by Jim Martin
The vast majority of small business owners started out as employees somewhere else. Most also remember the kind of camaraderie that often exists in a successful small business. Co-workers become close friends, and the friendship (and the cohesiveness it brings) makes everyone work together to make the business better. We all have an internal desire to be part of the best, and properly nurtured, this will come out in how we approach our jobs.
Many entrepreneurs hope to recapture this in their new ventures, but they forget that their role is very different. It’s easy for a manager to want to be one of the group, but it isn’t easy to do so and to retain the level of control that is required. When a manager becomes “just one of the boys,” the culture of the business is formed bottom-up (and it often won’t be very pretty). If the manager remains friendly, but doesn’t become part of the coffee room klatch, the culture can be established top-down, and the business will be better tuned to the manager’s goals.
You will find it will be much easier to grant favors (and to deny them) in a friendly boss-employee relationship than in an “I’m just one of the boys” environment. You will also avoid become a part of the interpersonal disagreements that invariably arise. You will instead be in a more ideal position from which to help resolve them (keeping in mind that the resolution should be mutual, not a dictate on your part).
There is an important key to bringing all this about: you must start with an employee code of conduct. The first part would contain employee rules relative to the company, such as absences, tardiness, personal phone calls and so on. The second part would deal with rules governing employee behavior relative to customers. The third part, which is critical, should cover employee behavior in relations with other employees. All of these should be kept simple, and should focus on only that behavior which would disrupt accomplishment of the businesses goals or the establishment of a good employee and customer environment. Prospective employees should be given a copy when they interview, and new employees should sign a form acknowledging that they have seen it and they accept its terms.
There should also be a fourth section, covering the business’ behavior relative to the employee. This would cover vacations, sick pay, overtime, conflict resolutions (establishing yourself as the arbiter), handling of termination (causes for determination belong in the other three parts), promptness of payment and so on. You should review all four parts at least annually and update them to cover situations that had arisen. The manual should be kept short and clear. Don’t have your lawyer (over)write it.
You can share a laugh with your employees when it is appropriate, but you must keep yourself on a higher (though not aloof) level to ensure that the business runs smoothly despite all its (sometimes confrontational) personnel interfaces.