In my first column, I noted that in my law practice representing business owners and my experience running businesses, it seems that entrepreneurs tend to lament, or feel sorrow or regret for, the following:
We covered the work/life balance in the last column. Today we move to one of the least admitted laments: finding and keeping great people.
So what does it take to bring in the right people and develop them into satisfied, long-term employees? A few things, but they require a little work for some. I have seen a number of clients do this successfully--but, frankly, not many.
First, to get loyalty you have to give loyalty. Your employees' loyalty must be earned, and should never be assumed. How can you convey (and embody) loyalty? Stand behind your people; provide support if they are going through something difficult personally; simply be nice.
For example, I (almost) never fail to say please and thank you to my staff. I never raise my voice. Occasionally, we will simply buy lunch for the whole firm. We celebrate birthdays every month. We hold several firm-wide events each year to foster greater loyalty. I will strongly chastise a partner who appears to be rude or mean to a staff member.
A smile also helps. Once in awhile, go over and ask, “How’s it going? Everything OK?” Those little things mean a lot. A law firm I know told six attorneys who had been recognized for their accomplishments to leave immediately and get on a plane. They were sent to Vegas, where the firm had prepaid their $10,000 entry fee (each) to a poker tournament.
Second, try to find people who it seems will enjoy the crazy ride that comes from working at entrepreneurial companies, which tend to be different because of their very unpredictability. As a risk-taking entrepreneur, you should look for people who are risk-takers themselves, who think staying with a company like yours is as much for the “fun” factor as anything else. Think about the Google “millionaire secretaries”--they dealt with all the craziness, but it paid off when they finally went public. My office manager is with me 20 years and says she loves watching me constantly pull a rabbit out of my hat (I sanitized that one a bit).
But be careful: you don’t want employees to be too much like you. The entrepreneur loves to focus on the big picture, but you need the staff to be down in the trenches getting things done. If they are also dreaming a little too much, they will take their eyes off the prize. Or worse, they might take an idea they develop and leave to go on their own.
Third, one must develop a sense with each employee as to which is more important--current income or long-term opportunity. Some of them are simply trying to make ends meet and would rather make a few more dollars than, say, receive stock options (nothing wrong with that). Others are looking for that brass ring and are willing to sacrifice a little today for a lot tomorrow (nothing wrong with that either). Upon making partner, a lawyer I know in a smaller firm was given a choice: receive a 50% raise, or receive a percentage of the firm’s revenues, which had the potential to more than double his salary. He took the percentage, and indeed doubled his salary. But there are always trade-offs.
Fourth, in setting salaries, remember the “going rate”--however much is just enough to keep your employees from going. In a big firm I worked at, we did not receive the highest wages. Instead, we received the going rate. Find the magical number--the one that, for just a few extra thousand dollars, will prevent someone from leaving. And offer other benefits. Not just employee benefits, but psychic benefits. Study after study shows that being happy with the work environment, not just salary, is extremely important to workers.
Some entrepreneurs indeed lament that, even with all this, they can never find talent able to handle things as well as they themselves would. Accept that staff only needs to do things well enough, even if that is not the perfection that you yourself would produce.Your company can create quality products or services that best the competition, even if it doesn't bring that extra something you would. And if you train your staff right, they might just get close to your awesomeness.
Next time: getting and keeping good business partners.
David N. Feldman, founding partner of Feldman Weinstein & Smith, is the author of Reverse Mergers and blogs at Reverse Merger & SPAC Blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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