Author and expert team builder Rene Boer, who literally wrote the book on how to be a great boss, sums up the trajectory of the typical employee/Human Resources relationship in a simple straight-line trajectory:
Hire, Onboard, Ignore, Ignore, Ignore, Express Disappointment, Part Ways
But like any good relationship, Rene argues that if you’re putting off the difficult conversations until things have already gone wrong, you’ve waited too long and it’s too late.
As it turns out, the keys to being a good boss are remarkably similar to the ones that make someone a good human:
- Good communication
- The ability to move forward and let bygones be bygones
- Setting clear expectations and boundaries
- Paying attention and offering regular feedback
- Self awareness
- Recognizing that everyone makes mistakes
So how do successful leaders walk the tightrope that is running a business and working with people?
In a word: process.
If an SOP sits on a shelf and no one ever sees it does it really exist?
According to Rene, who spent decades working in the restaurant industry building teams and doing process, “smiles don’t keep and win customers, great processes do. Process is what creates consistency and facilitates scaling.”
But what happens when an SOP (standard operating procedure) and the processes it documents becomes so overwhelming and complicated that it’s no longer useful?
As Rene points out, when an SOP becomes so tedious it ends up defeating its intended purpose and people miss the simplicity that the process was supposed to create in the first place. A successful and useful SOP should be simple and clear enough to illustrate the big picture, and the major steps involved in each process for everyone that needs to follow it. “Things fall apart because we don’t follow the major steps in the right sequence.”
Being a great boss – the art of great expectations
There’s a scene in AMC’s Mad Men where Don Draper informs his frazzled and overwhelmed assistant that rather than merely answering his phone and putting meetings on his calendar, her real job was to “manage expectations.” In the real world, Rene says that it’s the weight of unmet and poorly defined expectations that can ruin a working relationship.
Unfortunately, most organizations shy away from regular communication and feedback on performance outside of the dreaded yearly performance review. A good boss functions like a good coach: discussing strategy and performance on an ongoing basis, and having the uncomfortable conversations while there is still time to do some course correcting.
So why do so many companies cling to outdated and even counterproductive management models? “Because the concepts may be simple, but change is always hard,” says Rene.
Getting the right people in the right seats
A company’s success and productivity depends in large part on getting the right people in the right seats, but that can be easier said than done. Roles change and evolve over time and so do people, and the concept of “culture fit” can be a bit vague when it comes to nailing down what it takes to define success in a given role.
Rene attributes success to establishing good metrics, and measuring employee behavior against the company’s core values and objectives to get a real gauge for their performance and their overall suitability for the role. But you can start with two basic questions:
Do they want the role? Do they get the role?
It’s a matter of trust
Once again that’s where clear expectations come into play. If you have to “hold someone accountable,” you already have a problem according to Rene.
Address issues as they come up, and try to find a common path forward. Quarterly reviews are an effective way to address current issues and set up expectations for the near future.
Leadership vs. management
One of the biggest distinctions between leadership and management is a common refrain among entrepreneurs: are you working on the business or in the business?
A leadership role is responsible for:
- Establishing direction
- Thinking about the big picture
- Conveying message and providing a compelling vision for the why, what, and how
Management handles the nuts and bolts of the business on an operational level. Like the people that report to them, managers should have a very clear understanding of the expectations of their roles, and know what they’re signing up for.
Establishing good processes holds especially true for training employees. Rene recommends simplifying the process as much as possible by breaking information down to the most basic and crucial elements (what needs to happen at every step of every transaction), and establish clear benchmarks. The trick is to remember that if it’s not clear, simple, and repeatable, it will inevitably fall off track.