Skip to main content

Eight Tips to Better Manage Your Employees

"The floggings will continue until morale improves!"

I have a friend who manages a retail store for a large national chain who is miserable in her job.


She can't figure out how to manage her employees, and through them, the business.  She's always weeks and months behind in reports, and lives every day in a panic to get caught up on her own work.  She complains bitterly about the number of hours and late nights she puts in.

And she has no one to blame but herself.

She was promoted to the position of manager because of her solid performance in customer service and her deep knowledge of the company's products, services, standards, and procedures.  Yet she's failing as a manager and suffers from it because this company provides little if any training in how to manage the employees of an individual store.

Whether it's a small business with one or two employees or a single location of a large chain with hundreds, the challenge for the manager is the same: how to run the business without driving him or herself crazy and harming his or her health by suffering unremitted stress over a long term. And prolonged, unrelieved stress is a cause of everything from diabetes to heart attack to cancer to Alzheimer's to stroke and more.

The best manager I ever worked for is a Harvard MBA named Bob Hacker who founded and ran The Hacker Group direct marketing company in Bellevue, Washington.  Bob had a series of simple rules he worked by and taught to run his very successful business.,  All seventeen of his employees knew them and used them daily.  Below is a list of rules based on what Bob taught.

The Rules of Managing Employees

Keep it Simple, Stupid.  You'd think this would be obvious to anyone, but it is too easy in the course of the day to make a task or a project far too complicated.  I know this from personal experience.  Want to prove you're making your job more difficult than it need be?  Read through your master To Do list.  Feel a little, or a lot, overwhelmed?  Then you've made your tasks, projects or goals too complicated.  A To Do list works when it helps you stay productive, and works against you when you have an anxiety attack looking at it.  Simplify:
  • If it doesn't need to be done today, does it need to be done at all? 
  • Is the item wishful thinking? 
  • If you don't do it, will your business suffer? 
I'll bet you a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop you could cross off most of the items on your To Do and not notice a bit of difference in your business, with the bonus that you'll regain a sense of control over your life.

Put it in writing. According to research on employee engagement and motivation, not having a written job description that spells out what you expect of an employee is the major de-motivator of employees.  Not knowing what is expected of them is shown to be very frustrating to the employees and leads to poor morale and your employees becoming dis-engaged.  And dis-engaged employees are the bane of any business.  Why?  The definition of a dis-engaged employee is one who is consciously working to subvert and sabotage your plans, programs and business.  According to research, 30% of all employees nationally fall in this category.  One way to create them is to not give each employee a clear, written description of what you expect of them.
  • Put individual job assignments to your employees in writing.  This eliminates misunderstandings and wasted effort, and expect your employees to respond to the assignment in writing.  As in, "I understand you want me to order two dozen widgets this afternoon," followed by, "I ordered the widgets."  This eliminates your need to run around checking up on what your employees are doing.  This is incredibly easy to do given modern technology, so you have no excuse to not do this.
Refuse to take Ambush Meetings.  What is an ambush meeting?  It's when an employee ambushes you with a piece of information when you're involved in doing something else - and are not paying attention.  Are you going to remember?  No, you're not.  When someone approaches you with the statement, "we need more number seven do-hickies, we're almost out," your response is to say, "could you put that in writing?"  If it's a bigger issue, don't let an employee talk to you about it in the restroom or while walking out to your car.  Ask, "Can we set up a time to talk about this when I can give you my full attention?"

Use the Rule of 95.  A business owner's or manager's primary job is to grow the business, to plan for the future, to prepare for opportunities and problems to come.  Not, and I repeat, NOT to manage or micro-manage the day-to-day.  If you have employees, they should be trained and empowered to perform 95% of the work and make 95% of the decisions for your business without you knowing about it.  You should be involved in the 5% of day-to-day actions and decisions that really demand the boss's attention.  Period.  If you're more involved than that, you're wasting your time and energy and your employee's skills and knowledge with the added problem that you're demotivating them to think and act for themselves.  You seriously need to rethink your management priorities.
  • For Heaven's sake, if you see something unfinished as you walk about the business, don't give in to the temptation to interrupt an employee to have them take care of it "now".  Assume they know about it and will take care of it once they've finished their current task.  No need for you to be involved. You've got your job, and they have theirs.
Model the behavior you want.  It's the core message of the popular parenting book, Tough Love, by Phyllis and David York and Ted Wachtel.  If you want employees to provide excellent customer service then the way you treat them should be excellent.  If you want them to welcome customers with a smile and a greeting then you had better greet each of your employees with a smile - or they won't.  It's proven in study after study that businesses whose management treats employees well are more profitable with lower labor costs through reduced turnover. 
  • If you want employees to perform a certain task a specific way, then you must perform that same task exactly the way you want them to do it.  Model the behavior you want.  It works with children, it works with employees.
Manage Your Own Attitude:  Research has shown that an employer's attitude toward employees predicts the way the employees perform.  You think they're a bunch of lazy, no-good sponges?  That is they way they will perform.  You think they're good people who want to perform well and succeed?  Guess what. . . they will.  You want your business to be a fun place to work?  (A strategy research shows lowers labor costs, by the way.)
  • Find way to have fun at work. One of my ex-employers puts on a Beer Friday every month or six weeks.  Others sponsor Formal Fridays where everyone trots out their business best.  Others hold ice creams socials during the lunch hour, or encourage slightly outrageous behavior while on duty (think the in-flight announcements on Southwest Airlines.)  Hold an outrageous Hawai'ian shirt competition.  You get the idea. If you're having fun, your employees will pick up on it and will come to enjoy their jobs more.  
  • Remember, your attitude is the only thing in life you truly control.
Set your employees up for success. This was the most critical of Bob's Rules, and it worked very well.  Your employees rely on you for the tools, training and supplies they need to be successful in their jobs.  It's not their job to make you successful, it's your job to make them successful.  And if they're successful, you will be, too.  If you do most of your business on the weekend, then your business should be prepared to rock and roll by Thursday or Friday.  The summer months?  Be ready by Memorial Day.  Christmas season? Be ready by Thanksgiving.  Make that Halloween. Fourth of July? If you're overwhelmed with managing the day-to-day, you won't get this most important task done, now, will you?
  • Teach your employees to think of how their actions on the job effect others they work with.  Is the way they do their job making it harder for someone else to do theirs? An analogy.  If you are tight end on the offensive line of a football team and you don't block the red-dogging linebacker, how can your quarterback do his job and get the pass off?  Teach your employees to think team by you thinking team.  It will rub off.
  • Occasionally ask each employee what you can do to make their job easier.  If you can do what they suggest, do it.  If you can't, explain to the employee why you can't.  It shows you care about them and their success, and this too, will rub off on your employees.
Do it now. Make it a point to do it now and to complete one task before starting another.  You'll be less stressed with all the unfinished work.  And your employees will pick up on this habit as well.  An important corollary:  Remember, no job is complete until all tools and supplies needed for the job are put back where they belong.  If you do this, your employees will as well.  This alone is a huge time saver for you and your employees.

Does this all sound simplistic? 

Actually, it's Keep It Simple, Stupid, in action. 

And it's up to you, and no one else.

Think about it.

*  *  *  *  *

The best book ever written on managing people?  Read it and decide for yourself ~



  1. Managing employee time and attendance is a challenge. But it can be overcome by using employee time card software. It is necessary for Payroll and HR department. It allows to track accurate usage of sick days, vacation days, holidays, to calculate the attendance easily and remaining vacation days, etc.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Earn a Living Shining Shoes. . . Really

Earning a Living as a Bootblack
Can someone make a living shining shoes in today's economy?  At on time there shoe shine boys as they were called were found on street corners across the country, thousands of them.  Many were from poor families and worked to help support themselves and their families.  Today, I found three established shoe shine stands in downtown Seattle, plus two bootblacks, the traditional name of those who shine shoes, working on the streets of Seattle.

Meet George Johnson, age 74 on October 20th, a self-employed operator of a shoe shine stand in downtown Seattle's Rainier Place.  George has been shining shoes for the last sixty years, starting in Arkansas and ending up some thirty years ago at the Washington Athletic club a few blocks from his current location.
"Sixty years," I asked him the day we met.  "You ever think of retiring?"

"Gonna work until I can't do it no more," he replied.  "I don't even think about i…

The Facts of the Small Business Survival Rate

Back thirty years ago when I first wrote about small business, a hoary and horrible statistic was bandied about, even by some of the most experienced entrepreneurial pros: "80% of new businesses fail in their first five years." 

This "statistic" has appeared in more places than you can imagine, from the leading small business magazines, books, presentations by employees of SBDCs, the SBA, SCORE, Chambers of Commerce, even professors on the college level - who should know better than to quote un-sourced numbers.  It still shows up in small-business blogs today.

For some years, I searched for a source of that statisitic.  Never found where that number came from, leading me to believe that some self-appointed expert made it up.  To quote a character from the popular television show, M*A*S*H, "Horsepucky." 

Here is the truth about the survival rate of new start up businesses in the U.S. economy from two unimpeachable sources, The Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundati…

The Seven Characteristics of the Creative Employee.

How to Find Good Employees:

On my post of February 18th of this year, we talked about the role of managing stupidity in the success of any organization.  "Stupidity Management" refers to the real need of a business to know the difference between routine tasks that must be completed by rote and those tasks that require innovation and fresh thinking.  

Every business has a need for discipline in tasks that must be performed the same way, each and every time.

Every business has a need to creative thinking and fresh ideas on certain other tasks or problems, just not every task of problem.  

The Hunt for the Creative Individual
There are certain jobs in every organization where you, the owner, need original thinking.  Or perhaps you're running a business that lives off original thinkers.  An advertising agency is a business where the company's assets walk out the door every day at five (ish).

Professor √ėyvind L. Martinsen at BI Norwegian Business School has conducted a study to…