Q: I ran my business as a solo operator for two years and did great. Last year, I hired my first employees, and now I feel like things are going downhill. I've never managed people before, and I know I'm not managing them as effectively as I could. Sometimes it seems as if it was easier to do the work myself. How can I become a better manager?
A: First, you should avoid relying only on experience as your best teacher. It's true that you can learn from experience, but, unfortunately, you're experiences don't always teach the correct or best thing. It's often a slow, expensive and painful way to learn. Benjamin Franklin, the most famous, if not the most successful, entrepreneur in early America, learned this from running his printing business. He concluded that, "Experience is a dear school, and fools will learn in no other."
Experience often teaches managers to manage by results. Every business needs results that produce profits. However, you must remember that all results in your company are produced by behavior. Every problem and every opportunity your company faces is either the result of what somebody did or will be addressed by what someone does. It therefore follows that managers who know the most about behavior produce the most consistent product or service in the most cost-effective way. They also have employees who are happy at work and perform at their best every day.
Studying the scientific discipline of behavior analysis is the best way to learn how to influence human behavior. Anyone responsible for managing other people would be wise to study as much about this science as possible. A good starting point is to learn how the power of positive reinforcement can help you develop successful relationships with your employees. Remember that it's the responsibility of the business owner to insure there are positive consequences for employees who get results with desirable behavior.
The first step to discovering what reinforces your employees' good behavior is to take the time to identify what individual employees like and value. Many attempts at motivating employees fail because managers assume they know what others like. Typically, you assume your employees like what you like. The truth is, they often don't.
How do you identify what other people value? Here are three ways to get started:
1. Observe. Watch what people do with their free time. If you know one of your employees spends a lot of time participating in her children's school events, you can ask her about her children and those events. If you notice one of your employees likes to read novels during breaks, buy him the latest book by his favorite author and give it to him when he's completed a particularly tough task. Notice which tasks employees like to do when they have a choice in their daily schedule. Assign more of the jobs they like as a reward for completing other, less desirable tasks.
2. Ask. When appropriate, ask about a person's interests. You can be direct or indirect. Strike up a conversation about a local sports team or a hit movie, and see how the person responds. Ask directly about an interest in gardening or in music, and listen carefully to the answers.
3. Experiment. Sometimes trial and error is a good way to discover what people find reinforcing. For instance, if you give an employee a reward for work well done, pay close attention to how it's received and look to see if performance continues at a high level. The ultimate test for whether something is reinforcing is the effect on performance. If performance increases, it was a reinforcer. If it doesn't, you need to try something else.
Now that your success depends on the behavior of other people, make understanding the science of human behavior your preoccupation. If you do, you'll enjoy outstanding employee performance and achieve the results you want for your company.
Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Aubrey Daniels & Associates, is a pioneer in introducing the principles of behavioral psychology to the workplace. Internationally recognized as an author, speaker and expert in behavior-based technologies, Dr. Daniels advises Fortune 500 companies on management and human performance issues such as safety, quality, productivity, compensation and rewards, morale, performance systems, employee education and change management.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.