An entrepreneur may have a brilliant idea for a business, but it's near impossible for him/her to turn it into reality alone. Any successful venture has a dedicated team of core employees who help founders realise their dream and create a successful venture. Hiring the right team, therefore, is of paramount importance for all startups. But maintaining that team requires a lot of work — a responsibility that largely lies on the founder's shoulders.
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Entrepreneurs are inherently a risk-taking lot. After all, you can't succeed in the uncertain startup world without courage. But a lot of them still shy away from having uncomfortable conversations with their employees — something that can be detrimental to maintaining a healthy work environment. Certain conversations are unavoidable if you run a business and have people working for you. And it's important to be prepared for such talks and execute them with perfection. Here are six such conversations every founder/CEO eventually needs to have with their employees:
Talking to employees about poor performance is never easy. But if your team member is not working up to the expected standards, it's important to inform them right away and take the necessary measures. After informing them of their errant ways, it's common practise to give an employee some time to improve their working standards, also known as a performance improvement plan (PIP). But if you do not notice any change at the end of the period, it becomes necessary to fire the employee. While doing so, be as cordial as you can to prevent any animosity from arising. Also, inform the rest of the team about an employee's removal immediately to prevent any internal rumours from springing up and ruining the work environment.
Being a founder or CEO doesn't place you above reproach. You will make mistakes, you are human after all, and you will need to own up to them. Founders often fall prey to the thinking that apologising to employees negates their sense of authority and leadership; but not apologising for your mistakes is far more harmful. Admitting your mistakes and making a sincere apology for them makes you more relatable, trustworthy, and credible in the eyes of your employees. And never ruin an apology with an excuse — accept the responsibility and ownership for what went wrong completely and offer your team a sincere apology for the same.
Saying ‘no’ is something everyone needs to do, and entrepreneurs need to do it far more often than anyone else. An employee may suggest something that doesn't align with your vision for the company, or they may ask for a leave when you're on a time crunch, or they may ask for a bonus when you're running low on funds, or they may ask for a promotion when their work doesn't warrant it. In such situations, it's necessary to say no, and it's important to do so in a tactful manner. Citing a valid reason and attempting to find an alternative (if possible) has the advantage of not damaging an employee's morale.
Announcing a change
Changes are unavoidable while running a company. You may have to implement a new process, appoint a new manager, or require a certain employee to take up a different role. Changes like these may place employees in an uncomfortable zone which in turn might damage their morale and performance. To avoid this, inform your team about upcoming changes well before you implement them as it gives them time to adjust and prepare for it. But do so only when you have a solid plan in place; announcing that you're making a change without explaining it in detail will only increase uncertainty among your team.
Delivering bad news
No one likes being the bearer of bad news, and founders and CEOs are no exception. The most common example of this is budget cuts due to a lack of funding. Often, founders don't inform their employees of problems with funding and instead try to keep it under wraps. But the indications of this problem are always apparent and it's better that your employees find out about it from you early on rather than read about it in the news. Never delay while giving bad news, explain all the facts and keep following up with your employees. The TinyOwl fiasco is an excellent example of what happens when you fail to have this crucial conversation.
Addressing inappropriate behaviour
The workplace is a very delicate ecosystem and it's your responsibility to ensure that all your employees feel comfortable working there. In the past few months, news about sexual harassment and discrimination against women working in startups have been coming into the limelight; even bigwigs like Uber and Tesla have been accused of harbouring a male-centric culture. And the worrying part is that the women who came forward with these complaints are alleging inaction on the part of their managers. As a founder, it's your responsibility to ensure a hospitable work environment; this involves clearly informing employees what kind of behaviour will not be tolerated and instructing respective managers that, in case offensive behaviour is reported, an immediate investigation must be launched and the required action be taken.
It is undoubtedly uncomfortable to have any of these conversations, but they are necessary if you are to run a successful business. So, when the occasion arises, allay your apprehension and get them out of the way as soon as possible.
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