A lot has been said and written about how much you should supervise or follow up with your employees about their pending items and responsibilities. Over the last 30 years, discussion of best business practices have highlighted accountability, self-managed teams, etc. So for many business owners out there, what I am about to share may be a little controversial. First, I strongly support the idea and concept of employee accountability and self-managed teams. The problem I have experienced working with hundreds, maybe thousands of small businesses, is that these great concepts are very difficult to implement in a small business, especially in those that have between 10 to 50 employees.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the words: “why do my employees not do what they should do, it’s supposed to be their responsibility, that is why I hired them, that is why I pay them…etc.,” then you know I would be very rich! The reality is, small businesses with under 50 employees do not have all of the resources and infrastructure to implement these nice concepts of accountability, self-managed teams, etc. So instead, small business owners need a good system to keep track of their employees’ work activities. Some may think that what I’m about to suggest is micromanagement, but remember that in life as in business, most of the time things are not black or white, but somewhere in between.
So what is the best way to keep track of employees and what they are doing? The answer lies in a formalized “to do” list in the form of project management software, such as Base Camp, although there are many others as well, all for a reasonable price. These tools allow you to organize your “list” by employee, area, project, etc. The key is that whatever tool you use, it should have the following key elements:
- These basic fields: department, or project, or both, name of person responsible (there can only be one), people involved, date the item was created, due date, priority (between 1 and 3) and a field for following up.
- One of the most important things is to have different filtered views so you can see all of the company’s pending items by department, by person, by due date, by project, by priority, etc.
- Have meetings to review and follow up on pending items. This can be done using a system I talked about in a previous post about using your small business communication advantage. Below is a list of the most important meetings:
- Once a week meeting with your direct reports: 1 hr. length for checking pending items that involve more than one department (area) of the company. Best day and hour: Mondays in the afternoon.
- Once a week, one on one meeting with one of your direct reports: 1 hr. length for checking pending items that involve a specific department of the company (sales, finances, HR, IT, etc.). Best day and hour: It does not make any difference; the important thing is to have the meeting.
Important tip – whatever tool or software you use, make sure it has filters so that each member of the company can only see the items that he or she is responsible for or is involved with. Only the business owner and high level supervisors need to see the entire platform. Also, not everyone in the company will need to be included, especially those with very routine tasks (such as the receptionist who answers your phones).
I have helped many small businesses using this method and it brings incredible results. Your employees become more productive, communication improves, projects get finished on schedule, everyone understands what they are responsible for, and nothing falls through the cracks. At the beginning it could be a little frightening to see a lot of pending items for the whole company, but with time and the discipline of following up, the outlook will get better and better.