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LAURA NOVAK TALKS EMPLOYEES.

August 20 2010

While many of us can relate to working from home and leading a decidedly unbalanced life, what about the next step?  What about hiring employees?  That’s another adventure entirely, and one Laura Novak shares tips for navigating today.

Entrepreneurship is a roller-coaster ride of an adventure.  With the smallest of companies, or the largest or organizations I have come to believe the success (or failure) of a business has almost everything to do with the people who work there.  This is especially true of service companies such as photography where almost every customer interacts with the employees.  Over the years I have spent time reading, studying and researching all sorts of companies, fascinated with what works and what does not.  

When I think about the degree to which I feel I have matured as a business owner, I think that managing employees has been the biggest area of growth for me.  When I first started out, I was doing everything myself – like many photographers, and when I eventually felt as though I had enough money and work to justify having help I hired a few people to assist.  At the time I was living in a two bedroom apartment, running the business out of one bedroom and living in the other.  People would ask if I worked from home, and I joked that instead I lived where I worked since most of the apartment was dedicated to the business.  I rarely went out with friends; I just worked, spent time talking shop to a few other photographers, and interacted with employees.  

Because of the lack of balance in my life, as I grew I desperately wanted my employees to like me and be my friend. I think this is very natural for any new manager.  But particularly because I was missing a balanced social life outside of work, I tried to create it within my business – all without even really realizing it.

Now, almost six years later; two studio locations (both outside my home), 10 employees and a rich, balanced social life outside of work including a wonderful marriage, I have come to realize that the worst thing a manager can do is try to become friends with their employees.  Yet, so many of us insist on it because of what we are missing within ourselves.  Employees need a leader, they need someone to set boundaries and goals.  Someone to provide rewards for meeting goals and consequences for not meeting expectations.  They need someone to respect, and if friendship or a friendly relationship comes out of that – great!  But the primary relationship has to be a motivating one to the employee for them to enjoy their work, and while friendships are fun and cool, they are rarely motivating within an employee/employer relationship.

Through six years of managing people I have whittled down to just five tips to managing employees:

    * Communicate your values and what you expect of your employees as often as possible.  When people suffer from unclear expectations they either become bored or unhappy at work – or both!  
    * Stop caring if they like you.  Just like with being a parent, a child’s unhappiness often comes from parents who are more interested in being their child’s friend than being a parent.  Instead, be a good leader and they will like you by default, but if your first priority is to have them be your friend; chaos ensues, leadership takes a back seat, and employees often become unhappy.  
    * Create a vision for your staff that is exciting and take a personal interest in their goals and aspirations.  Help them get to where they want to be someday, even if it’s outside of what your company can offer.
    * Hire people with shared values (such as integrity) so you are on the same page.  Ask your employees’ opinion whenever possible and incorporate their feedback into what you do.  
    * Take the time to hire happy, positive people and quickly eliminate negativity with warnings or termination.  I believe, with great conviction, that negativity amongst employee(s) almost guarantees a company’s failure and that a positive, enthusiastic work environment tied to a clear vision is exponentially powerful.

So just to be clear, I am not saying to create a bureaucratic, militant, environment where authority rules and there are no personal relationships.  But I am saying that your first priority as a manager is to be a leader, create a vision, communicate expectations, establish processes, set up rewards, listen carefully, eliminate obstacles, and fiercely protect your culture and values.  Your second priority is a personal relationship, and with strong leadership a friendship often naturally evolves as a result of the mutual respect between yourself and your employee.  And if it doesn’t that’s ok too.

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pic-laura-novak.jpgLaura Novak is a photographer, artist and entrepreneur with studios in Wilmington, Delaware and Glen Mills, PA.  Her businesses Laura Novak Photography and Little Nest Portraits have received lots of press and awards that you can read about on their sites if you would like to do so.  

Laura teaches a fantastic portrait workshop with Kimberly Wylie and Brianna Graham called Living the Dream and has a website dedicated to helping photographers’ businesses called Strategy Avenue.

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