Starting a new company on your own is like MacGyver with ten seconds to diffuse a bomb. All of the tools and resources that you need are in front of you, you just need to figure out how to make them work for you before time expires. Unlike MacGyver for a new employer, that ticking clock isn’t a bomb (I hope). Instead, it’s the amount of time you have before your first employees get set in their ways, or give up. Hopefully this tool in the form of past experience in front of you right now will help get you on the right track.
I’ve ran a company on my own. I’ve also ran a company with employees. Some good, some bad, some that never lived up to their potential. But what I realized, is that most of the time their potential was determined for them the second they showed up for their first day. Here’s the 5 mistakes that I made as a new employer, and hopefully you can learn from them.
1. Be Clear on their Role and Title
This one was tough for me to comprehend my first two years as an employer. When it’s your first company, and first few employees, they typically don’t have just one role. This makes coming up with a title seem impossible. But what I’ve learned is even more impossible is keeping them encouraged and on task when they don’t have a real role and title. Even if Joe Bob is hired to be your right hand man and help anywhere that he’s needed, he still needs a title and needs to have his role clearly written out. Utility man Joe Bob needs to be able to tell his girlfriend that he’s a Task Manager at Stark Corp and that means that he gets s*it done over there.
*Bonus tip: Be careful when picking a title. Don’t throw out titles with “Executive,” “Director,” “Head of” or “Chief” etc for the first few employees unless you plan on keeping them in those roles because they’re who you’d really hire for those roles. It’s much easier to give people a raise in title than to demote their title as your company grows and more employees come on board. Start small with typical roles like “Manager,” “Assistant,” “Supervisor” or “Developer” for examples. These offer room for growth, while giving them real expectations. In their job description you can go more in depth that expands beyond just being a “Assistant.”
2. Don’t Hire Friends
I know, everybody says this. But you have that one friend who you’ve been friends with for years and know without a doubt that business would never come between you guys. Me too! So I hired him and we made the sappy sitcom promise that business would never come between us. Lets just say that our decision to work together didn’t end as either of us expected. Don’t worry, a couple years later things are all patched up, but I want to save you from making the same mistake. If you value the friendship, find one of the other 7.5 billion people on this Earth to hire. It’s hard to fire a friend or family member, and even harder to motivate somebody who has seen you in your underwear. Would you ever feel like your brother would fire you if you showed up to work late hung over? Me neither, until it happens and now you’re po’d at him for it because he betrayed you. But you don’t realize he’s po’d at you for betraying him and making him waste money, time and effort on you too. It’s a lose lose. Friends and family almost never understand that they are typically both in the wrong in different ways because, “we’re supposed to be bros man how could you do this to me?!”
3. Employees Want to Feel Valuable
It’s so easy to lose sight of praise, giving direction, and delegating when an employee is so self motivated. However, losing sight of those things will also discourage your employee. Employers tend to think that giving a self motivated and successful employee space to crush it is best so that they don’t feel micromanaged. However, too much space causes those employees to feel misguided and aimless at times. Feeling aimless makes these proud employees feel like they aren’t pulling their weight, and they begin to feel like they’re a detriment to the squad. Funny how that works when the employer is doing it because of the exact opposite reasoning. To avoid this unfortunate happening, have weekly meetings and make it normal to ask them if you can help with anything, or give any guidance anywhere. Simply offering support from time to time will make them know they’re on the right track with projects, and make them feel like you highly value them. Remember, feeling highly valued is more important to most employees than a high salary. Raises and bonuses don’t fix everything.
4. Set the Tone on Day 1 and be a Leader
… and never stray away from that tone you set. You’re the leader of the pack. If you’re optimistic, they’re optimistic. If you’re pessimistic, they’re pessimistic. If you’re working your butt off, they’re working their butts off. You get the point. That’s just how it is. It’s a lot easier to be consistent from day 1, than to try to change company culture and expectations on day 100. When your new employee arrives with their excitement and first day of school energy, bring that same energy right back at them. Make them feel the value they’re bringing to your team (or to just you if you’re a one man show). New employees are trying to gauge everybody on their first week and what is expected of them, so show them how things will be. Now, give them the tools to succeed, and never let those tools slide away. Show them how everybody stays organized, give them an organized list of tasks, make sure you train them well, and most importantly… guide them. I found myself forgetting that they’re new and that they want to succeed. In order to succeed, you need to be confident that you’re doing things the right way. In order to do things the right way, the leader of the pack needs to spend the time teaching, guiding, helping set schedules and task lists, and teach them how to walk before they can break free of the leg braces and “Run Forest, run!”
5. Every Employee is Different
Employees aren’t you. Accept that, now lets move forward.
Each employee has different strengths, different mentalities, different weaknesses, and different employee types. You as a leader and owner of your awesome new startup are most likely the self motivated type. If you’re not, then I have no clue how you’re making enough money to hire employees. Employees most commonly need and want guidance. Most people don’t want the responsibility of coming up with their own tasks, setting their own schedules, signing off on their own projects and having to take responsibility for their own decisions. This is why there are more employees than employers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either type of person, in fact the world needs both types of people. The fact is is just that there are less leaders than there are team members. Most people want to be on a team, but not take responsibility of having to lead the team.
So now that you understand this, you need to figure out what type of person each of your individual employees are before you hire them, and reevaluate them after you hire them to make sure you read them right before you throw them in the fire. Play to their strengths, but recognize their weaknesses. If they are self motivated and succeed better when they come up with their own schedules and tasks, then encourage it. However, you still need to check in on those tasks, offer your guidance and lending hand to keep them encouraged. If the employee doesn’t ever know what to do, or seems to be on the wrong track too often, then understand that they are an employee that wants to be led. They want to show up to work, look at what their projects are that were assigned to them, and crush those projects for you. Both personality types are awesome in the workforce to have, but both personality types can be a detriment to your company if you don’t recognize them and embrace them. A true leader and employer will find who is what type of person and help that person succeed.
There you have it. 5 key areas that I failed in as a new employer and how I became better at them. Once I fixed these weaknesses of mine, sales went up, the team became instantly happier, and life became much easier. Now go build an empire MacGyver!
About the Author
Kyle Mauch is the Founder of Athletes Brand, a fashion brand out of Scottsdale, Arizona with over 700 professional athletes on his team. He’s also a keynote speaker, Executive Director of Athlete Mastermind, Host of the Success at Success Podcast, Co-Founder of the Disrupting Sports Summit, and former professional athlete.