First-Time Manager Tips for Entrepreneurs
By: Linda Childers
Back in 1989, Rebecca Congleton Boenigk and her mom, Jaye, launched Neutral Posture, a family business featuring a line of ergonomic chairs designed by Boenigk’s father, Dr. Jerome Congleton.
Fast forward to today. The company now boasts 80 employees and recently expanded into the systems furniture business. Yet Boenigk still remembers her company’s early days when she was learning how to manage a staff while also working to grow her business.
“In retrospect, I think the transition from entrepreneur to first-time manager would have been easier if I had tapped into a seasoned mentor,” says Boenigk. She started the business from her family’s garage in Texas and hired her first three employees a year later.
“Like many entrepreneurs, I thought I needed to do everything by myself, but over the years, I’ve met many business owners who are willing to help first- time managers.”
Having a mentor is one way that first-time managers can learn how to grow and adopt managerial habits, says Melinda Emerson, the @SmallBizLady on Twitter, and author of the bestselling book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months.
“Managing a staff can prove to be a challenge for many small business owners,” says Emerson. “It takes time for entrepreneurs to develop their own management style.”
If you’re a small business owner looking to hone your staff management skills, here are some lessons to help you build a strong company, while also keeping your employees motivated:
Set a Good Example. It’s hard to demand professionalism from your staff if you don’t model that same behavior.
“As a business owner, you set the tone for your small business and your employees will always look to you for advice, or how to handle situations,” Emerson says. “Do you pay vendors chronically late? Do you go off when a customer complains? Do you come in late every day? Do you openly favor certain employees? Everyone is watching you and they will treat your business just like you do — or worse.”
Inspire and Motivate Staff. Good managers make sure they give their employees what they need to feel valued.
“Your employees are the most valuable business asset in your business, so you’d better be good to them or your business will suffer,” Emerson says.
At Neutral Posture, Boenigk says her employees enjoy profit-sharing, flexible schedules, excellent benefits and extra perks such as a rewards program for employees who go above and beyond.
Be a Great Communicator and Listener. Emerson says poor management communication is one of the biggest challenges she sees with first-time managers.
“Rather than hiding in your office, it’s important to engage your staff in brainstorming sessions,” Emerson says. “You need to have regular staff meetings to make sure everyone is kept in the loop and held accountable. Don’t demand updates from everyone without offering the status of your own projects. It will help keep the lines of communication open with your team.”
Succeed as a Team. Take the time to understand the challenges and needs of your employees. Boenigk believes in creating a culture of innovation by soliciting regular feedback from staff members on areas where the company can make improvements.
More formal strategic planning sessions are held on a regular basis to address strategies for things like increasing sales and product development.
Learn to Delegate. As a small business owner it can be tempting to want to oversee all aspects of your business, but as your company grows that’s usually not realistic.
When Boenigk and her mother first started to hire managers, they looked for smart people who had skills that complemented their own, and were passionate about their work.
“In addition to delegating the right tasks to the right people, small business owners must take time to onboard new managers,” Emerson says. “Don't just throw them in the deep end and hope for the best; invest in their employee training so that you can make sure that your customers and employees are being taken care of just like you would handle any situation.”