How I turned a major management weakness into my greatest asset - Part 2.
I would love to tell you that I learned the lessons I needed to learn from the situations described in Part I of this blog quickly, but it was a gradual awareness that took place. Perhaps it was simply me aging and growing in experience and wisdom. Perhaps it was that our business moved into a more stable place with sufficient support staff. Perhaps a combination of the above. But all of a sudden the relationship and handcuffs I felt between me and each of our employees vanished. Were they still important? Yes. Did I still care about them as individuals? Yes.
A critical thing happened on the day that employee came asking for a raise because “I can’t make ends meet at home”.
I paused. I took a deep breath. This is a BIG business lesson...heck, it’s a big LIFE lesson...always take time to think about it. A breath, an hour, a day, a week...someone to read that email before you send it...whatever is needed!
I used to be VERY quick to answer and because I needed these employees so badly, or so I thought, I would be like a deer in headlights when something like this happened. But not this day. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry that you’re having trouble meeting ends at home. But your compensation here is tied to your work responsibilities and performance. Why don’t you take some time to document everything new you are doing since your last performance evaluation along with the ways you are performing above the standards that we set at that time, and I’m happy to consider whether or not an increase is reasonable”. That was it. I took back my power as a manager and business owner...and I never looked back.
And a miraculous thing happened! The next employee who came and told me they were pregnant, I was able to be genuinely happy for them. The next person who said they were leaving, I wished them luck and welcomed them to come back if it didn’t work out. I let go of any tethers that I had on people. And it was incredibly powerful. People who were considering leaving didn’t leave. People who we wanted to leave...we encouraged them to leave. I even helped some of them find new jobs in positions we thought would be better suited for them. And the new hires we filled the positions with were better...because we became more discerning about the skills, personalities, values, and commitments we needed from staff. Existing staff was better too. Because they knew that we cared enough to make tough decisions and hold staff accountable.
I became a mentor and a coach instead of a drill sergeant or helicopter manager. Employees come and employees go. Some separations are more painful than others. But when you hold people with gentleness, and support their LIVES instead of their job, the outcomes are much greater. Employees work harder. Commit more. They come and talk to you when things aren’t going the way they expect. That gives you an opportunity to either resolve the situation or agree that they may need to move on.
We are in a different world today than when our parents worked for the same company for 30+ years. People move around a lot. And, when you leave the door open, sometimes GREAT employees come back when they realize the culture you created is something special not found just anywhere.
And that’s an awesome feeling.