9 Tips for New Small Business Managers

By Consumer Dummies

Hopefully, your startup business has taken off and you now need a manager. No matter how much experience a manager has, every manager was once a new manager. When you’re new to management, you may find it difficult to know what tasks are important and what tasks can wait (or what tasks you can ignore altogether). However, becoming an effective manager requires you to separate the should-dos from the don’t-have-to-dos. Here are the important tasks that every new manager should do.

Set clear goals and expectations

Your job as a manager is to get big things done in your organization by leveraging the talents, abilities, and brain and muscle power of your employees. In short, to get much of your work done as a manager, you must delegate a lot of work, and you have to be able to rely on the people to whom you delegate it.

When you delegate work to an employee, though, it’s not enough to simply make an assignment and hope for the best. You must also set clear goals and expectations for your employees. When employees aren’t sure what exactly they’re supposed to do and when they’re supposed to do it, they can’t meet your expectations — whatever they may be. However, when you’re crystal clear about what you want your employees to do and when you want it done, your employees can prioritize their own work to ensure that they meet your deadlines. This approach provides a great learning opportunity for them to take on new or different projects, too.

Work with your employees in setting goals and expectations. Goals must be realistic, and you must ensure that your employees have bought into them and are committed to achieving them. By making your employees a part of the goal-setting process, you not only get their vital input on the goals (for example, you may not be aware of a conflict that interferes with a deadline), but you also increase employee engagement.

Don’t play favorites

Think back to your school years. Was someone in your class the teacher’s pet? If you were the teacher’s pet, you probably enjoyed the position. However, if you didn’t hold that coveted position, you probably weren’t happy that your teacher played favorites with one or more of your classmates. The same is true in the workplace.

No one likes a manager who plays favorites with certain employees. Of course, people naturally like some people better than others — interpersonal chemistry simply favors some relationships over others. However, as a manager, your job is to be as impartial and fair as you possibly can in how you treat your employees. You can’t punish an employee you don’t like and then excuse the same behavior in an employee you do like. And you can’t give favored employees raises, time off, bonuses, and other rewards when employees you don’t favor exhibit the same performance or achieve the same goals or milestones.

Employees know when a manager is playing favorites — they can sense it a mile away. Treat all your employees the same as the ones you like best.

Set a good example

Research shows that the most important relationship at work is between employees (at any level) and their direct supervisors or managers. As a manager, you set the example for all the employees who work for you, and you influence the behavior of your peers and colleagues. The example you set sends a clear message about the kinds of behavior you personally find acceptable in the workplace. If you’re chronically late to work, your employees will assume that being late for work is okay, and they’ll be late, too. If you aren’t ethical in your business dealings with customers, clients, and vendors, your employees will assume that they also don’t have to behave ethically.

Model the behavior you want from your employees, and they’ll reflect that behavior right back to you.

Remember that you get what you reward

Managers are often surprised when an employee exhibits a particular behavior or achieves a particular goal that’s completely different from what they intended. When that’s the case, you need to take a close look at exactly what behavior you are rewarding.

For example, you may tell your employees that you want them to submit suggestions for cutting costs. However, when an employee submits an idea, you either ignore it completely or chew him out in front of his peers for having such a “stupid idea.” In this case, instead of rewarding employees for submitting ideas, you’re punishing them for it. You can bet that employees will think twice before ever again submitting an idea to you for consideration.

Catch your employees doing something right. This approach works particularly well for managers who like to focus on getting things done. Just add the names of the people who report to you to your weekly to-do list. Then cross them off when you’re able to praise those employees — because you catch them “doing something right” in accordance with their performance goals.

Although money is important to employees, what tends to motivate them to perform — and to perform at higher levels — is the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies true appreciation for a job well done. This recognition also builds trust and a collaborative relationship, which leads to higher levels of employee engagement.

Get to know your people

You may have been told not to get too close to the people you supervise because it undermines your authority and makes it harder for you to make your employees do what you want them to do. This old-style management philosophy is now officially obsolete. Using raw authority to make employees do what you want them to do is out. Instead, you should involve employees in decision-making and get them engaged in their jobs. When you do that, they want to achieve the goals that you set together.

You may not be inviting your employees to your house for the holidays, but there’s nothing wrong with getting to know them as people. In fact, you stand to gain a lot by having normal relationships with your employees. These benefits may include increased levels of trust and loyalty, better communication, and higher performance.

Learn how to delegate

Delegation is the most powerful tool at the disposal of any manager — it’s the way managers get work done. Delegation is a win-win activity. When you delegate, others do much of the day-to-day work of the organization, freeing you up to manage, plan, and take on more complex work, with the potential for earning a higher salary. As your employees develop a broader range of skills, they’ll be ready to move up with you. This partnership builds trust, enhances your career potential, and improves the health of your organization.

Effective delegating involves more than asking someone to do something. It includes mutual consultation and agreement between the manager and team members. Solicit team members’ reactions and ideas, thereby bringing trust, support, and open communication to the process.

Encourage teamwork

Smart managers realize that they can get far more out of their organizations when employees cooperate with one another than if they compete against one another. Many tasks now get done through teamwork, and organizations are changing the way they do business. Organizations no longer measure employees only by their individual contributions; they also take into account how effective employees are as contributing members of their work teams.

As a manager, you want to encourage teamwork in your organization. Carefully assess work assignments and decide whether it makes more sense to assign them to individuals or to teams of employees. Reward your employees when they exhibit good teamwork skills — every business needs more of these skills.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Good managers are skilled at communicating with their employees, and they do it often and through every means at their disposal. As a new manager, set aside some time each day to communicate with your employees.

Walk through the work area to casually meet with employees and discuss current projects or customers. Keep in touch with employees through e-mail messages or telephone calls. Have regular staff meetings to discuss current opportunities and issues and to keep employees updated on the latest company happenings. Create a department blog or Facebook fan page to enable discussions within your organization. Overcommunicating is definitely better than undercommunicating.

Be a coach

A good coach helps employees perform at a higher level, in the same way that a baseball, football, or soccer coach helps athletes perform at a higher level. Coaches in business do this by offering advice on how to perform better, giving valuable feedback, and supporting the people they coach. They help employees gain confidence, and they applaud their efforts when employees make progress toward completing a goal.

As a manager, you’re in the perfect position to coach the people in your department or other organizational unit. Let them see that you’re a human being; if you’re approachable (and not perceived as perfect), your employees will find you more genuine, resulting in a better working relationship.