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Debbie Larry-Izamoje: 3 Tips For Entrepreneurs Struggling With People Management

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We were recently trying to hire at my digital agency, Image Boosters, and I quickly realized a trend in CVs submitted. Just a few people seemed to stay up to two years at a startup. In fact, there were people who had only spent three months at some firms. The reasons these people gave for leaving their jobs after three to six months were surprising, and it got me thinking about how frustrating it must have been for the owners of these businesses to invest in someone who only had a three-month vision for their firm.

I’m not sure if it’s because I am a business coach/consultant, but I get to hear some of the deepest pains of millennial entrepreneurs. Believe me when I say people are going through it. People management has become increasingly difficult, especially in this day and age of increased entitlement and laziness.

What I love to do is console these entrepreneurs by blaming the media and PR experts. The power of storytelling has changed the narrative and distorted the reality of a lot of startups, especially in the creative space. You see an American tech company publish an article about their work culture, about how employees are allowed to bring their pets to work, sleep during working hours, and even exercise while at work.

But I wish these PR articles would tell us the full story, about the contracts they give said employees to sign before they take on these roles. About how you can bring your dog to work but can only play with it during the hours of 1 PM and 3 PM. Because there are always rules and structures that cannot be messed with.

I wish these articles would discuss the cost of gross insubordination. How you can sleep however long you want but dare not miss a deadline from your superiors desk or be unprofessional or outrightly disrespectful in any way.

So you see, young creatives/professionals who read this from a room in Yaba go for interviews expecting to sleep four hours out of the eight they work in Mr Yemi’s tech company, not considering that he still hasn’t paid the loan he used to start that business.

Good people are running businesses and are exhausted from being good and constantly being taken advantage of. Young entrepreneurs are investing everything into creating an Amazon or Google culture for people who still leave after three months. I cringe at the thought of all these things I did at the start of my business just to make people happy.

Like I tell my clients, build the structure that works for you. Not the structure that employee Kunle told you to build. Because, when you do things at the expense of your business to keep people, just a few remember your sacrifices in the long run.

Create a working business structure from day one. I’ve decided to share a few tips on people management that I believe work.

Start from day one
I honestly wish someone had told me this. I wish someone had handed me a book or article on how to go about putting a strong business structure in place from the jump. I thought a strong business culture in a tech space meant parties after work every Friday. I started off my business with the mentality that the time would come when I would need all those serious business documents, but three months in was too soon to think about all that. So when employees started to surprise me, I must confess that I was caught off guard.

So many small businesses do not even have an employee handbook, appraisal forms, etc. Although I believe no one can really teach you how to be a good leader, I’ve come to understand that learning how a business functions is key to your startup’s growth. You weed out so many bad plants from having a great structure and a functional environment. From the beginning of the business, figure out how often you want appraisals to be done, the company organogram, employee leave processes, disciplinary procedures and more. It doesn’t matter if you change these policies as you go but ensure that they are written down somewhere. The standard you set will act as a precedent for your success in people management.

Outsource HR duties
I know that as a startup you try to be as frugal as possible. But have you ever thought about going into a partnership or a barter deal with a friend or company that offers HR to startups? The beauty of outsourcing your HR duties is that you truly have time to focus on more important things. When I tried to implement a structure in my business after learning the importance, a few people revolted and this was a sign that it was indeed needed. Of course, those who couldn’t stand the heat left the kitchen but this gave us the room as a firm to focus on those who believed in our future and invest in the personal development of such employees.

Good HR professionals have high emotional intelligence, which helps them identify issues before they become problems. I tell employers all the time that your job is to have a clear mind so you are thinking for that business and you honestly cannot think up new strategies if you spend all your days complaining about an unproductive employee or handling appraisals.

Review your leadership style
I hate to admit this but sometimes we entrepreneurs are our own problem. I laugh now when I think of my first few months as an entrepreneur. I checked what everyone was doing at every second. I listened in on conversations so as to know what my employees thought about me and almost gave myself high BP in the process. Not because feedback was bad, but because I was concerning myself with the most mundane things. My aim was to be a transformational leader but I soon realized that having managerial skills was also of major importance. I was able to assess my skills and myself. I was able to deal with not being liked on some days because the client was more important.

As an entrepreneur, it is important to create that balance between being a leader and a manager. You must hold employees accountable for their actions, no matter how down to earth you are as a leader. Some employees will still cross their boundaries and this should never be tolerated. Ensure that you create a conducive work environment and that you understand the needs of employees. I do not believe that employees should be scared of you. Constantly share the vision of the company with them and don’t be afraid to let your guard down after they have earned your trust.

Debbie Larry-Izamoje, with Certificates in Innovation and strategy from Harvard University and user innovation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the Chief operating Officer of Nigeria's only sports radio station, Brila Fm Instagram: @dee_larry