How to Treat your Employees – Three Small Steps That can make a Big Difference

Employees are your first customers. If you want to make your customers happy, the first step is to delight your employees. However, this is a double edged sword and easier said than done. Being flexible to listen to and find the best fit for an employee in your company and still being able to take decisive actions is a tough skill to master. Here are three simple steps every entrepreneur should take to ensure the right working relationship with his / her employees.

1. Share Everything
I believe that honesty is the best policy, so celebrating the good news together and breaking the bad news first is very important. Keep everything transparent with your employees and other stakeholders (unless something is legally confidential) to build trust and ensure their co-operation. It is important to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship together with your employees, and make sure they understand everything and grow with you.

Thomas Watson Quote

Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience? Thomas John Watson, Sr.

2. Do Everything
Never ask your employees to do something which you don’t want to do. Always tell them that you are ready to do whatever it takes for making the business successful. Do tasks from time to time to build emotional bank deposits and build trust. Make sure they understand why everybody is doing what their roles demand, and how it all fits into the bigger picture.

3. Get Connected
Make friends with your employees. Get to know them personally, their families, problems in life and what they want to do and achieve in life. See if you can make a difference. Respect their private space, but always recognize that they are human beings first, and employees second. And health and family will always take preference, as it does for us. So if they are not able to give their best at work because of some other issues, as an entrepreneur, it is our problem to make sure they have whatever support they need.

Now that I have written 3 points, I think I can write another three. But I will save that for a later post and time.

7 Lessons from SaleRaja and other start-ups I have been associated with

When I joined my first job, work was on full swing to launch . I was part of the team which did all the technical work and the site was launched one month after I joined. Thereafter, I launched in Jan 2007 and in Aug 2007. After moving to Bangalore, I worked with for 18 months. Recently I started, this time as a non-profit initiative. In all these endeavors over the last six years, I got a good exposure to starting up and scaling up websites, both from a technical, product and business point of view.

There have been many lessons along the way, most of them learned the hard way. Here are seven important points I would like to share with one and all who might be interested in starting a web based business. UpdateHere are eight more lessons which I wrote as a follow up article 🙂

1. Passion in what you are doing

Always do what you are passionate about. If you are starting a new website based business, it will keep you awake at nights and make you work on weekends. So it is very important that it is something you are really excited about.

2. Prioritize

In my first job, my boss gave me a valuable lesson, “In a startup, you will always have thousand things to do but not the resources to do all of them. The key is to prioritize among them and then keep your focus on doing the selected tasks to the best”. I have never forgotten this. You will always have more than your plate can hold. So prioritize, prioritize and prioritize.

Working in a startup can be totally fun and 'not like' work

Working in a startup can be totally fun and 'not like' work

3. Release regularly

We launched after 6 months of development, and then was launched after just 11 days of coding. Release early, release often is the idea. Rather than planning and building a Taj Mahal after months or years of work, start with a basic model and then make changes based on market feedback. Because the customer is the best judge of your product. Period.

4. Understand technology driving your product

As a founder, you might not do all the coding for your product, but it is very important to understand the technology behind it. By doing so, you will be better prepared to perform your job when you step in the shoes of your sales guy or the product manager. In short, it will allow you to make better business decisions.

5. Work like a family

Starting a company is like raising a baby, and hence it is very important the atmosphere is very cordial and like a family. People need to trust each other, care for each other and treat the work as their baby. This family like work culture could be the difference between success and failure later on.

6. Hire people smarter than you or who fill your gaps

You might be smart, talented and hard working, but nobody can know or do everything. Hence it becomes very important to hire people smarter or more talented than you are, or who are talented in the areas where you have a skill gap. Many times people don’t do this for personal and ego reasons, but this is a valuable lesson which I have learned the hard way.

7. Work with people who share your value system

Although your work might not require you to deal with your moral and ethical values very often, it is better to work with people who share your value system. In times of crises, or in times of extreme excitement and growth, these value systems can sometimes prevent us from making big mistakes. At the same time, a difference in the value system can cause rift between the team as both parties might consider their beliefs as right and blame the other party for not understanding.

Friends as Business Partners

The 3 of us in school in 2001

The 3 of us during school in 2001

I am a big fan of quotes and one liners, but it took me experience to believe in the truth of this quote by John D. Rockefeller – “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship“. Now I can verify that. I started SaleRaja with 2 of my closest buddies from school whom I have known for over 10 years. It looked like a perfect match then, but I was to realize later that while it is important to have somebody trustworthy as your partner, friendships often carry other baggage which can create problems, particularly when the business is in trouble or growing well.

We ended up parting ways soon, as our vision for our personal future and the future for SaleRaja did not align. It was a perfect case of both sides being right but the situation being wrong. We were the right people in the wrong place. We did not share the same vision for the business. We always thought that since we were so good friends, we would always find a mutually agreeable path in case of conflicts.

We could not have been more wrong. There were times we ended up accepting what the other said as a “friendship compromise“, and not as a “business decision“. And then there were the tough times, when we decided to part ways. We are still friends, but it is, and will never be, the same. Now if I see friends who want to start a business together, I say to them that they have to be prepared for the fact that their friendship might not be the same in a couple of years time.

I think you need to friends with your partners to run a successful business. It is a necessary condition in my opinion, but not sufficient in itself. Having said that, there are always examples of friends running successful businesses. It is important to emphasize on the balance between business and friendship. Friends should always communicate in all matters, even if they feel that as friends, there can’t be a conflict between them. They should decide specific roles for themselves, see whether they compliment each other in the skills needed to run the business, and most importantly they should know when to switch on and off being friends and business partners.

What about me? Will I again start a business? Certainly YES 🙂 But will I start a business again with friends. I am not saying a complete NO here, but I will evaluate a lot more before jumping in this time. Some of the points where founding partners of any business needs to be aligned are –
• Do they share the same values and how do you expect them to play in day-to-day business activities?
• Do they share the same vision for the business?
• Are your work habits and work ethics in line to co-exist?
• How much money will you put into the business and how much do you expect to get out of it?
• What Roles will each of you play in the company? Who will be the CEO/Leader?
• What if one of you gets married and decide to move away?
• How will you treat your employees, customers, investors, etc?

There are certainly other question you need to ask apart from those listed above. But the most important question I would ask myself would be – Am I ready to accept the fact that this person might not be my friend in another couple of years? If the answer is NO, I will know what to do. In his book “The Greatness Guide”, Robin Sharma has rightly pointed out that at your funeral, you don’t see you business partners crying, it is your friends and family who will cry over your grave. A Point Well Made!!