"You Are Only As Good As Your Weakest Links," Says Bethenny Frankel. Here Are 8 Ways She Builds Strong Teams
The entrepreneur and TV personality shares her winning formula.
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Let it go, as Elsa in Frozen sang. I talked about the idea of the ebbs and flows of the life of a business—most new businesses last five years on average. When I interviewed Steve Madden on my podcast, he said that in order to grow you have to let go. Scary! Especially when you are the brand and the business. You know so much about what you do and how you do it. It can be hard to articulate everything in your head to the people you bring into your business. That means there's a new learning curve for you and for anyone you hire to help you. There will be serious growing pains. Ouch! Letting go means taking the plunge and creating a team: hire people to help and then delegate to them. Trusting in others takes time, thought, and money. You can let go and create a disaster if delegation is not done properly. One kink in the chain and a link becomes weak. That's why I believe that you are only as good as your weakest links.
Instinctively, entrepreneurs have a tendency to hold on. We worry, obsess, and micromanage. It's in our nature. We sometimes have a hard time with the word "team." I want to feel excited that I have a great team, so I've put together a set of team building strategies that are helpful whether you're hiring part‐time help or putting together an entire staff.
Establish clear goals and expectations
This is a powerful and effective way to help people understand the results you need and demonstrably achieve them. Clarity around roles in an organization can also shine a light on whether the person did the job or not, and whether they did it well. If someone doesn't know what they are supposed to be doing, no one is happy. People want to know what their roles and responsibilities are, and clarity gives you, the employer, a way of assessing them and providing guidance and constructive criticism.
Look for hard workers who align with your mission
You have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member of your team so that you can delegate well, making sure the right people are owning the right tasks and responsibilities. My filters for employees are loyalty, hard work, dedication, and being a good person. If someone demonstrates those four qualities they are worth my nurturing, training, and investing in their continual improvement. It's a balance: sometimes people can be too good at something and they can dangle that value over your head, using it as a bargaining chip, which is the opposite of loyalty. You always need to find the balance. Absolutely, I want my team to grow and evolve, but if someone feels their success gives them unlimited leverage, it may be time to talk to them about finding a more suitable job outside of the company, especially if your business can't accommodate their professional dreams and goals. Most companies do not and cannot offer a "sky's the limit" growth opportunity. There's only one CEO in most companies. Find people who want to grow but who won't be constantly gunning for your job.
Find the right roles for people
A good team is not stagnant, nor should it be. While you need a sturdy foundation on which to build the right group of people in terms of infrastructure, systems, and processes, you should think of employees like the links in a chain. Sometimes you have to take one out and replace it with another, or move the links around to get the right fit and strength. If you have a loyal and enthusiastic person, find what they are good at and put them in a spot where they can shine.
I had an assistant who wasn't working like she was supposed to be. Zoe (not her real name) was hired to be a chief of staff, a job that required her to spend a lot of time with me, organize my daily engagements and work‐related activities, and to manage the team as well. It turned out that she didn't have the specific skill set needed to do the job within our framework. She took a long time to do simple tasks and would often have to repeat a job several times before getting it right.
Zoe was also painfully aware that she wasn't doing her job correctly. Not long after an especially stressful day that included an intense photo shoot she came to me and said, "I am going to leave. I feel as if I am disappointing you."
Not so fast. It's time‐consuming and costly to replace people, and Zoe seemed to be a good person, loyal and positive. It was not the first time she had said this to me, but instead of accepting her resignation, I offered a possible solution. I had another assistant, Barbara (also not her real name), who was amazing at being by my side at photo shoots; she loved the hustle of being busy and running around without dropping any balls. I moved Barbara into the position Zoe had, where she thrived.
At the same time, I saw that Zoe might be effective at managing household organizational tasks and house‐related projects. These were jobs that could give her autonomy and ownership, but that didn't require the hustle and bustle of working directly with me, inside the pressure cooker.
I suggested to Zoe that she become the house manager, believing that this might put her in a position where she could shine. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. While you do have to try to find the right roles for people, I have found that most of the time things end the way they begin. That's a lesson: Zoe wasn't the right fit anywhere in my organization. We gave it our best shot.
Meanwhile, Barbara has taken over Zoe's old role, and that has worked out well. If you keep people who aren't working out, the chain breaks anyway. Better to remove the link when it is best for everyone to do so.
Encourage complete honesty and transparency
You never want to have a team that enables members to throw others under the bus to make themselves look good. I have seen this happen, and it bothers me, first because it's wrong, and second, it's not good for morale or productivity. Teams can't be overly protective either, and keep bad news from you. Everyone should feel comfortable saying what's on their mind, bringing up concerns, and having an open discussion about challenges. I want people to be honest with me: tell me what's wrong so we can work on solutions. While I don't have to be told every minute detail of my employees' day, I also never want anyone to be afraid to tell me what's up in the business. I want to train people so that they can work in a way that prevents problems from happening (thinking five steps ahead) or solve problems on their own.
See the big picture
Make sure the people fit together well, complement one another, and complement your skills. For instance, my business manager understands money better than I do, but he doesn't understand the products I make the way I do. We do our best to balance each other's expertise and insight. Thank God my lawyer understands terms of a contract and how to express them in necessary legalese, because I can't. Meanwhile, I do understand legal concepts. I know what questions to ask about a deal. Most of the time our relationship works in a symbiotic fashion. That is how two links that are weak in different ways can strengthen each other.
Make sure everyone is doing their job and sticking to their knitting
When everyone does their job, everyone's job is easier. Of course, we want people to help each other out. We want to build camaraderie and good working relationships. We want people to feel useful and needed. When my driver is less busy in the summer, he can help me out in other ways, moving furniture or doing work outside. But that's not the same as seeing people do someone else's job on a regular basis. I saw that one of my assistants consistently leaned on my housekeeper to help her hang up clothes that we use in the business. That took the housekeeper away from her main job. It was absolutely not fair to her or to me. I spoke to both of them about the issue and we resolved it.
Be constructive with guidance and areas of improvement
Smart, loyal people are worth the consideration of honesty and constructive criticism. They deserve that respect. When I talked about Zoe and Barbara earlier, part of my problem‐solving had to do with letting them know not only what they were getting wrong, but being constructive in the ways they could correct it. I was also being specific about what each woman was good at, so we could act from that place in terms of finding the right roles for them in the organization. I talked about how we could put their strengths to work and avoid putting them into positions that taxed their weakest skill sets.
Don't be afraid to cut someone loose
The truth is, the least effective people have the most negative impact on your business. If someone doesn't respond to training, or to a new position, you have to cut them loose. I have had to do this with people who were loyal and kind but I just could not find the right spot for them in the organization. This isn't easy. I wasn't happy—and they weren't either. Consider that it is a relief for the person you are terminating to be released from the stress they obviously feel at being in a job where they may be failing.
Excerpted from BUSINESS IS PERSONAL: The Truth About What it Takes to Be Successful While Staying True to Yourself by Bethenny Frankel. Copyright © 2022. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.