passing every problem directly to you. Empower your employees to take action and give them the tools to do so while also making time to help with the problems.
Warning – this can backfire if you don’t give your employees the tools to solve or prevent the problems. If you expect them to read your mind it can create a horrible working environment and can crush employee morale. It can also lead to major problems when employees start guessing what to do.
Don’t get upset when they call. Don’t make them feel guilty for calling. Don’t condescendingly go through this process with a bad attitude. Be open minded and encourage them to call and get answers if they are unsure. That is how you make them feel valued and supported while also giving them the power to make future decisions. Be happy. Smile. Be eager to help.
Not all questions are around process and frameworks. Sometimes the problems could have been prevented. Sometimes the problems are unnecessary stress. Sometimes the problems are not really questions and don’t have a straightforward solution.
When this happens don’t blame the employee, blame yourself. It’s easy to begin to think your employees are incompetent or that they don’t care. While this is sometimes the case and you should adjust your staffing or let those employees go – if it happens over and over again it points to a flaw in your system. If questions come in all the time it means you need to adjust the training or the structure to give your employees more tools. Don’t hate the players when you are in control of the game.
If you keep using this framework to treat these types of problems you will create a horrible work environment and your entire business will suffer. It’s your job to spot these problems in the structure and fix them so next time that problem is prevented. Don’t turn your problems into your employee’s problems. Too many owners blame employees for failing when they never gave them the tools to succeed in the first place.
The great thing about going into every interaction and approaching it as an opportunity to get into the mind of your employees is that you start to learn a lot about them. You learn about the emotional maturity because you have witnessed them deal with stressful situations. You learn about the communication skills because you have communicated with them and they have communicated with your customers. You learn about their logical decision making because you have been on the other end of the phone listening as they think through a decision.
These are all of the most important skills and they are also the hardest to pick out during an interview.
You’re able to create a company culture. You are able to spread the framework and values throughout your company.
You find the problem solvers. You find the management potential. You find the people who understand the business and think like you do.
So what do you do when your business grows need another manager?
You promote from within. When you need a new manager you don’t go try to hire someone off the street. Thats risky because you are unsure of the emotional maturity, the decision making and the positive attitude. You hire someone who you have worked with and who you understand. You hire someone who thinks like you do and understand the values of the company.
The highest paid management at my company all started as $15/hr laborers. They stood out from the rest. They grew with us and they will continue to be promoted as long as they continue to add value. It’s a win win for everyone.