Defining roles will help reduce ambiguity and conflict, writes Anne Fulton, director at career and business consultancy firm Career Analysts.

Staff management can be a challenge in small businesses where working closely together can make it difficult to make business judgments about your people.

How do owners of small businesses manage their staff when they work so closely with them?

Small businesses are, by their nature, going to be intimate. You will be working closely together and often have to share the same goals and frustrations. But as with any business, it is important to get a few basics in place early on, and this is just as important with a small business as for a larger business.


So have you defined roles and responsibilities - who is going to do what? This will help reduce ambiguity, conflict, and unnecessary duplication.

Make sure there are some business rules so everyone has clear expectations. These can be anything from dress code and break times, down to when you can have a beer on a Friday and even when you will have some fun together.

It can be important to set the scene for when the team can socialise and chat so the personal stories stay in the tea room rather than interfere with getting on with the day's work.

Also, having regular weekly meetings and quarterly planning meetings can help ensure everyone has the same goals and objectives.

What is wrong with being best pals with your staff? Does there need to be some kind of distance?

You can be mates and friendly with your staff - but best mates? Probably not.

There will be times when you have to be clear about who is leading the ship, and though you can have a few laughs and enjoy time with the team, if you also have regular professional interaction through team meetings or one-on-one performance catch-ups you should also have their professional respect.

After all, the buck does stop with the business owner, and staff should understand that. It's not their money on the line.


How do small-business owners successfully make business decisions about their staff when they work so closely with them?

If you have agreed on the basics with your team through a clear position description and have regular one-on-one catch-ups with each team member, it is easy to make sure they have everything they need to be able to deliver to your expectations, and you can probably pre-empt a lot of potential issues with your staff.

If you keep on top of potential performance problems by giving regular feedback, you will be in a good place to make better decisions about your people and their performance.

Make sure you are up-to-date with employment legislation to ensure that the way you make decisions about your people and the way you implement those decisions are compliant with current laws, otherwise you can be in for all sorts of consequences.

Employers and Manufacturers Association or Chamber of Commerce websites are a good source.

Should SMEs hire someone to deal with all the HR issues among their other duties? Then the staff know who to go to if they have any problems?

The ideal solution for a small business is having an HR person on call, so having someone you can phone for advice or use as a sounding board for particularly sticky issues can be well worthwhile.

As well as helping with recruitment, creating position descriptions, and helping you make the tough people decisions, they also specialise in helping you get the best from your people, and that should translate into better productivity, better customer service, and a better work environment for all.

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