By Garry Smith, business coach at Advantage Business Partnerships and the co-author of Creating Business Advantage: Setting Up and Running A Successful Business
Perhaps the most important thing for any new business owner to realise is that you need to be ready for constant change, and the stress which can result. Change is now normal and, if you’re not equipped to deal with it, you will fall behind very quickly. However, you can reduce the stress of this by setting up a solid base of policies for your business early on, and making sure you stick to your own rules, at least until there is a good reason to make a change. To do this, you need a true understanding of your business.
Tip 1. Define what determines your business.
To relieve stress on your team and yourself, it’s important to recognise both the space and the constraints of your business. This is crucial when you’re considering the options for family-friendly working, and deciding on your policies. For example, if your business is dictated by line speed then you will have a different set of opportunities from a business that is dictated by creative output. Most businesses are less Time determined nowadays, and more Output determined. Once you have clarified the specific constraints of your business, you’ll understand the space you have to manoeuvre and then avoid outmoded reasons for unreasonably denying requests/demands from your team for different ways of working.
Tip 2. Define your policies clearly so that everyone is crystal clear on what does and what does not qualify for a relaxation of the “normal rules”.
If you’re offering flexibility in working hours, make clear just how much flexibility is on offer. Then you can avoid the wrangles which result from unexpected requests and ad hoc decisions. In Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, Milligan is finally detained and delivered to Army Camp to start his conscription. “Milligan – you are six months late,” says the CO. “I know sir,” replies Milligan, “but I’ll fight nights to make up for it”. Not really an offer that stands scrutiny. You want to avoid any Milligan-style conversations!
Tip 3. Ensure that the culture in your business is supportive of the “flexibility” that you are prepared to offer, but also explore the quid pro quo for the business.
I think that for “Family Friendly” traffic to work it has to be operating in a two-way street. So, in essence, any request has to be made knowing that it will be listened to, but every requester should also know that the situation needs to work for the business as a whole.
Tip 4. Be Consistent.
What is fair to one is fair to all. You cannot have policies which discriminate, and you must make sure that all team members are treated the same. It sounds obvious but, especially in small businesses with newly developing teams, it’s surprisingly easy not to notice that disparity is creeping in. This will build a sense of resentment and eventual disengagement, neither of which is good for the business or the relationships between team members.
Tip 5. Don’t think that a Family Friendly Policy is “soft”, or that it is a cost to the business.
I would argue the other way. People at work who are distracted while they are there by something in their personal lives will not be concentrating on their work and mistakes and errors will ensue. Much better, I think, to give the team member time to attend to their issue and then return to work “up for the job”. Whether you decide to pay or not for the time taken is not relevant. My position was seriously tested over the last year when my mother was terminally ill. During that time I had to decide upon whether I worked as long and as hard as usual or whether I should take time to meet my family responsibilities. I came to a balanced decision and shifted things around to be able to do both. I reflect upon how I would feel now had I opted for the “business as usual” option and I know I made a good choice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Garry Smith is a business coach at Advantage Business Partnerships and the co-author of ‘Creating Business Advantage: Setting Up and Running A Successful Business’. Advantage Business Partnerships helps businesses who are serious about growth. ABP delivers performance improvement, top line to bottom line, through business coaching, mentoring and hands-on consultancy. ABP doesn’t just give advice, they’ll do the work with you. See: http://advantagebusinessltd.com/