By Kaye Patchett
Taking a break from the job might seem like an unaffordable luxury to a small-business owner.
But Step One to earning that vacation is being a good boss. Part of having a good relationship with employees means feeling comfortable leaving business in their hands.
Train and supervise, but don’t micromanage employees, said Karen Lundstrom of Blue Sun Solutions, who helps companies hire and retain employees.
“You communicate that you don’t believe they can do the work, and then they quit making decisions,” Lundstrom said. “If you empower employees, it frees you up. If you disempower them, you can never leave. Once you establish trust, loyalty begins to build.”
Loyal employees won’t goof off when you’re gone, Lundstrom said.
“In a way, you’re cloning yourself. You’ve got people who are really invested in your vision. As a manager, be a coach. Pull out your employees’ strengths.
“Give them the resources to do well,” said Lundstrom. “When people have a $50,000 piece of equipment, they will spend thousands to maintain it, but a lot of people are not willing to spend money on training.”
Be flexible but set boundaries. Lundstrom called these the “non-negotiables.” Included in this category are dressing appropriately and showing up for work on time. Communicate your goals and values and listen to employees’ suggestions. Giving employees a voice and responsibility shows you value them and creates excitement, Lundstrom said.
John Friedenberg opened Friedenberg Automotive, 4531 N. Fairview Ave., 20 years ago. Apart from relocations, he said, his employee retention rate has been 100 percent.
“Some people say I’m not that hard to work for,” he said. He doesn’t offer formal benefits, but pays his two mechanics commission, and they are welcome to work on their own cars, using his equipment. And, he said, “I let people take time off if they need to.”
He also pays for outside training on any new automotive equipment.
When training employees, “I let them go at their own pace. I watch the end results, how long it took. Then I’ll show them, here’s another way that’s maybe quicker and easier.”
Mistakes become teachable moments. “We’re all entitled to make mistakes. I just ask them, ‘What did you learn from that?’ ”
Mechanic Truth Del Gaudio has worked for Friedenberg for six years. Knowing he is trusted to do a good job makes him more motivated, he said.
“If John was standing there over my shoulder, it would seem like it was his responsibility, not mine. When someone’s relying on you, the shop’s reputation and my own reputation is on the line.”
He appreciates Friedenberg’s quiet manner.
“John doesn’t curse or use bad language. He stays calm and cool about just about anything.” Del Gaudio has no plans to move on. “I think there’s probably more money somewhere else,” he said, “but I’m not going home stressed out. I like coming to work.”
When Katharine Kent opened The Solar Store, 2833 N. Country Club Road, in 1998, she had a clear vision of the kind of employer she wanted to be. She treats her 16 employees “with respect, honesty and integrity,” acknowledging work well done and being flexible.
“If people need a day off, we do all we can to make that happen,” she said. She offers medical and dental benefits and a 401(k) plan. Each year she takes her employees, with spouses, to a sustainable-energy fair in Flagstaff for training and fun.
If an employee is out of line, she approaches the incident as a lack of communication between herself and the employee.
“I think it’s because I wasn’t clear about what I felt were the important issues,” she said.
“Katharine is tactful, hard-working and very knowledgeable,” said Jeff Shoemaker, Kent’s service manager of two years. “I put in long hours, but she puts in even longer hours.”
Kent encourages initiative and allows Shoemaker to accomplish goals in his own way. “I’m totally in charge of my day-to-day schedule,” he said.
Lola Kakes of Professional Administrative Services helps businesses establish and administer human resource functions, said most people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.
Employee turnover is expensive. Losing and retraining an employee can cost three times that person’s annual salary in time and expense, Kakes said. “It can be especially devastating for small companies.”
Dianne Trinque and her husband, Pete, own Restor-To-Nu, a commercial refurbishing company at 4011 E. Columbia St., which they acquired in January 2004. Early employee problems were resolved by firing people whose negative attitudes created tension in the workplace.
More careful hiring resulted in a cohesive team of 10 motivated employees.
“We try to hire people who have a really strong work ethic,” Trinque said. She tries to be flexible about working hours and time off and offers a no-strings-attached two-week trial period for new hires.
Employee satisfaction is a high priority. “We’re moving to a larger facility primarily to improve the work environment,” she said. Thanksgiving gift cards, occasional catered lunches and a year-end bonus express her appreciation for work well done. Communication is the most vital factor in employee relations, Trinque said.
“Most people want to do well, but if you don’t tell them (what you expect), they don’t know.”
Entrusted with running the Solar Store for two weeks in May while Kent visited Europe, Shoemaker said that because Kent clearly defines employees’ roles and responsibilities in the workplace, her presence is not necessary for day-to-day decision-making.
“Since she has seen I can handle it when she is here without needing her guidance, then she can be confident in my carrying out those activities when she’s not here.”
8 secrets to retaining employees
Y Hire the right people.
Y Create an atmosphere of trust.
Y Let your employees know you care about them and value their work.
Y Provide opportunities for growth.
Y Reward work well done.
Y Involve your valued people in setting business goals and vision as well as their own personal goals and vision.
Y Give your employees the ability to create and have fun with their work.
Y Create a flexible work environment.
Source: Karen Lundstrom, Blue Sun Solutions