Spend some time in HR before starting your business?
I’ve met and worked with many entrepreneurs. They’ve come from a wide range of educational and work backgrounds: from those with no qualifications through to those with top flight PhDs and MBAs. Some have extensive high quality work experience whereas others started their own business as soon as they left school.
Despite the breadth of background, there’s one area of business that nearly all find the most challenging: the attraction, retention and motivation of people.
When you start your business, people management is pretty much a non-issue. It’s either you on your own, or you with a few other like-minded highly focused individuals all sharing the same or similar goals. So the key disciplines are usually one or a combination of sales, product design/technical, and marketing. And that will get you quite a long way, until you need to grow bigger, bring in new skills, and take on more people. It’s at that point that people management skills or, more specifically, HR skills and experience, will make a significant difference to success.
To maximise success you need to be able to attract exceptional people (not just good people), into roles where they can achieve great things, in an environment that allows them to thrive and encourages them to stay, and where they completely buy into the culture and goals of the business.
Without the skills to do this, you’ll have average people rather than good, or good rather than outstanding. You may lose more good people than you would otherwise, the culture may not be where you’d like it to be, the goals and aspirations of the people that work for you may be misaligned to the business’s goals. And you as the business owner will still be working flat out dealing with day to day issues with no time to stand back and manage the business effectively.
It’s these soft skills that end up being the most essential in a business owner’s armoury, particularly when the business has grown to the size where it’s beyond the capability or bandwidth of the owner to do everything.
Is it possible to learn how to do this whilst running your business? Yes, if you’re willing. The starting point is to recognise how important these skills are and to want to acquire and hone them. It’ll take time and effort, probably attendance on a few externally run training courses and, perhaps most importantly, high quality coaching and guidance from an expert trusted advisor.
Even better, if you can, is to build these skills before you start your business. If you’re working for good mid to large companies, they will often provide excellent training for execs and managers in recruitment selection techniques, leadership, team building and people management. Grab every opportunity you can to attend these and soak up the knowledge. Or even better, see if you can be seconded into the HR department for 6 months as part of your personal development plan, and gain intensive skills.
The management of people in your business may always remain one of the most challenging aspects of your job but, with the right skills, it will also be the most rewarding.
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