Hitting the 20-Employee Mark Part 2 – Creating Structure for Successful Growth and Greater Productivity

As you begin to hit 20 employees, you may find your staff requires more structure and communication regarding your vision and goals for the business. Having a plan in place for meeting this need is very important as it gives employees more visibility of where the business is heading, reassurance that you are managing growth effectively and ensures they have the tools and information they need to help you accomplish your goals. Communication around “how am I doing?” and “how does what I am doing fit in with what other team members and departments are doing?” is also important as it helps ensure productivity by giving employees a greater understanding about how their responsibilities impact long-term and day-to-day milestones.

Offering insight into your vision and communicating job responsibilities are interrelated (although they also require independent analysis and a custom approach).  Your attention to these details will absolutely affect the efficiency and financial performance of your organization. The most profitable organizations on the “Best Places to Work” lists focus on developing programs and processes that address these issues and the good news is these deliverables don’t need to be elaborate. The key is taking a step back, assessing the structure and communication needs unique to your business, recognizing any inter-relationships and then acting on an intentional, “do-able” plan you can test to see what works and what doesn’t. The key is to start doing this while you are still relatively small. The bigger you get, the harder it is to undo or reinvent what isn’t working. Putting these mechanisms in place now will help you remain nimble while ensuring employees who are contributing important skill sets and institutional knowledge remain on board.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Write down who does what and what you need them to do. This boils down to creating job responsibilities and defining the goals you want employees to achieve. Goals don’t need to be lofty but do need to be measurable. If it’s something that needs to get done to achieve your business plan, it’s a goal and should be documented. If you can articulate a goal in writing in order to measure it, you can move it. The employer should provide the goal and the employee and employer should craft the roadmap (i.e. job responsibilities) to get there. It’s ok to leave most of the legwork to the employee if you as the employer give good guidance and direction. You already have a lot on your plate, I know. Asking them to create the draft generally yields more buy-in and accountability. Goals shouldn’t be more than 12 months out. Shorter lines of sight equate to greater results.
  2. Identify what’s missing. Inevitably in a smaller company, you are not going to have every skill you would like to have. Prioritize the “must haves” from the nice to “haves” for the next 12 months. Where is your business now and where do you want it to be in 12 months? What’s missing from making that happen? Determine your budget. Be ok with mitigation plans. As small business owners, we can’t always have what we want but we can come darn close.
  3. How’s your leadership bench? Are they farmers or hackers (i.e. are they going to cultivate your organization or tear it to shreds because their management style is abrasive and focused on control rather than growth?)? You need leaders who can grow your talent. If you are going to invest in any area, invest here. Don’t allow your managers to act as “technicians” even if part of their job is still doing the technician work. Groom them to think like a mini-owner of their unit and find good mentors who can teach them to get work done successfully through other people in a collaborative and supportive manner. They should be revered as a coach and leader by their staff and not as someone to fear.
  4. Consider messaging. Employees want to know what’s going on but not everyone will share the same level of understanding of the business. Keep this in mind as you talk about the company’s financials, sales plans, expense management, etc. Before communicating to a particular group of employees, think through what they care about, be transparent and speak only to what you’ve identified. I’ve found that some leaders will share everything with everyone in an effort to be collaborative and transparent but not every employee knows what to personally do with the information or really even cares about knowing all of it. Employees all want to help but need to see how that’s possible. Keep it simple, personal and relevant to them.
  5. Define at least a few “rules of engagement”. This doesn’t have to be a full on employee handbook, which I know is a four-letter word to many employers. Small “playbooks”, if you will, at the 20-employee mark are a good idea. You are probably getting at least some questions around “what’s our policy on this?” or “how much money can I spend on that?” Having at least a few expectations laid out will save you a lot of time from repeating yourself or remembering what you did for Bob six months ago in an effort to be consistent. You can make case-by-case decisions but just need to feel comfortable explaining your intent if called into question.

These are a few ideas I recommend to clients and am putting in place myself. If you have ideas to share, please do in the comments section. We’d love to hear your ideas for successfully setting the stage at 20.

We also encourage you to learn more about the employment laws you need to be familiar with when you reach 20 employees. For more information check out Part 1 of our hitting 20-employee mark.

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"My professional passion stems from a fascination with how the individual needs of employees, managers, and the business converge to produce an outcome. I’m driven by a desire to help leaders and employees find the balance between competing needs so they can work together to address the challenges they face."