Employee Management: The Tools, Tips, and Processes You Need to Build a Better Team in 2016


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Employee management. Piece of cake, right? Absolutely not–it’s probably the most challenging aspect of your business. Employees are your most valuable assets, though, and you have to get the management part right.

Managing employees involves a few core principles:

  1. Selection. This is about choosing the right employees during the hiring process.
  2. Measurement. This is about determining how well an employee is performing or meeting goals.
  3. Monitoring. This is how you perform the measurement of employee performance.
  4. Interaction. This is the daily way you and your team communicate and work with each other.
  5. Reward. This is the result of excellent employee performance.
  6. Discipline. This is the result of lackluster employee performance, and may involve firing.

This is a simple but accurate list of the interactions you’ll be having with your employees. All employee management stems from this list.

Tips For Managing People

Maybe that list seems a little cold and clinical.

No need to worry; employee management starts with a people approach before you get into the processes you’ll use to fulfill that list. In other words, you need to know how to be good with people before you’ll master that list.

Choosing the right people.

Hiring is a tricky business.

You have to follow the laws, of course, and proceed without being invasive or prejudice. But you also have to be careful to choose the right employee.

Sometimes the job market isn’t in your favor. Sometimes the job description isn’t clear. Sometimes you’re a bit desperate and need to fill a spot now. Sometimes the person fits the qualifications but you’re uneasy about them for some reason.

For all of these reasons, you need some people-reading skills. You need to know what qualities a person has that goes beyond their resume. Blogger Michael Hyatt has a good list of qualities to keep an eye out for:

  • Humble: Understands strengths and weakness, thinking neither too high or too low of herself.
  • Honest: Tells you the truth, whether good or bad, and keeps her word. No false personality.
  • Hungry: A desire to learn, to excel, and not dwell on past success. A willingness to work hard, and a track record to prove it.
  • Smart: Not just IQ, but a quick study with good mental focus.

In other words, are they a manageable person? Will they take direction, correction, and praise well? Most hiring is focused on the nuts and bolts of skills. Just because a person has all the required skills for the job doesn’t mean they’re the right hire.

What does your gut say? Are you caught up in an employee’s personality rather than if they’ll be a good worker? Employers make a lot of hiring mistakes and those are the kind that lead to never ending future problems.

Measuring and monitoring employee performance.

This is the trickiest area, because people don’t always like to think they are under a microscope so a manager can determine if they measure up.

Big Brother need not apply.

Seriously.

You can’t be good with people if they feel like you’re spying on them in every way possible. What makes people feel like you’re spying on them?

  • Constant micromanagement. Telling employees how to do every little thing adds stress to your life and theirs. You’re management. The employee is there to do the job. Let them.
  • Constant feedback. Feedback is good, but if you give them “feedback” on everything they do, it feels like after-the-fact micromanagement. They develop no confidence that they can do the work themselves.
  • Lack of physical privacy. Do you force your employees to have their computer monitors facing out where you can see them? Can they work anywhere without your gaze on them?
  • Social media engagement. Some business owners advocate friending or following employees on social media so they can easily discover if an employee is using social media during work hours. I don’t recommend doing this unless your employee really wants to. It comes off as creepy and uncomfortable, reinforcing the idea that you don’t trust them and now want to spy on them in their personal lives.

Employees under continual gaze develop fear and resentment, and even if you can keep them productive, attitude and other issues will pop up. If you don’t trust your employees, it shows.

Measure and monitor employees by output and the use of goal markers that you can compare to over a set time period, not daily spying.

Interacting with your employees.

We’ve all had the experience of the jerk manager, the one every employee dreads seeing come around the corner of the cubicle. He is graceless with other people, particularly those lower on the hierarchy than he is.

Don’t be that guy.

Be honest: how do you behave, when you are around your employees? Are you lord of the castle, a tiny dictator, or a college frat boy? Hopefully you’re not any of those extremes, and instead are a master at:

  • Conflict resolution. Resolve conflicts, don’t feed them. Solve the real problem, not the symptoms. Respect employee privacy and avoid shaming them in front of others.
  • Empathy. Walk a mile or two in your employee’s shoes. Try to see things through their eyes.
  • Communication. Be clear about what you want and expect. Communicate it in different forms (i.e. verbally, written manual, posters). Write down the rules, systems, and procedures you expect to be followed.
  • BS Detection. There’s no better way to put it. Some employees are going to give you excuses, lies, and avoidance when there are real issues to deal with. Empathy first, but have your BS detector always on. Trust, but verify. Get fooled once, shame on them, get fooled twice, shame on you. You know the drill.
  • Trust. Remember the micromanaging problem? That happens when you don’t trust. If you can’t trust your employees to do their jobs, why did you hire them?

Choosing The Right Process And Tools For Employee Management

Now that you know what kind of people skills you need, you can develop the processes and find the tools to back that up.

Clear goals and objectives.

First, know what you want.

Write it down. Calculate the numbers, the sales, the output, the leads, the work quality, the office culture–know what you want.

And then tell your employees what you want, when you want it, and how you want it done. Employees need to know that. They need you to communicate with them. You need to tell employees what you want in a broad sense (e.g. behavior, attitude, output) and specifically (e.g. per shift, project, week).

While some workplace cultures try to avoid too much direction, particularly in how you want something done, some level of this type of specificity is needed. You can have a low-rules creative workplace while clearly listing the rules, goals, and boundaries. Without that, employees become:

  • Confused. Not everyone is a perfect self-starter. Some need guidelines so they are free to be creative in the safety zone. That’s not a bad thing.
  • Competitive. Competition can be great, but it can also turn ugly. Too few boundaries can lead to employees competing against others in a non-productive and hurtful way.
  • Afraid. For perfectionists, especially, not know where the boundaries are is terrifying. They want to do great work (and will) but if they don’t know where the edge is, they’ll never venture far off the path because they don’t know how far is too far. Give them a boundary, and their creativity opens up as their fear of failure closes down.
  • Unproductive. Your idea of great output isn’t everyone’s idea of great output. You can’t expect an employee to perform to your level if you don’t tell them what that level is.

Let your employees know what you want in crystal clear terms. No obfuscation. No hints. Just direct communication. That way they can track their own progress on their own and aren’t surprised by a job review, for example, that tells them they’re missing the mark. It also makes it easier for you to deal with an employee who is not meeting expectations.

Remember, if employees don’t know what you expect, they won’t meet your expectations.

Suggested tools:

Find tools that make it easy to communicate, but be on guard. Sometimes easy communication, particularly messaging, wastes time if your employees spend their time chatting and not working.

HipChat or Slack: These tools make it easy for your team to communicate with you and with each other one-on-one, or in customized groups. They are a simple messaging service with lots of power. Or, if your team is using too many chat apps, try Sameroom and bring them all together.

Campfire: Take real-time chat and add team collaboration features along with password-protected chat rooms, and you have Campfire. Great for communicating with your team, no matter where they’re located.

Google Drive: Or Dropbox or Evernote–whichever you prefer. But get important information available in the cloud (e.g. employee handbooks, procedures) and shared with your employees.

Secondly, know if you’re getting there.

Write down when you want to meet specific goals. Create a timeline. Determine what measurements should be taken when.

  • What is the most important measurement? Depending on your business and how your team works, you may want to measure tasks, hours, or days. You may want to measure quantitative output (e.g. parts, products, or units produced or sold). You may want to measure how well employees are meeting your objectives. You may want to measure how employees think they are doing. You must determine what to measure.
  • What is the time frame for measurement? You may want to measure employee productivity by month, and team output every three months. Decide what time frames will give you the most valuable data for measurement.
  • What results are considered good results? Results and outcome are the key, not how many meetings you had or whether an employee seemed to be doing a good job the last time you checked. Look at your business’s own history as well as industry standards to determine what is average and what is excellent.
  • What slows your employees down? Make note of things that hamper your employees. Hand-writing out receipts, paper filing, change in the POS system, or other manual or redundant procedures should be noted. That way, as you continue to measure, you can make changes here and note any improvements. In a sense, you’re measuring the negatives so you can use that in your equation.
  • What do you do in between the measurement periods? Do you ask employees for regular updates on what they’ve accomplished? Or do you just bounce from measurement to measurement, hoping things will self-correct? Help your employees stay on track to hit the goals so your measurements aren’t simply taking a temperature, but are on track to remain steady or improve.

Are employees hitting the goals you’ve set? Do you make it possible for them to track their progress themselves?

Suggested Tools:

Find an app that allows you to measure tasks, hours, and project completion. There are many out there. Here are a few.

Redbooth: Assign and track team tasks as well as communicate about those tasks with chat.

Basecamp: Gives you team and project management features as well as the ability to track hours, manage tasks, and measure productivity.

Asana: A standard team project management app, but unique in how it tracks missions, goals, and tasks within projects and teams.

I done this: Make it easy for your employees to share what they’re working on or what they’ve finished by creating an automated group email digest of individual updates. Track their progress over time.

Determine who is an asset and who is a liability.

As long as you have clear goals and good employees that are in sync with each other, you’re on track. But what if you have problem employees? The dark side to employee management is ascertaining when an employe has to go, i.e. if they’re an asset or a liability.

This sounds a bit harsh, but it’s a valid approach. And it’s directly tied into how well you are at hiring and firing your employees.

Does your employee add value to your team, and to your business? Look back at what you determined to be the most important measurements. If it was productivity, are they helping overall productivity, theirs and others? If it was meeting objectives, are they doing so? Assets contribute positively to your measurements.

Not every employee is an asset. If you find you’re having continued and regular difficulty with an employee, decide if the employee is an asset or a liability.

Sometimes an employee, despite being difficult to get along with, is such a fantastic worker and brings so much to the table that the good far outweighs the bad. They are an asset. But if the struggles don’t outweigh what the employee brings to the rest of the team, they are a liability.

Employee management is both an individual and a team consideration. It starts with you, choosing the right people in the first place and giving them a level playing field with clear expectations. From then on, you must observe the boundaries, keep the players happy, and watch the scoreboard.

Employee Management: The Tools, Tips, and Processes You Need to Build a Better Team in 2016