My article last month was “Good clients=Good business” But there are really three components of a good business – good clients, good employees and good business owners. This month I’m going to discuss what makes an employee “Good” from the vantage point of the responsibilities of both the employee and the employer. The situations that I’m going to discuss relate to equine-based businesses but the principles hold true for any type of business. As an employer, what makes an employee good? You need an employee who is good at his/her job (someone who can paste worm the most difficult horse in the barn with one hand tied behind their back, clean five stalls in less than five minutes and other equally impossible tasks). But you also need someone who has good customer service skills - because to some extent, each employee is going to interact with your customers and be the “face” of your business to the people who pay you to do what you do. If you own a boarding barn, everyone from the barn manager to the part-time weekend worker who cleans the stalls represents your business to your customers.
They need to have basic “people” skills because the horses that are boarded at your barn are owned by people, people pay the bills and some unhappy people can make your life miserable and take their money elsewhere.
A good employee also has to buy in to what you are selling – not just the product but the message as well. If the majority of your customers are children, your marketing message might be “Safety First!” So you need employees that are good examples of that message in all that they do at the barn – wearing helmets at all times when riding, leading horses safely, etc. You can’t have employees undermining your farm’s strategic message because your business will lose credibility and perhaps part of the rationale for why a client chose your barn over the competition.
A good employee also should be a good steward of the resources of your business. It’s impossible for an employee to treat your business as if it was his/her own because it’s not. But if you create effective incentives, your best interests will become the employees’ best interests as well.
How do you find good employees? Employees (like horses) are only as good as their current owner. As a business owner, you have responsibilities to your employees if you want them to have a positive effect upon your business. You have a responsibility to train your employees. Even if the person has held the job elsewhere for many years, they won’t know exactly how you want the job done. And it may be that they have been doing the job wrong all these years because no one before you has taken the time to train them. Set up a regular training schedule for each position in your barn.
If possible, have the new employee shadow one of your present employees who knows how you want the job done. But don’t leave all of the training to your current employee. You need to be an integral part of the training, explaining how and why you want the task done “this certain way”.
Training shouldn’t only include the procedure part of the job – what bridles to use on what horses, etc. It should include the people skills that are so important to the future happiness of your clients. Role-play situations where a client complains to the employee – e.g. the depth of bedding in their horse’s stall. Be specific about what situations the employee is authorized to handle themselves and what should be referred directly to you. Set rules for how employees should behave toward each other when they are on the property. Even a small facility should have a personnel manual to cover barn policies and each job should have a formal job description that is signed by both you and the employee at the inception of employment so that it’s clear what responsibilities their job includes. (This could be very valuable to you in case of a later lawsuit by the employee).
As an owner, you also have the responsibility to provide your employees with the sense that you value what they do for you. An employee can make your life heaven or hell. Whenever they make your life easier or go above and beyond, you need to let them know how much you appreciate what they’ve done. It’s similar to the training principle of showing the horse opportunities to succeed and praising them when they do. You should schedule time on a regular basis to check in with each employee.This will give you a chance to enlist the employee’s suggestions for making your business run more efficiently and profitably.
Part of that feeling of being valued comes from what you pay to employees. Employees need to feel that they are paid what they are worth. If they don’t feel that the situation is equitable, they’ll put themselves first and not your business. In most cases, what you pay out in extra wages is more than made up for by increased revenues from (more) satisfied customers. Sometimes money is genuinely tight and you can’t give raises or bonuses. But if that’s the case, find another way of rewarding employees – a “class” trip to the movies or a day off where you take over some of their regular duties. Find out what incentives are attractive to each employee and see if you can create a “win/win” situation for both of you.
Most of you can’t do it alone.You have some type of help – whether it is just the weekend worker who comes out to clean stalls when you are busy with lessons to the barn with a staff of 10 or more. Your employees are a reflection of your business and ultimately of you. So take some time to create a great working environment for you both. Ultimately, you’ll see the results in your pocket and your peace of mind.