Your Employees Aren't Practice Dummies for Testing Management Styles

Even if you don't have formal managerial training, your employees deserve a competent, fair and engaging manager.
Your Employees Aren't Practice Dummies for Testing Management Styles
Image credit: Kris Ubach and Quim Roser | Getty Images

If you don’t manage people well, they will find someone else who will.

According to The Mercury News, Americans are quitting their jobs at the highest rate in 16 years. In January alone, 2.2 percent of the entire American workforce either left in favor of a new opportunity or quit outright.

Related: 9 Things Managers Do That Make Good Employees Quit

As a business owner, you face the same problems that managers have encountered for decades. Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury of management training -- your daily interactions with your team are your training. However, your employees are not practice dummies for you to feel out your management style. They expect you to be a competent, fair and engaging manager, regardless of whether you’ve had formal managerial training.

In my experience, many startup managers new to the role end up using a passive-aggressive style, alienating employees and making them feel disrespected. To avoid this fate, you must learn to ask for forgiveness as you actively seek to improve your abilities as a manager.

Own the transition from employee to owner.

Your passion and ability for your craft led you to create a company. Perhaps you were an excellent art director or programmer, but now you’re tasked with supervising accounting and sales departments. People who were once your peers are now your employees. If you don’t learn how to handle that transition, things can get ugly fast.

Many of the challenges in this transition stem from a lack of clarity, both within your own decisions and in the way you present them to your team. If you didn’t have good role models for management before you started, you likely don’t know what to do when someone needs constructive criticism or disciplinary action.

When you fear hurting people’s feelings, you dance around tough issues and hope people will sort themselves out. This approach rarely succeeds. To manage effectively, you must learn how to provide employees clarity by overcoming your own fears and inexperience.

Related: 5 Management Mistakes Almost Every New Entrepreneur Makes

Get it right the first time. Follow these tips to be a better manager of your young company:

1. Rehearse your lines.

When an employee walks into your office and asks to talk about a sensitive issue, you don’t have to agree to have the conversation immediately. Tell the employee you want the conversation to be valuable, and ask to set a meeting for the afternoon or next morning to discuss his or her concerns. By doing so, you can hash out what you want to say without sounding like a first-timer at open mic night.

When you do start the tough conversation, remember to explain the reasoning behind your decisions and avoid nonverbal cues. Check out GetVoIP’s infographic to get some tips on how to deliver bad news, such as timing and picking a place to talk.

Related: 9 Common Mistakes Made by New Entrepreneurs

2. Avoid weasel words.

Use straightforward language and go directly for the problem. Don’t say, “If this continues, we will need to evaluate our options.” Instead, say, “If you do this again, I will fire you.” Although it sounds harsh, getting to the point quickly and leaving no room for interpretation is the best way to get your message across.

According to Officevibe, 98 percent of employees do not engage with their work if they don’t receive feedback. Provide that feedback in clear terms that make praise obvious and demands for improvement unmistakable.

3. Treat them like grown-ups.

No matter how young or inexperienced your employees are, they deserve professional respect. Provide them that respect by telling them the truth at all times.

This does not give you an excuse to be a jerk, however. When I manage, I empathize with employees unused to receiving criticism by telling them I understand negative feedback can be hard to hear. Don’t change how you deliver the message, but be humane when you hand out bad reviews.

Consider how Netflix treats its employees. The company believes in a culture that promotes "freedom and responsibility," regardless of age or experience. The policy provides independence to employees, but it still holds them to higher standards, too.

4. Treat little and big issues the same.

If you remain passive-aggressive until it’s time for a major performance conversation, your employee will feel blindsided by your new approach. Be straightforward about little issues so that when the big ones crop up, you don’t sound like a hypocrite for expressing higher expectations. According to Sapper Consulting, the more frequently you provide regular feedback, the more confident your employees will feel about their place at the company.

Your employees deserve a strong leader, and your company needs you to own that role. You can’t practice owning a business until you start, but by following these tips, you can ensure that your employees feel respected and that your messages are clear.

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