Every business owner shares this one thing: fear. Sure, some owners are confident and do not dwell on fear. That doesn’t mean at all that it doesn’t exist. Other owners have made being fearful a part of their everyday life; fear creeps lurks over them like a pesky stray dog that just keeps following them around. One of the things feared by entrepreneurs is what is happening beneath the surface of what can be seen.
Have you ever heard of the Johari Window? It’s a technique used in psychology to help people understand themselves and how they interact with the world. The entire premise lies in the fact that we all have a blind spot. Each of us has a part of ourselves we know, a part that others know about us that we do not know about ourselves and then there’s an unknowable part too. As a business owner, it is extremely helpful to have a tool to be able to see more of ourselves that we do not know and also a side of our business what is happening in it that we do not know or see for ourselves.
Naturally, there are some who are far more self-aware than others. Yet, everyone has some aspects of themselves that they do not “get,” but others do. It is helpful to have lieutenants in your firm that you can trust and that you entrust with keeping a watchful eye on things and a listening ear as well.
This is in no way an endorsement of any kind of spying or underhanded behavior. Any sound business must be built on truth and trust for sure. Our employees are like our children; they look to business owners for guidance and leadership. No one wants to learn their leader is sneaking around spying on them. However, that said, a business owner is invested—lock, stock and barrel—in his business’s vision and success; and it is his right and his responsibility to have a true picture of what is happening.
So how does this happen? It is a culture that is birthed and maintained by the leadership. That would take an entire course or book to adequately cover. However, there are several ways to improve your perspective. These may seem like common sense yet they deserve mentioning.
- Maintain an open door policy AND a walk-around hybrid of management. If you are approachable, more of your employees will poke their heads into your office to say hello or feel comfortable when they want to ask a question. AND, the second part of this one is to get out and walk around among your employees more often than just around the holidays. If you are seen there regularly, they will not think “something is up” when they run into you in the lunchroom or in another department.*
- Follow up with staff. If someone shares something in a moment of frustration or during a panic, make it a point to follow up with them to see how it turned out. This validation that you were paying attention to them will go yards and yards beyond the moment it took you check in with them. The trust that is built by this from an act of leadership is huge. They will be more apt to check in with you sharing information that will help you gain that bit of insider’s news.
- Be transparent. Business decisions are not always for all ears. As strategies for growth are being created or staff changes are being discussed, communication is going to be insular among the managers. Keeping the lines of communication open through any major changes is key. Sure, you must keep mum on many particulars, but whatever is possible to say, must be said. Bad news is bad news but when it is ignored and not discussed, bad news becomes poison.
If your firm is small and it is only you and an assistant, you are not in the space to be challenged by needing to know what is happening beneath surface, you ARE the whole enchilada. Establishing a culture of transparency and honestly will help ward off drama that can emerge from employee groups. Maintaining this culture through growth and changes can be a challenge, but achieving that will result in years of loyal staff retention.