Relationships with Your Employees, at Each and Every Level


Column by Janine Popick, "Women in Business"
September 2007

Keeping the small company feel alive at your growing business.

Managing a growing company, I know how hard it is to maintain the close—knit small company feel. You know the feel — the one when you only had five employees? You could scream your questions from one office to another and get your answers. Truth is, if you're a growing company, you can only hold onto that for so long.

Our company has grown 50 percent, in just the past year. We are now up to 45 employees. Up until a few years ago when we consolidated everyone into our new offices, the company was split in half: two offices across the hall from each other. Mistakes? You bet. Neither side visited the other very often. New hires didn't know each other let alone longstanding employees. It was painful. Now, as we're about to grow large enough where we'll need to be on a few separate floors, we've learned enough to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

I've developed a set of routines that help establish rapport among all levels of my company since I want to be seen as approachable and not standoffish, while giving the sense that they have overly capable managers to help them make decisions.

Daily Walkabouts — Not only should you walk around different parts of your company every week you should stop by your employees and say "Hi." Find out what people are working on. Many times you'll see me walking by our Sales organization asking them what they've sold today. Or I'll check in on Marketing to see what's new. You should know what's happening in your business on all levels. People don't like to see their leader trapped in her office all day five days a week.

Come Together, Right Now — If your company is somewhat spread out, have a weekly company meeting or happy hour where everyone visits a particular department. Another idea? Have a quarterly offsite where you all spend time together. Plus it's just fun!

Don't Hang Out at the Top — I try to take a cross section of people from different departments (none of my direct reports) to lunch once a month. I ask for their honest input and get a general pulse of what's going on in the company. I've learned a bunch from these lunches.

Here's an example of how this is beneficial. There was a point when I spent a lot of time putting together and regularly sending a company e-mail that showed links to all of the press our company was getting. Thinking that no one was reading them, I stopped. When an engineer at one of these lunches said, "I used to really like getting those e-mails that showed all of the PR we were getting, what happened to them?" Soon after the company started getting them again.

Go Direct! — If I have a question that can be answered by me going directly to an employee, I do. I try not to go through eight channels to get what I could get by stepping into someone's cube or office and asking her about it. This way my employees are used to seeing me come by and are not scared of the time when I come to ask them something. It's becomes more routine than the exception.

Elevate Management — I ask my managers to be very vocal about their group's progress both to the company as well as to the board. I also have them present at company meetings so that everyone knows that all decisions are not made by me but by informed management. This shows a strong sense of leadership so that people know I rely on others to keep the company running. They also know that I often go direct to their people to get my questions answered and they need to be OK with me doing that.

Hopefully your company is growing enough to have some of these pains. Now it's up to you to make sure your employees aren't scared when you walk the halls.

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