EP 339: Hiring For The Upside With Small Business Co-Pilot Founder Podge Thomas

Jun 1, 2021 | Growth, Operations, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • Why management specialist Podge Thomas believes your team should be your biggest asset
  • How to prepare to hire—and how to take better care of your team member through careful onboarding
  • How our previous experiences with management shape the way we approach the prospect of hiring today

Managing has gotten a bad rap.

In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say that “not wanting to manage people” is the biggest reason people cite for not hiring.

Sure, there might be financial issues. There might be issues with finding the right person. There might issues about knowing what to hand off.

But almost everyone I talk to has either a fear or an unwillingness to manage people.

So why do so many of us have such an aversion to management?

Why have so many people sworn off hiring help?

Why has solopreneurship become such an enticing thing for people wanting to build a business?

Here’s my take: we grossly overestimate the risks & liabilities of hiring people and managing them. And we grossly underestimate the benefits of doing so.

Typically cognitive bias, especially for entrepreneurs, works the other way. We fixate on the upsides and ignore potential risk. That’s entrepreneurial optimism in a nutshell.

So maybe this is managerial pessimism?

I don’t know—but what I do know is that hiring might be the best thing you ever do for yourself and for your business.

That’s not to say that I think it’s the right decision for everyone—but I do believe it’s a good decision for more business owners.

This episode is going to be perfect for you whether you’ve avoided hiring to this point, whether you’re considering making the leap, or whether you’ve already got a team and looking to become a better boss and really receive the benefits of building a team.

But before we get into the meat of it, I want to paint a picture of the upside of hiring for you. Because there’s a very good chance that, even if you’re already paying people, you haven’t experienced this yet.

Upside #1: People have your back

Team members—especially employees—aren’t just there to get things done for you. They’re part of the fundamental support of the business. And sometimes, that looks like making sure you’re in a position to the do work that only you can do.

They might keep you from getting derailed by an unhappy customer. They might watch out for you when they know you’re under the weather. They might pick up an off-hand remark as an idea for a game-changing project.

I simply cannot oversell the benefit of having a team that has your back. Of course, building this kind of team takes work—management work—but it is so, so, so worth it.

Upside #2: Other people can create or deliver value for you

Most micro business owners—solo or not—operate as if they’re the only ones who can create value for the business. But team members can create value, too!

They can turn ideas into reality. They can work with your clients or lead conversations in your course. They can build systems that dramatically increase efficiency and effectiveness. They can even build offers for you!

Maybe that seems incredibly far-fetched at this point. Maybe you never even considered that as a possibility. But it’s all true. Of course, you’ve got to hire the right people and guide them toward this kind of outcome. But again, it’s totally worth it.

Upside #3: Other people will make you better at what you do

When you have the right people on your team and you’re working with them in the most constructive ways, they will absolutely push you to be better at what you do in the most glorious ways.

Whether it’s because you’re tasked with explaining things in a new way, or you have to be clearer about intended results, or you have to describe your process…

…managing others will seriously up-level your other skills.

Okay, hopefully I’ve primed you on the upside of hiring and managing others and you are stoked for my conversation with Podge Thomas.

I met Podge back in 2019 and was immediately struck by her thoughtfulness and humanity—both in life and business. Podge helps business owners and organizations make better hiring choices, manage their people well, and build humane cultures at work. She’s the founder of Small Business Co-Pilot and hosts a monthly free round table discussion called The Manager’s Huddle.

Podge and I talk about why managing has gotten the rap it has, how we can make our teams our business’s #1 asset, and what it really takes to prepare to hire.

Now, let’s find out what works for Podge Thomas!

Podge Thomas: It's safe to assume if you're a business owner, you probably have some control issues. Right? You probably really don't want to let go of things. It's possible that you're not, but the chances are that you think, "Well, if I want a job done right, I should do it myself." Right? There's a lot of that I think that happens as a business owner.

Tara McMullin: Managing has gotten a bad rap. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd say that not wanting to manage people is the biggest reason business owners cite for not hiring. Sure, there might be financial issues, there might be issues with finding the right person. There might be issues about not even knowing what to hand off. But almost everyone I talk to also has a fear or an unwillingness to manage people. I'm Tara McMullin, and this is What Works, the show that explores how small business owners are building stronger businesses without the shoulds and supposed tos. So why do so many of us have such an aversion to management? Why have so many people sworn off hiring help? And why has solo entrepreneurship become such an enticing thing for people wanting to build a business?

Here's my take. We grossly overestimate the risks and liabilities of hiring people and managing them, and we grossly underestimate the benefits. Typically, cognitive bias, especially for entrepreneurs, works the other way. We fixate on the upsides and ignore potential risk. That's entrepreneurial optimism in a nutshell. So maybe this is managerial pessimism, I don't know. But what I do know is that hiring might be the best thing you ever do for yourself and for your business. Now that's not to say that I think it's the right decision for everyone, but I do believe it's a good decision for more business owners. This episode is going to be perfect for you, whether you've avoided hiring to this point, whether you're considering making the leap, or whether you've already got a team and you're looking to become a better boss and really receive the benefits of building a team.

But before we get into the meat of it, I want to paint a picture of the upside of hiring for you because there's a very good chance that even if you're already paying people, you haven't experienced this yet. Upside number one is that people have your back. Team members, especially employees, aren't just there to get things done for you. They're part of the fundamental support network of your business. And sometimes that looks like making sure you're in a position to do the work that only you can do. They might keep you from getting derailed by an unhappy customer. They might watch out for you when they know you're under the weather. They might pick up on an offhand remark as an idea for a game changing project. I simply cannot oversell the benefit of having a team that has your back. Of course, building this kind of team takes work, management work, but it is so, so, so worth it.

Upside number two is that other people can create or deliver value for you. Now most micro business owners, solo or not, operate as if they're the only ones who can create value for the business. But team members can create value too. They can turn ideas into reality. They can work with your clients or lead conversations in your course. They can build systems that dramatically increase efficiency and effectiveness. They can even build offers for you. Maybe that seems incredibly far fetched at this point. Maybe you never even considered that as a possibility, but it's all true. Of course, you've got to hire the right people and guide them toward this kind of outcome. But again, it's totally worth it.

Now upside number three is that other people will make you better at what you do. When you have the right people on your team and you're working with them in the most constructive ways, they will absolutely push you to be better at what you do in the most glorious ways, whether it's because you're tasked with explaining things in a new way, or you have to be clearer about intended results, or you have to describe your process, managing others will seriously up level your other skills.

Okay, hopefully I've primed you on the upside of hiring and managing others, and you are stoked for my conversation with Podge Thomas. I met Podge back in 2019 and was immediately struck by her thoughtfulness and humanity, both in life and business. Podge helps business owners and organizations make better hiring choices, manage their people well, and build humane cultures at work. She's the founder of Small Business Co-pilot and hosts a monthly free round table discussion called The Managers' Huddle. Podge and I talk about why managing has gotten the rap it has, how we can make our teams our business' number one asset, and what it really takes to prepare to hire. Now let's find out what works for Podge Thomas. Podge Thomas, welcome to What Works. Thank you so much for joining me.

Podge Thomas: Thank you, Tara. It's a pleasure to be here.

Tara McMullin: So I am really looking forward to this conversation, and I'm really looking forward to this whole month that we're doing on teaming up, on getting support, on team building even, because I think that there are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions that we can break down. And so I want to start there. I think that you and I have both talked about in the past that managing people has gotten a really bad rap. There are so many people who are just like, "Oh, no. I don't want to manage people. I don't want anyone working for me because I'm not a good manager. I don't like managing, et cetera, et cetera." And so I'd like to just sort of start there. Why do you think managing has gotten such a bad rap?

Podge Thomas: Yeah. It's a good place to start because it wasn't that long ago that somebody approached me and said, "You know what, I'm never going to hire somebody because I don't want to manage. I'm going to be a terrible manager." And so sometimes when I work with new clients and we start from that place, I have to lay a lot of foundation to sort of unpack what it is that's going on. Why is it that you are so worried about managing? And I think there's a couple reasons why managing gets a bad rap. So it's just me and you here, but so raise your hand if you've had a boss that was unsupportive, that micromanaged you, that didn't push for you to get that promotion.

Tara McMullin: Everybody's hand are up.

Podge Thomas: Okay. Everybody's hands are up. Okay. Raise your hand if when you became a manager for the first time, you felt giddy with power, or you felt terrified you were going to hurt someone, or you felt like you were stuck between a rock and a hard place because here, you have staff that you want to support, but you're also beholden to people above you. And those two groups of people are often across purposes. Right? So I think that we have all been on both sides of this. So what ends up happening because poor management exists in almost every business, company, that there is almost always an element of dehumanization and demoralization that happens at work. Right?

We are sort of hardwired to want to talk about and complain about the bad things that happen at work. So if you are in a situation at work where you feel dehumanized or demoralized, what happens is you go home and you talk to your spouse, or your children, or your parents, or your siblings, or your friends, about how awful your job is. So not only are you working 40 hours a week in this environment, but now you're also dragging it home with you, and you're talking about it constantly because it feels like a situation you can't get out of. And your direct manager is often the only person who has the ability to make an immediately positive impact on your job. And that person just isn't trained. That's what it comes down to. Right?

So let's say, if you're listening and you're a manager, and you work inside of a company, you probably at some point went to some dusty old management training, where they had an image of an iceberg, these all sort of classic, you're in a windowless room, there was no soul. And you were kind of just probably talked at. Right? It was probably more like a lecture type of environment, and that was it, and then you're done. That's the only management training that you get. Everything else, you're going to fall back on whatever crappy management you had in your experience. So I think that the reason why managing people gets such a bad rap is because of the damage that can get done to all of us.

Most of us, if we are managing, we are also being managed, unless you're a business owner. And this just means a lot of human interaction. And where you have human interaction, you have mistakes. You have baggage. You have childhood trauma. Right? So it's almost a setup. It's almost like a foregone conclusion. You get a job, guaranteed you are going to have some sort of a crappy management experience. You're going to have a hard time with your boss. You're not going to feel supported, all of those things. So I think that's kind of why when I work with clients and they come to me and they say, "I want to build a strong team, but I don't want to be a manager," I go, "Well, okay. So we have some work to do before you even think about hiring that first person."

Tara McMullin: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so good. And yes to, I'm sure everyone was raising their hands, and that we have all had these experiences that really stick with us. I appreciate you pointing out the thing that we all do, the being hardwired to complain about whatever kind of crappy social interaction, management interaction we're having at work or in businesses with clients, maybe, where we're being mistreated, or at least not treated humanely, to your point about dehumanization.

So you mentioned this idea that maybe the management training that we've had, if we've had any, was probably some sort of dusty old lecture style management training, and that most of us never really learn how to be managers, that management has this set of skills that we need to learn, and an approach that makes it easier for us to do it well. Before we get into what some of those skills are and what that actually looks like, can you talk about some of the problems that often come up in businesses, or as we're growing our businesses and growing our teams, the problems that come up because we haven't learned those management skills?

Podge Thomas: Yeah, definitely. Okay, so your staff, the staff of your business, is always going to be your biggest asset. It's going to be your biggest cost as well, in most cases. So if you're not thinking about your staff as an asset, if instead maybe what you're thinking about is, I run this business, and in order to run this business, these people have to do these things. Right? So A plus B equals C, just a basic equation. However, without thinking about the team as an asset, you leave a lot of opportunity on the table. Right? I think that it was you at some point that asked this question. I forget where it was. What are you leaving on the table? And I think the context was money. But actually, in this context, it's opportunity. It could be opportunity to make more money. It could be opportunity to free up more time. It could be opportunity to help somebody else grow. It could be opportunity to grow your business into an area that you hadn't imagined.

So I'm going to give an example here because this is an example I work with quite a lot. So let's assume that your business has a hierarchy, which it does. And some people don't believe that, but it does. But let's just assume that. If you believe in flat businesses, that's totally fine, but just for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that your business operates structurally as a hierarchy. You've got the owner at the top, and then you've got your, let's say your admin assistant on the bottom. Your admin assistant has the least amount of power, and also probably the least amount of responsibility. As the owner, you have the most amount of power and the most amount of responsibility. If as the owner, you are not paying attention to the admin assistant as much as you're paying attention to your own work, your own job, or maybe your CEO, or your COO, or you directors, whoever it is, if you are not paying as much attention to the person at the bottom, in quotes, of your business, then you're probably not thinking of your team holistically. Right?

Meaning that everybody plays an integral part of the whole team, regardless of the level of their responsibility or power. But if you missing one person out of that equation because they don't get paid as much, or they don't have as much power, or they don't have as much responsibility, then you're not thinking about your team and your business as a whole structure. And actually, if you're not thinking about your team in this holistic way, your structure isn't sound. And without a sound structure, your business just won't weather storms like economic changes, pandemics, or even subtle changes in your industry. You're just not going to be able to walk into those changes and weather those storms if you don't have the structure of your business sound.

This is my hammer and nail. Yes, you have to have good financial practices. Yes, you have to have good operations. All of those pieces are important too. But I would argue that your team is literally the bones of your business. It's not a structure that can take too much wobble. It needs to be really strong in order to be able to access the kind of business growth that you're going to want to see.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. This is a great preview for the conversation that I'm going to have with Kate Strathmann later in the month, and we're going to dig into some of these issues as well. But I'd like to stay on them with you as well because I think this is something that people are going to have to hear a few times before it really sinks in. And so what I'm curious about in this is, you're coming from a background where sort of I think teams are assumed, that people are going to ... You're building a business that's going to have a team. It's going to require multiple people to make it work. Those people are going to have varying levels of responsibility. I think when so many of our listeners were starting a business, they saw it as creating a job for themselves, and then realized at some point along the way that they were going to have to get help with doing that job. And so then they delegate to an admin assistant, a virtual assistant, someone else, some other sort of hired help on the team.

And I think that we have this mindset of, it's all my responsibility, and they're just helping. And I guess I'm not entirely sure where this question is going. But I'm curious from your perspective. How do we need to approach ... Or can you describe more the approach mindset wise that we need to take to how we think about getting the work of the business done, and how a team plays into that, versus how we get our work done and make sure that our job is secure? Does that make sense?

Podge Thomas: You are such the queen of convoluted questions.

Tara McMullin: I know. It really is a convoluted question. What I'm trying to ask is that if ... Or what I'm trying to say, rather, is that if you never thought about hiring a team when you started your business, the whole business revolves around you. And it's really hard for many, many, many people to break out of centering yourself in that business. And so the idea that your virtual assistant, or your marketing assistant, or anyone else that you hire or work with is an integral part to the way value is created and delivered in the working of the business, is really, really for it. And I would just love to get your take on sort of that mindset shift.

Podge Thomas: Okay. So who was it that talked about the messy middle? It might be Brene Brown. I forget.

Tara McMullin: I think so.

Podge Thomas: So I think what you're describing is something that is inevitable for every business owner, which is this is my business today, and my business in a month is going to be different because I'm making a change. And so what I have to do is a lot of things differently. Right? Let's say for example, I've been running my business for three years on my own, and I decide I'm going to hire somebody. That first few months of hiring somebody is just going to be super uncomfortable. It's going to be uncomfortable. It's going to be really messy. You will do a ton of planning, which I highly, highly advocate for, so that you can anticipate especially a lot of the logistical things and the time consuming things. But the personal and probably the emotional discomfort, the mental discomfort that as a business owner, you will experience with that first new employee is almost certainly unavoidable. Right?

So as a business owner, I think we have to have a certain level of comfort with discomfort. Right? Our ability to be uncomfortable is going to dictate our ability to grow. Right? If we're uncomfortable putting our thought leadership out there because we don't like speaking in public, or because we are very introverted or extremely shy, then our world is going to stay fairly small. If we can't be out there in the world talking about our business, then our business will stay a certain size. But if we were to embrace that discomfort, whatever that is, then the business can change and grow. So you're asking me: How do you prepare for that? I think that you prepare bringing on a new employee in all of the ways that you prepare to bring on an employee. Right?

You prepare for onboarding. You prepare the amount of time it's going to take you to train somebody. You prepare ... There's 1000 things that you can prepare for, but you should also prepare for discomfort. You've been doing it yourself this whole time. I run my own business. I've been doing it for three years. I'm about to hire an assistant. And even though what I teach is to help people be better managers and to grow teams, I am still uncomfortable as a manager. I'm a good manager, but there's still a level of discomfort for me, and I've been working on my own for three years. So but I'm willing to step into that discomfort because of the rewards that I'm hoping are going to be opened up to me down the road. Right?

So if I hire somebody, let's say for example, 25 hours a week, that's 25 hours a week I get back. That's stuff I don't have to do anymore. But I'm not going to get that opportunity unless I just say, "You know what, Podge, bite the bullet. Get into that uncomfortable place and hire somebody so that you can kind of see what happens next."

Tara McMullin: Yeah. I'd love for you to talk a little bit more too about seeing your team members as an asset and not just kind of task doers. How does that transform the way you see the business as a whole, or see the potential of the business as a whole?

Podge Thomas: Okay. Let's say I hire you, now I've got everything I know and I've got everything you know. And then we've got everything that we can uncover together just by having a conversation once a week, just by having a staff meeting, or a check in. I can ask questions. I can go, "Hey, this thing isn't working. What do you think?" And you might think of something that I never thought of. It's that simple that two brains are better than one. That's all that is. I mean, just to tie in sort of that period of discomfort that somebody might experience because you're so used to working on your own, quickly pays off when you imagine, when you allow somebody that you have hired to not just do the job that you have given them to do, but give them the freedom and the encouragement and support and time to think outside of their own role.

I might hire an admin assistant, but there's no reason why I can't show my admin assistant how my finances work. And my admin assistant might go, "Oh, gosh. I had no idea that I could be so interested in finances. And look, I can see some areas where we could save some money here." So I think that it's ... I've had jobs before where my supervisor has done their absolute damnedest to keep me within the confines of my job, and it's so stressful. It's so unsupportive. I so did not soar, or sing, or blossom in those kinds of jobs. And it doesn't take much. One of the things that I talk to my clients with is in preparation for hiring somebody, it's more than I give you money and you do this work for me.

The way that I like to think about it is, I as a business owner have an agenda. My agenda is to grow my business. My agenda is to serve more clients. My agenda is to increase my revenue. When I hire somebody to come into my business, they also have an agenda. And if I pretend like they don't, then I'm going to lose. Right? It's almost guaranteed that when you hire somebody for the first time, their agenda is not the same as your agenda. It's not, I want to help this person make tons of money and be the most amazing business ever. That's probably not their agenda coming in. So part of that onboarding, which there's argument about this, I think that onboarding to a small business should be about six months. A bigger company, I think you're looking about a year, a full year for proper onboarding.

Build into your onboarding process, understanding what that person's agenda is, making sure they understand what your agenda is, and find out where those agendas can overlap, and then fold into how an employee's job grows into the vision that they have for their professional future. In other words, train them not just to do the job that they're doing for you, but train them to do something that they're interested in doing. Now it should still fall roughly within the parameters of what you're doing in your business. Right? I want to be a pro basketball player, you don't want to pay for them to go and take basketball lessons, unless that fits into your business model. Right?

But learn about what it is that they want to do. You may have hired them as an admin assistant, but really what they want to do is they want to be a COO. Great. I can help you learn how to strategize. I can help you learn how to operationalize things. Right? So there's always an opportunity to understand where agendas overlap and find ways so that everybody's agenda gets met, and that everybody gets better, everybody blossoms, everybody gets smarter and more competent, and everybody gets levels of mastery in whatever area that they want to work in.

Tara McMullin: Oh, my God, Podge. I really feel like you have probably blown some minds with that answer. So there's a couple of things I want to recap. The first thing is I loved your example of thinking about a time when you were in a job that did not allow you outside of the bounds of that job, where you weren't able to bring all of your ideas, or experience, or just curiosity to the table. And instead, you were just really kept into the confines of that job description. I think we can all, as entrepreneurs, I think most of us would be like, "That is a very stifling job. That is a horrible experience. I hated that." And yet, I see people playing that out with their virtual assistants, or their marketing people, or whoever it is that they're hiring all the time, and not maliciously so. Right? It's just that's what they think they're supposed to do.

But then at the same time, they wonder, "Well, why isn't this person more proactive? Why don't they bring more ideas to the table? I wish they had more to contribute." And I think that your point about allowing that, and supporting it, and encouraging that is so, so very important. And I love how you tied it into: What is their agenda? And what's your agenda? And where do those things match? I had to recap it because it was so good, so thank you.

Podge Thomas: Yeah.

Tara McMullin: Okay. Podge and I are going to get into what to do about those control issues so many of us have in just a minute, but first, a word from our What Works partners. What Works is brought to you by the What Works Network. We are now accepting new members at the What Works Network. The What Works Network is a home for experienced business owners looking to level up how they run their businesses. We all share the goals of wanting to build businesses that run smoothly, cause fewer headaches, and sustainably make more money. This month, we're deep diving into teaming up, and we'll be hosting our 17th members only virtual conference.

This time we're talking about teaming up to get the support we need as business owners, whether that support looks like team building, peer support, hiring specialists, or partnerships. We'll be hearing from Audrey Joy Quan about leadership and scaling a small business through team building. Michelle Warner will talk about networking that pays. Lou Blazer, Carmen Schreffler, and Shannon Paris will join me to talk about working on other people's teams. And Susan Boles will talk about setting up your business to work in maintenance mode, so it can support you even while you're not supporting it. These conferences are one of our members' favorite perks.

To join us for the Team Up virtual conference, plus to get access to the Stronger Business Playbook, our digital program on entrepreneurial mindset shifts, called Subtle, and weekly support events, you've got to become a member. Go to explorewhatworks.com/network before June 8th and join us.

What Works is also brought to you by Mighty Networks. Leigh Metcalf was already considering what a digital community for her bricks and mortar shop, Topstitch, could look like before the pandemic hit. But once it did, Leigh put her ideas into high gear. She couldn't operate the in person classes that were the bread and butter of her bricks and mortar business, but she could gather makers in a virtual community, host live online classes, and offer other prerecorded lessons. And she used Mighty Networks to do it. Today over 900 makers call Topstitch Makers home. Membership starts at just $4.99 per month with options to add on events and classes for additional fees. Leigh says that they have just six seats for classes in their Atlanta studio and those classes would fill up with local folks. But today they have sewing classes with people from all over the world.

Mighty Networks helped Leigh discover a fresh expanded vision for her business, and now she dreams of serving thousands of makers in her community one day. What could a mighty network do for you and your vision? Go to mightynetworks.com and click success stories to hear more of the inspiring ways creators and leaders are bringing people together with Mighty Networks.

So let's leave this for a little bit, and let's talk about some of the skills involved in this whole management thing because we've just talked about some big ideas that we might not have been thinking about in terms of management. We might've been thinking about project management or delegation. And what I'm hearing is a lot more kind of people skills. So what are some of the skills that we really need to be cultivating as we step into management roles in our own businesses?

Podge Thomas: Just sort of building on what we've been talking about, I think as a business owner, it's safe to assume if you're a business owner, you probably have some control issues. Right? You probably really don't want to let go of things. It's possible that you're not, but the chances are that you really ... You think, "Well, if I want a job done right, I should do it myself." Right? There's a lot of that I think that happens as a business owner. So I actually have written out here several skills that I think are just like, if you were to take any one of these, it would move the needle, effectively move the needle.

Okay, essential skills for managers, know what your values are and learn how to align those values with the actions you take as a manager. So I'm going to give you example. One of my core values is freedom. I have my own business it gives me the freedom that I couldn't find in conventional employment, freedom to work on a schedule that fits around my family responsibilities, freedom to work around my energy levels, and then freedom to do the kind of work that really makes my heart sing.

So as a manager, an action I might take that aligns with my value of freedom is to make sure that I offer a flexible schedule to my staff. I ask them about: How do you work best? When do you work best? How do you hope to grow professionally? What kind of responsibilities do you already have? And then I can remove as many of those roadblocks as possible. That's to me, a fairly simple way of kind of aligning my core values with some of the actions that I take as a manager.

Okay, second one, be direct and prompt with both praise and critique. Never wait until it's time for evaluation. And as a side note, I hate evaluations. I don't really believe in them, but that might be a conversation for another time. So instead, address actions, behaviors and mistakes as soon as possible. Similarly, when you see something that you like, take the time to meaningfully acknowledge it with specificity, and tie both praise and critique to the goals of the team and the goals of the business. Right? This behavior doesn't work because one of the goals of our business is this, and those two things are antithetical. I really liked this behavior. The reason I liked this behavior is it ties into our team values. It ties into our business outputs. Make that praise and make that critique specific and meaningful.

All right, next one, do not manage everybody the same. And I think this is one of those myths where, especially in big companies, there needs to be a lot of fairness, and there needs to be equity. And I don't necessarily disagree with that, but not everybody is the same, so I think taking it, adapting your management technique to different people makes a lot of sense. And the truth is you'll bring a similar approach to almost everybody, but there are a few key ways that it's important to be mindful of variation. For example, not everybody wants to be acknowledged in front of the whole team. Right? They would prefer it in person, or even better, they might prefer an email. They may not want to stand opposite you, with you looking them in the eyes, and you saying to them, "Wow, Tara, you did such ... " For some people, that is just going to make them absolutely die inside. Right?

Tara McMullin: Oh, yeah.

Podge Thomas: Some people want to check in regularly, either in person or via Zoom, whereas some people, they want to sort of control the amount to which they can check in with you. They'll come to you when they have a problem. They'll come to you when they want you to remove a roadblock. So I think it's super important to take the time to get to know everybody that reports to you, and how it is that they need to work with you. So here's the last one, which I think is especially important if you've got a bigger team, and that your role as manager very much intersects with your role as a leader, and that is to acknowledge mistakes publicly and often.

This will get you closer to trust and respect faster than almost any other management skill at all. When you acknowledge mistakes publicly and often, you send the message that mistakes are inevitable and welcome, and that's important for everybody to understand. I work peripherally on a team of people for a client, and whenever I do something, whenever I screw something up, I always, always admit it to everybody. And I say, "This is what happened. This is the mistake I made. I've thought about it, and I think this is why I made that mistake. And I just want to let you know that I'm aware this is something I need to work on, and I'm going to work on it."

And then I'll follow up and I'll say, "You know what, mistakes are inevitable around here." And for that particular client, their business is not to save lives. So I'll say this, "We're not saving lives, we're just making doilies. So if you make a mistake, let's talk about it. Let's figure out what went wrong. And let's see if there's a lesson in there that we could learn from." So those are my just, if you were to take one of those things, boom, you could definitely move the needle.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. I love those all as skills for managing people who work for us. I also love them as skills for managing clients too because so often, those relationships, there's a lot of crossover in the ways that, for instance, the dehumanizing and demoralizing that you mentioned right off the bat, there's a lot of ways that crosses over between team relationships and client relationships. And if we can bring those skills to those client relationships too, I think a lot of us would be a little bit more successful with the social emotional component of actually leading a business and working with people, so those are awesome. I want to get into some mistakes now. What are some of the mistakes that you see small business owners make when they make their first hire? I'm sure you have a list of many pages.

Podge Thomas: I could talk all day long about the hilarious mistakes that people make. And sometimes it's sort of tragic, like when you think about the impact that has on staff. It is quite tragic. But the truth is, these mistakes, they come up over and over and over again. I see them all the time. Sometimes I even make them. Okay. If you don't plan enough for hiring somebody, onboarding, if you don't plan enough, you're screwed. Right?

If you think, "Oh, I have to write a job description and then post it," and you think that's all you need to do before you hire somebody, please stop. Please, no, no, no. Do lots, lots more than that. So I'm going to get into that in a second, but here's what I want to say. Before you think about writing a job description, posting it on Indeed or wherever, before you even think about onboarding, or training, or your standard operating procedures, and if you take nothing away from this podcast, here's what I want you to think about when you're hiring somebody. Assume that they are going to leave. Don't hire somebody ... And people will go, "Well, yeah, of course they're going to leave."

But think about it. When you're hiring somebody, when you're going through interviews, when you're calling references, are you thinking that person eventually one day is going to leave you and move on to bigger and better things, or other opportunities, whatever it might be? If you are not, then you are definitely in denial. And it's okay for people to leave. Right? You hire somebody and they stay a year, or three years, or 10 years, it doesn't matter. When it's time for them to go, you want to be able to let them go. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a job and I've gone to my supervisor and I've said, "I don't know if this job is really working out for me. I'm thinking about looking for other opportunities." And that boss had said to me, "No, no, no, no, no. You can't go. I can't live without you. No, no, no. This is not going to work. That won't do."

Do you know what that does to a person? It sends a message that you shouldn't grow, you shouldn't want to do more professionally. There couldn't possibly be a better place for you than this. This sends all kinds of bad messages. So when you're thinking about hiring that first person, plan for when they're going to leave because it is going to happen. And if you don't plan for it, when people leave an organization, or company, or even a small business, it's very disruptive. It leaves a lot of just garbage, especially if you have to terminate somebody, which is a horrible thing to have to do. Right? Everybody who's left has to deal with that. Let's say you're not terminating somebody, but you're losing somebody who's very much treasured. That's hard on people too.

Then you have to think about, "What am I going to do with this person's job? Am I going to post it? Am I going to restructure and distribute their work among other people? Am I going to do it?" All of those things take time. And it might take you two months to plan, hire, and onboard somebody. But somebody can give you notice and gone in two weeks. And two weeks, by the way, I'm booked out for the next two weeks. Is your schedule booked out for the next two weeks? Probably. If somebody gives you notice today, and now you have to figure out. You have to take a bunch of stuff off your plate, and that has consequences. And now you have to figure out how to get this person out of there in a way that makes sense for everybody. Just plan it ahead of time. Plan it before you even hire them.

Also, plan for onboarding. If you think that hiring takes a long time, wait until you see the shit show that is your new employee trying to orient themselves to a new job with no structure, no support, no guidelines, or instructions, nothing. By the end of the first week, they're going to feel overwhelmed at best. And at worst, they're going to be ready to quit. So plan for that onboarding. You should know what your new employees are going to do in the first day, the first week, and the first month, pretty much every minute scheduled out. Yeah. And a quick tip, actually, in case you're interested, when you hire somebody, their first week, make it a 50% or a 75% week. In your work, how ... I never sleep so well than my first week on a job. It's so exhausting. It is so unbelievably tiring. So give everybody a break, and just have them work half of the week or three quarters of the week. It's not going to kill you, and it'll make a lot of things easier.

So before you even start hiring, I think the first conversation I have when I'm working with clients, helping them hire, and sometimes it's the fifth person that they've hired, but especially if it's the first person, the first question is: Why? What problem are you going to solve by hiring this person? If the answer is, "Well, it's going to free up my time," that's not enough. Dig deeper. What are you going to do with that time? Are you going to develop new revenue streams? Are you going to create more work for you and perhaps then you need to hire somebody else? And then who's going to be that second person that you want to hire? Which brings me to the second conversation. What's the org chart of your future business?

So if you're trying to hire an admin assistant today because it's going to free you up to take on more clients, that's more work. So who's the next person you need to hire? Do you need to hire a director of operations? Do you need to hire somebody in finance? So think through what the future of your business is going to be in terms of people. And whenever you hire one person, know who the second person is going to be to hire after that. That's a terrible way of saying that. When you hire someone, know who the next hire is going to be because inevitably, you will get there. It might be six months. It might be a year, or it might be two years. But know where you're going with that.

So then what I'll do with clients at that point is I help them to write the job description and sort of design their approach to hiring. I have basically a template that will help you figure out what all the steps are that you need to do in order to hire, but I tweak it a little bit for every client. And then from there, you also think about the onboarding. So even though hiring and onboarding are sort of two different things, it's helpful to think about them as one thing. From the day that you think, "I need to hire somebody," to the first month of that person's new job, think of that as basically one big umbrella arch, and plan for that whole thing. Plan for the two months it's going to take you to bring somebody on board and plan out their first month on the job. Hopefully, those are helpful.

Tara McMullin: Love that. Yeah, very, very helpful. So we are running out of time, but I have one more big question left for you, if you have time for it, which is that one of the things that struck me most about what you do and now you do what you do, is how intertwined it seems that constructing policies and building culture in an organization are for you. And I would love to just hear more about how you see policy and culture working together as a business grows and as a team grows.

Podge Thomas: This is a very difficult question to answer. Somebody asked me recently, "I have a team of three people. How do I build culture?" We think of work culture, we think of these big companies. But the truth is if you have one person, you have a culture. So in answering your ... This is an impossible ... I've fretted over this question. Okay.

Tara McMullin: Oh, no.

Podge Thomas: Because I was like, "Oh, da, da, da, da, da, no problem. Oh, yes, I'll take a cup of tea. Thank you." And then I got to this question and I was like, [inaudible 00:44:01]. But I'm going to give it a go. Okay.

Tara McMullin: So before you do, my guess is that you don't know how to answer this question because to you, these things are basically the same.

Podge Thomas: Yeah. I think that they are the same because the way that we do the pieces of our business, the way that we do our finances, the way that we operate, the way that we market, it comes from us. So whether you have a list of your values written out somewhere or not, they're coming out in the way that you do your business, the way that you operate your business, and that's culture. So you might have a crappy culture. You might have a really healthy culture. You might have a super toxic culture. Who hasn't worked in a job with a super toxic work culture? So this kind of goes back for me to those core values, and also to the seven principles that you can find on my website if anybody's interested, that for me, the core, my values are how I stay true to myself. And the principles are how I stay true to those around me.

And I don't think that I always ... I wasn't really taught integrity growing up. It's something that I had to learn as an adult, and I don't mean like 21. I mean more like in my 30s, and I was like, "I should probably have integrity. People talk about integrity. This seems cool." And then when I became a business owner, it was so quickly apparent to me. If I don't have integrity around my business, I shoot myself in the foot. I'm sort of screwed from the start. So for me, identifying those seven principles and identifying my core values, which do change, then I can always use that as a filter through which to check my actions. Am I honoring my core values of choice and freedom? Am I treating other people through the lens of one of these seven values that I espouse?

And if the answer is no, great, I can clean it up. It's no big deal. We don't have to be perfect. But for me, it's important to have that lens. And then what that means is, even though I run my own business, Small Business Co-pilot, on my own, I'm interacting with clients constantly. So by having these values and principles that guide me, what that means is I'm always carrying culture with me. Right? So you might work with me for an hour, or you might work with me for a year, but you are going to feel the culture that guides my work. And I think as a coach, a big, and I don't hear a lot of people talk about this, but I think a big piece of what we do as a coach is we model behavior.

You know as a client, you're going to come and you're going to ask me questions. How should I do this? Yada, yada, yada. And I can answer those questions, but a lot of what I do, how I show up as your coach, how I treat you, how I prepare you, how I guide you, that modeling that behavior, which is part of my own business culture, is going to translate to your business too.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. I love that. Podge, I could talk to you all day about these things and all the things that I wish more small business owners knew about building team, but we are out of time. What are you excited about right now?

Podge Thomas: I'm super excited about a monthly group that I launched about four months ago. Yeah, I think we're about four months into it. Actually, I have one today.

Tara McMullin: Yay.

Podge Thomas: So this is a free group that I run for any woman business owner or manager. Anybody can come. I say it's free. It's technically not free. You give me your email address for it, and then you sign up for my, just for full transparency, and now you're on my newsletter that comes out once a week, and you can always unsubscribe. But essentially, it's an hour that I spend with anybody who signs up to answer their questions about management. And it is such ... I look forward to this every single month because people come with incredible questions, burning desires, things that really trouble them.

I think I got a question, I got a question once. How do I ... And this goes back to something that you asked me. How do I mentally prepare myself to hire somebody for the first time, given that I have been working on my own for X amount of time? How do I just make that mental shift? This is not about a tool or a skill. Right? This isn't about a checklist or an application that I can download. This is about: How do I get out of my own way? And so these are some of the questions that we talk about as a group. It's called The Managers' Huddle.

You can find it on my website. Anybody can sign up. I will take your email address from you. But you can come and you can show up, and you can ask all of your questions. And it's such a wonderful way for me to engage with women and to hear about some of the things that are on top mind for them. And it's just such a cool group. So anybody can come if they want to, as long as you're a woman business owner, manager. It's called The Managers' Huddle.

Tara McMullin: Wonderful. Podge, thank you so much for breaking all of this down, making management seem slightly less scary, or at least making us feel like we're a little bit better prepared to be managers. I really appreciate your time and experience today.

Podge Thomas: Thank you, Tara. It was such a pleasure to be here.

Tara McMullin: It's easy to see your team members, or imagined team members as liabilities. After all, you pay them and there's the risk that they take up more of your time, create challenges that weren't there before, and force you to operate differently. I get it. I really, really do. But the upside has the potential to be so much bigger than the potential consequences. Hopefully, this conversation has given you some perspective on how you can hire with an eye toward the upsides, support, value and leveling up.

You can find out more about Podge Thomas and join her Managers' Huddle at smallbusinesscopilot.com. Next week, I'll be sharing a conversation that I did for Annie Schuessler's podcast, Rebel Therapist, about managing as an introvert. What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Lou Blazer. Our production assistant is Emily Kilduff. Marty Seefeldt edited this episode. Remember, if you'd like to get in on our Team Up virtual conference plus weekly support events, The Stronger Business Playbook, and a community of generous, experienced small business owners, it's time to join the What Works Network. Go to explorewhatworks.com/network before June 8th.

Host of What Works

Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.  

Tara McMullin, What Works Weekly Newsletter

Get What Works Delivered Straight To You

Every Thursday, I share fresh thoughts on leading your business along with hand-selected resources for becoming more effective, efficient, and profitable. Enter your email address to subscribe to What Works Weekly.

No spam. No fees. Unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription!