Pithy people smarts business owners can use

Don Mercer
Posted by Don Mercer
Small Business Banking

Recently we invited people to tweet their best small business tips using just five words. The resulting #SmallBizTipin5Words collection revealed a lot of smart advice — like “Focus on adding tremendous value” and “Listen to customers; be flexible.”

Man and woman at work drinking coffee, facing a computer and solving a problem together.There were three tweets that especially resonated with me, and they all had something to do with people, starting with this one:

Hire great people. Trust them.

Early in my career, I learned what I call the “trash test.” As a young manager, I had delegated a few tasks, but they didn’t get done. So I had to make things right with my customer — and my boss! The next morning when I told him what had happened, my boss said, “Let me show you how you know which employees to trust.”

Our office hadn’t yet opened for the day. He led me out to the lobby and put a scrap of paper by the front door. Then we stood back and watched employees walk in. The third employee was the first to stop, pick up the scrap of paper, and throw it away. My boss then put it back on the floor, and we kept watching until all 25 employees had arrived. Nine employees took the time to pick up the scrap of paper.

“Those are the ones you can trust,” my boss said. Those were the people who took ownership and initiative. Of course, this wasn’t a scientific test, but the message was clear: Find people who will take ownership and care about your business.

In other words, employees who feel vested in the success of your business will likely be the employees to whom you can delegate responsibilities.

Which brings us to the second tweet:

Create an environment employees love.

One of my favorite business books is the classic Leadership Is an Art by Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc. De Pree encourages “leadership through service.” He created a culture at Herman Miller in which managers recognized they would not have jobs without their employees. In this type of culture, managers may see their jobs as removing obstacles to the success of their employees and providing the tools, resources, and guidance so that employees can achieve their full personal and professional potential.

It’s a powerful approach to leadership and building a business: Create a culture where people want to be and where they want to work.

Now for the third piece of wisdom:

Get a few good mentors.

Most successful entrepreneurs, I’d bet, can name at least one mentor who has helped them get to where they are. The mentor may be someone they knew personally or whose book they relied on time and again for inspiration and guidance.

Interestingly, our small business survey last year found that women tend to rely on mentors and advisors even more than men do when starting a business. For example, 47% of women vs. 35% of men considered guidance from an accountant to be important, and 29% of women vs. 21% of men said it was important to receive guidance from a financial advisor.

Many entrepreneurs think about mentors as outsiders, but you can also find mentors among your employees. These can be leaders and potential leaders, or even long-time employees who have a deep knowledge of your business.

As our featured tweets suggest, finding and retaining good people is key to the long-term success of your business. As your business grows, you may be able to step away from the office or store or warehouse for a few hours or days and trust your employees to keep things moving forward. Or at least to pick up that scrap of paper.

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