As a business coach working with SMEs I frequently find myself discussing the subject of “Team” and how to get the most out of employees. So, if you’re a business owner then I’ve got a pretty good idea of the questions you ask yourself.

Recognise any of these…

  • how should I manage my team?
  • how can I get other people to do what I need them to do without me having to look over their shoulder or sweep up behind them?
  • why can’t people to come up with new ideas and their own solutions without coming to me all the time?

I can totally understand why these questions cross your mind but it’s important to explore the position from which these questions are raised. Do these questions (or any other you have in relation to your employees) presuppose that the issue lies with the team?

When I listen to business owners, I’m listening for two things:


The content is what you say. The context is the meaning behind what you say.

For example:

Content: Jimmy’s mum woke him up early in the morning. Jimmy protested but mum insisted he goes to school. He dragged himself out of bed and went to school.

Context: You will be forgiven for thinking that Jimmy is a bad boy and a bad student, but if you know the context, you might want to know that Jimmy is a man and the headmaster of the school who happens to still live with his mum.

So, back to a business setting and this what I often hear:

Content: “I can’t get my own job done because I’m constantly answering people’s questions and when I ask for any input, the responses I get tend to be of average quality at best and critical of me or others at worst”.

The presupposition of the content being that “it’s their fault, not mine”. Yet the context of the situation can be revealing.

Context: The business owner has rushed recruitment to fill a vacancy with someone who “has a pulse” and/or hasn’t delegated responsibilities sufficiently well. He/she will also very likely have expectations of the person without having shared those expectations or provided the necessary support to deliver against them!


There are two core reasons why issues exist between owners and employees. And they’ll be easy to identify if what you are experiencing from your team is finger-pointing, excuse-making or teflon-tendencies (aka a refusal to accept ownership for a situation). The two reasons? Bad recruitment and/or poor management by the owner.

Ouch! That hurt didn’t it?

But let’s be quite honest, if you will accept this then you are in a position to do something about it aren’t you? Otherwise, it’s a case of ‘perfect you’ trying to change ‘imperfect them’.

Now, recruitment is going to be the subject of a future blog so let’s turn our attention to what we need to do about improving how we are managing our people.


One of the most valuable tools I have come across on the subject of how to focus and retain great employees (which at the end of the day is what management is about isn’t it?) are Gallup’s 12 Questions.

These are the output of 25 years’ worth of research to identify the critical things that create the conditions for employees to flourish in their roles.

As you read these very basic questions, I’d encourage you not to be dismissive of their simplicity. The simplicity is the genius behind the questions. As you read them, think about the specific things YOU as a manager need to do to allow each of these things to happen for your team.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?


It’s really important that you address each of these questions in sequence….and don’t feel tempted to use this list as a pick n’ mix. For example, there’s no point in talking about development for future roles (question 6) if you haven’t given people clarity of expectation (question 1) and the tools to do their current role (question 2).

So, if you feel you’re not getting the kind of engagement or productivity from your team that’d you expect, then I’d strongly encourage you to put yourselves in the shoes of each employee and ask the 12 questions. You might be surprised at the things you’ve forgotten to do.


In working closely with dozens of SME owners I’ve noticed that the things regularly missing from their management ‘toolkit’ are as follows:

  • Accurate Job Descriptions to clearly bring a role to life
  • Appropriate targets or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track performance
  • Regular 121s to set aside time to review progress and provide support
  • Purposeful team meetings that involve, engage and focus employees on the future
  • A formal ‘people process’ to manage performance (or under-performance) and reward and recognise employees

I use a variety of tools to help owners become better managers of their teams so get in touch if there is anything specific you need help with.