Why small businesses don’t always have the best people

by Mark Zweig ([email protected]) 1,294 views 

It gets tiresome hearing small-business owners complain about how difficult it is to get good employees, incredibly tiresome hearing them talk about how bad their current employees are. They need to stop blaming everyone else and start looking in the mirror at what they’re doing and how they treat the people they have.

I’ve read thousands of business plans for both new and existing businesses, and one of the most notable deficiencies is how little focus is given to how they’ll get good people to work and stay there. Most of the time, there’s no attention paid to this in the plan at all, and little to no attention paid to the actual practice of how they run their business.

If you accept that the one thing a small business can do better than their larger competitors is providing better service, this is crazy. How will you have better service if you don’t have better people? You won’t.

Here are some things I’d be working on to improve the quality of employees you have:

  1. Stop trashing your people. You won’t have good people if you constantly complain about the ones you have. I’m talking about complaining to them about other employees as well as to your friends and customers. A couple of years ago, for example, a small-business owner here in NWA announced on social media that she was closing up because she couldn’t get good people to work for her. No wonder she was failing.
  2. Get everyone working together on ways to improve quality and customer experience. The business plan is the place to organize and prioritize the changes you want to make in your business. Get your people working on your business plan together with you. They know what is going on and what you do well and don’t do so well. Make them part of the solution.
  3. Learn how to trust your people and give them responsibility for something. “Single person management” is one of the biggest problems small-business owners create for themselves. The owners make all decisions — large and small. Good people want some freedom and real responsibility. Give them a shot — you may be surprised.
  4. Mark Zweig

    Pay better and create real incentives. Many small-business owners make lots of money when none of their people make a decent living. They pay the least they have to and don’t give raises unless forced into it, and there are no incentives. Many times in my career, I had employees who made more than I did. And I like cutting everyone (not just the managers) in on some percentage of the profits (and committing to precisely what that is publicly), so they know if the business does well, they will do well.

  5. Share your critical financial and other performance metrics with everyone. I learned the benefits of “open book” nearly 40 years ago while visiting FedEx’s corporate headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. They posted all of their performance metrics daily on a single sheet of paper in every hall and conference room for anyone to see. That is motivational and helps everyone understand the business and what has to happen to perform better.
  6. Demonstrate the kinds of actions and behaviors you want in your people. Absentee ownership rarely, if ever, works. You need to be there and be present and show everyone what it takes to do a good job through your actions. The trash in the parking lot? Pick it up. Customer complaining? Make them happy. Job needs to be done now? Do it. This is fundamental.

Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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