Day to Day Communication Advice for Small Business Owners
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Giving Staff Members More Rope, So You Have More Time

I often hear business leaders tell me that they don’t get enough done in a day. They have a to-do list a mile long, but they spend their whole day answering employees’ questions and solving employees’ problems. But, if we let day-to-day issues like these fill our day, it’s impossible to make progress on the leadership tasks that only we can accomplish. That’s why we have staff members – to think and act on those day-to-day issues, allowing us to focus on our work.

Day to Day Communication Advice for Small Business Owners

The scenario of employees displacing their problems onto the backs of managers is known as management role reversal. Some refer to managing this reversal as monkey management. This involves keeping the problem, or monkey, where it belongs – with the employee. So, encourage them to problem-solve by using the techniques.

Stop right there

Sometimes we make it too easy for employees to walk into our office and ask a question. If it’s easier to ask us for the answer than it is for them to figure it out, we will be interrupted all day. Thinking about the problems for them, is doing their job, and I’m sure we can agree that you probably have enough to do. Ask employees to stop and think the issue through before coming to your office. Sometimes a few moments of thought makes them realize the problem isn’t even a problem, or that they have the answer. They can also talk to their peers before coming to you. Ask them, “Who else have you talked to about this?” If the answer is “No one,” then ask them to discuss the issue with someone else first before coming back to you. It may be difficult at first to turn people away, but in the long run, it will improve everyone’s productivity.

Create an Issue Form

Create a form that must be completed before an employee can bring a problem to you. My form has four questions: what’s the problem/issue/question; what information do we need to make a decision; what have you done to answer/solve it; and what’s your recommendation. This compels employees to stop and think for themselves rather than rely on you for easy answers. Also, the act of putting things down on paper is often all that is needed for them to come up with a solution.

Establish Closed Door and Open Door policies

This bit of advice can be hard for many managers to swallow. You may need to be less available. For leaders to get their work done, and the kind of thinking they need to do, uninterrupted blocks of time are necessary. Shut the door, turn off the phone, and tell people you’re busy. But, by the same token, make yourself available at certain times, too. For example, keep your schedule open for meetings with employees after 4 p.m. It’s amazing how many of the day’s problems will be solved while they are waiting for 4 p.m. to roll around.

Schedule regular standing meetings

By holding regular standing meetings with your direct reports, you can deal with several issues at once rather than one at a time over the course of several days. Your staff members will learn to hold onto things that aren’t that urgent if they know that there is a time that they will for sure see you. The key is to be consistently available at a regular time.

Commit to this new way of thinking

Changing their – and your – way of thinking and doing things will not be easy or without its frustration. But don’t give up and don’t tolerate deviation. You may have to sit down with employees and work through the process the first few times. If this happens, use time to your benefit by showing them what you expect. Don’t simply give them the answer. Work through the problem step-by-step so they can see your thought process. Then, ask them for potential solutions and recommendations. Work with them until they, and only they, come up with a viable solution. Build their confidence by telling them that you are sure they have the ability and knowledge to solve these problems on their own.

By using the tools described above, you can tame the “monkeys” and maintain your focus on true management issues. At the same time, you’re encouraging the growth, independence and creativity of your employees. That will leave you with more time to focus on the “big issues” facing your business.

Photo credit: shoothead

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