By Sandra Swanepoel, managing director, Sage HR & Payroll
If your small business is to grow and prosper, you need to hire the right people and then manage them in a way that gets the best from them. Even if you are not a natural leader, managing people is a skill that you can learn and improve with practice and with the right advice.
Here are a few golden principles for people management in a small business.
1. Learn to delegate
The first and sometimes hardest people management lesson for a small business owner to learn is to delegate work to the team. It can be difficult to let go if you're hiring employees for the first time after doing everything yourself. As tempting as it might be to hold onto as many responsibilities as you can and to micro-manage when you do delegate, it's important to share the load.
Start out with repetitive tasks that drain your time and add little value to the business - for example, admin tasks. Monitor how employees are doing, be there to support them, and invest the necessary resources in training them. Most people are eager to learn, so if they're properly motivated they can save you a lot of time.
2. Understand the basics of labour law
Entrepreneurs often lack patience with paperwork and compliance, but it's essential to understand labour law if you want to run a harmonious and productive workplace. With our progressive labour laws, you can't dismiss people without following the proper processes.
South African labour law sets out rigid procedures for disciplining an employee and you must follow them to the letter. Keep accurate records if you hold a disciplinary hearing so that you can defend yourself in case the employee wants to challenge your decision at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
Also, be sure to document the rules of your workplace, the requirements of the job, and your policies so that employees know what is expected of them. Speak to an expert if you aren't familiar with the complexities of South Africa's legal framework.
3. Treat people with professionalism and consistency rather than familiarity
Owners of small businesses often fall into the trap of treating staff members as friends or family. This can make matters more difficult for you if you need to correct a staff member's errant behaviour or say no when they ask for a favour. Be friendly but professional; don't allow the lines between friend and manager to become blurred.
4. Communicate clearly
A good manager is a good communicator, so be straightforward with your staff members. Make sure your employees know what their tasks are, how these need to be done, and what their deadlines are. Give them regular feedback - positive and corrective - to help them improve. And be honest with them about how the business is doing and your strategies for the future. A transparent management style helps to keep staff members motivated.
5. Be fair and consistent
Like most human beings, you probably have your biases and like some members of your team more than others. It is important, however, that you treat everyone according to the same consistent set of principles. Be alert to your own preferences and how they manifest when you interact with the team.
Nothing is worse for staff motivation than seeing the boss give one or two members of the team preferential treatment simply because he or she likes them more.