One of the most difficult and terrifying steps of your entrepreneurial journey is hiring your first employee. Do you feel ready to take on responsibility for someone else’s livelihood? How will having a new face around affect your existing relationships?
If these sound like the kinds of questions new parents ask themselves, it’s not a coincidence. Entrepreneurial leadership — whether it’s managing conflicting personalities, struggling to pay the bills while putting on a happy face, or working daily to inculcate values and principles — is very similar to parenting. In business, like in parenting, you are responsible for the growth, care, and development of those in your charge. So, it’s not surprising that company founders can learn a lot from some well-worn parenting tactics that parental coaches teach to their clients.
1. Always appear aligned
If you have a co-founder or an executive team, your employees should always be receiving the same message no matter who they talk to. You can do this by using the classic technique of “I’ll talk to your father about it when he gets home”. If an employee has a grievance about how something is working, or is trying to jostle you to align with them against your team or co-founder, you should respond with a simple “Thank you for the information! I will bring it up with Jim as soon as possible and I’ll let you know what we decide.”
This tactic will eradicate any in-the-moment statements you’ll regret later. It demonstrates to your employees that you respect the input of the rest of your leadership team, and that you make decisions together. This strategy also subtly reminds your employee that you’re not interested in going behind people’s backs and playing political games.
2. Be consistent
In a work context, employees also benefit from consistent and clear expectations around roles and consequences. This is because:
- They know what their specific day to day tasks are, and therefore what is defined as success or completion.
- They (and you) will have a clearer sense of how they are performing against expectations, and whether they are on the right track for promotions or other kinds of benefits.
- If things are going poorly, the data and clarity that clear expectations allow will give you the freedom to feel confident in performance documentation, and sets you up for success in regards to any termination or sanction discussions.
This applies to both job descriptions as well as company rules. If a company rule exists and there is a consequence for breaking it, that consequence applies to everyone, every single time. This may require you to update (or create) a company manual, with detailed outlines of rules, policies, and procedures. This will likely need to change over time as your company grows and your needs change, but if executed well, its existence will help employee productivity and create the perception of fairness across the organization.
3. Be accomodating
Being consistent doesn’t mean being rigid. All of your employees are different in terms of personal needs, ways they work best, and family life. It might be extremely helpful for one employee if they can come in early, leave early, but continue to work from home in order to pick up their children from school. Another employee might greatly appreciate a salary advance when they sign on in order to pay for first, last, and security on their first apartment.
To the extent it is legal, being flexible will help your employees be happier, more productive, and will feel like you are helping them where you can, which buys you some good will.
4. Be interested in them
See each employee as an independent person with strengths, values, and preferences, and take the time to learn what those are. This could be both at the workplace and in their personal lives (within the bounds of appropriateness).
Learning about your employees will not only help you assign them teams and tasks at work that match their interests and abilities (thus making your company more efficient), taking the time to learn about them makes them feel heard and valued, a rare gem in the workplace. Then, you can use this information to provide meaningful gifts or thank-yous.
5. Be grateful
It is hard to find great employees. When you have them, it’s important to remember in midst of the chaos that you’re thankful for them. Telling them you feel this way will help make them feel appreciated and valued by your company, and therefore more likely to work hard, take ownership, and stick around.
By taking cues from good parenting principles, you’ll be better able to build strong connections with your employees, while also building a highly cohesive, effective, motivated team. You might even call it a family.