The success or failure of a business can often rest in the hands of its most valuable asset – its people. No matter how great the products or services, a business' wellbeing is often shaped by the day-to-day actions and decisions of its employees.
Success hinges on finding the right people. These are the ones whose knowledge, skills, experience and personal qualities match your business needs. Ideally, they'll be hardworking, enthusiastic and committed. Small businesses can't afford to carry dead weight.
You might need advice when recruiting your first employee. The first step is recognising what contribution the job must make to your business. Drawing up a job specification can help you identify what it is that you need doing and the skills and knowledge required for your new employee to be able to perform the job.
Your recruitment procedures must be spot on, but this needn't be expensive. Once you know what the role is, and the skills and knowledge needed to do it, you can draw up a person specification and a job advertisement.
The options for advertising your job are many and varied - from an advert in a local shop window, job centre or newspaper to a placing on a specialist online jobsite. Think about where you are most likely to reach potential candidates and concentrate your resources there.
You need to be clear what it is you are looking for and what you are offering. Can you provide competitive wages, a stimulating job with prospects and a good working environment? Is the job an entry level role or are you looking for an established professional?
Ensuring a level playing field for all potential job applicants is a legal requirement, while enabling you to recruit from as wide a talent pool as possible. Interviews must also be free from discrimination.
Knowing you have made a good addition to the team brings immense satisfaction – and many other benefits. Getting it wrong, on the other hand, can be a very costly mistake.
There are many employment laws and they apply to everything from wages, workplace pensions, working hours and time off, rights for employees with family responsibilities and workplace health and safety to discipline, grievances and firing employees.
Get it wrong and you could end up at employment tribunal, which can be expensive if you lose, because there are no ceilings on awards. Reckless employer negligence could even lead to prison.
To lessen the likelihood of problems, you're advised to get to grips with employment law basics before you take on your first employee. Much of it is simple, commonsense stuff. If you're ever in any doubt seek professional advice.
Having effective employment policies and a written employment contract (a legal requirement) removes uncertainty. No matter what the circumstance, employees must know what's expected of them and their employer. They must also know what behaviour is unacceptable – and what will happen if they overstep the mark.
You should have employment policies on: maternity/paternity/adoption; leave/absence; working hours and overtime; health and safety; pay/benefits/expenses; harassment/victimisation and bullying; conduct/discipline; use of company property and facilities, and equal opportunities. It's also advisable to have policies on: email, internet and phone use; training; 'moonlighting'; confidentiality; drugs and alcohol abuse; possibly even dress code.
And if your policies are effective, you could have a happy (as well as a very profitable) ship.
Even seasoned business people can find managing employees a challenge. Managing people is complex because people are complex. No two employees are the same: what motivates one employee might not motivate another. While you'll be able to leave some employees to their own devices and be able to trust them and their choices, others will be much more 'high maintenance'. Schedule regular formal and informal reviews with employees to keep on top of any concerns or complaints and give positive, constructive feedback.
Being firm but fair is a good starting point, and a quiet word of encouragement or support can work wonders. Good employees need to believe their contribution is valued if they are to stick around.