A very widespread issue among business owners of all types is – they just don’t know how to talk to staff when there is an issue.
As consultants – we are asked for help with these staff issues all day every day. Here are some of the many issues we help our clients resolve on a daily basis:
1) A new staff member who is butting heads with their Manager and attempting to make her look bad to the owner;
2) A staff member, who when assigned work practically re-assigns it back to the owner, by asking so many questions that the owner might as well do it himself;
3)A staff member who is making the same mistakes and not improving;
4) A staff member who is upset she did not make the threshold for a bonus – in a practice where the bonus plan is objective and not discretionary;
5) A marketing assistant who was sitting on projects – and not turning them around;
6) A bookkeeper who is rude to clients;
7) A tax preparer who would not meet the overtime hours required during tax season etc.
Most (not all) practice owners, when faced with situations similar to the above, do one of two things:
1) They ignore the issues and let them continue for a very long time, hoping the staff member might eventually change/improve;
2) They fire the person. This second option, in our experience however is far less commonly used!
The worst thing always of course– is to do nothing. So, owners who take step 2 above i.e fire the staff member, are at least doing something! And thus, wind up in a much better situation than those who do nothing.
However, a more ideal scenario in order to address these issues, is to be willing to communicate to the employee – though not of course when you’re angry and upset about it – as that will worsen the situation.
Otherwise, the problem is that unhandled staff issues cause incredible pain – both psychologically & financially to a business owner.
There is e.g. the following –
1) The demotivation that comes with it – i.e. it’s hard to be pumped about your practice if you have a problem person in your ranks;
2) The stress of working with people you are not on the same page with, just makes your life a misery;
3) Getting to the next level in your business becomes very difficult – as there are enough challenges to conquer without the additional problem of someone who not on the same page;
4) To the rest of the team, you look like a bad leader – one who permits a negative situation to linger without addressing it;
5) Good staff don’t want to remain in an environment that is negative, stressful and unfair e.g. why should they perform if others don’t, and are permitted to get away with it.
In fairness, CPAs and EAs don’t receive any management training. They just have whatever God-given communication ability they were born with – to tackle these issues.
Some owners try to talk to their spouses about the ‘problem person’ – with mixed results and often the spouse also feels angry about the situation, and does not therefore have the ability to suggest a neutral handling
The best approach is –
1) To address these issues after you stand back and figure out the best approach, not when you are frustrated with the person;
2) Think of some positive attribute the staff member has. If you don’t, it will be impossible to communicate without some nonverbal animosity coming across;
3) It’s best to use a form of communication, that involves asking questions e.g., in the case of the staff member who was butting heads with her manager – the owner could say – “I notice that there is some tension between you and X – and I’d like to help. What’s happening?”
Now you can ask questions of course in a demeaning, offensive way – and we don’t obviously recommend that. Instead, the type of questions you want to ask are positive, open, and non-judgmental. Most owners find role-playing these scenarios with us beforehand, very helpful.
The main thing (and this is easy to forget) is that the job of a leader/business owner is to grow the team & then it’s actually the team that grows your practice. Most owners are instead trying to grow the practice, from their own desk, and as productive and capable as they often are, there are serious limitations to how much they alone can achieve in terms of significant growth. They wind up getting completely overwhelmed and stressed out. There is a large payback to learning how to talk to your staff – so you can get high production, co-operation and contributions from your team – in order to have a growing fun and positive practice!