The first five lessons I learned throughout my time leading VerticalResponse were mainly focused on hiring and firing. Hopefully some of these lessons are relevant for your small business too. Here's the final four things I learned in 9 years as a CEO:
6. Establish & Enforce Core Values - I just assumed that if we liked the people we were hiring, they were "just like us". They believed in the same things; respect for others, honesty, and passion for what we do. And that was true when we were just 10 people, but if you enforce this even when you are a ten-person company it gives your team something they can stand behind. Also make sure you call people out when they're violating these values.
7. EARLY Training - Even though you want your employees to jump in and work immediately, take a few deep breaths. They're not going to be successful without the right tools, I don't care if it's your receptionist in your dental office, an accounting manager, or your lead engineer. They need to understand what you stand for, what your business is all about, and how their specific job fits into the picture. At VerticalResponse we show people a video of me welcoming them to the company outlining who we are and what we stand for. Then each employee goes through a 13-step training on our product, and there's a test at the end. Then they sit on the phones and listen to our amazing customer service team handle incoming inquiries so they know who our customers are and what types of issues they face. This has helped new employees tenfold get indoctrinated in our company and our products.
8. Don't try To Be Everything to Everyone – It's a fact, even great employees will leave your company. Most won't leave because of money, but they'll usually find something that pays them better. They may tell you it's because there was more money offered, but they wouldn't have been looking if they were happy in the first place. Some will leave because they don't like their boss, some will leave because you simply can't provide a career path for them. You just have to wish them well and offer to be a reference, especially if he or she was a good employee. When you do have one of those angry employees with an ax to grind saying bad things about you or your company, take the high road. That sort of behavior by former employees only serves to make them look bad and we all know what a small world it is.
9. Love What You Do - You have to be passionate about what you do every day, since you're likely putting in 80 hours of work a week. Don't forget to take a break when you need one and don't feel guilty. There is a chance that not many people are working harder than you at your business. If the day comes that you dread going to work in the morning, and you have taken your vacations, maybe it's time to ask yourself if you should be replaced. You don't want your team feeling you've thrown in the towel.
It's been a great 9 years at VerticalResponse and I look forward to the challenges in every coming year, no matter what shape they may take. There have been a lot of mistakes along the way, but I think it's made me a better leader. We never stop learning!