Updated: May 8
As a small business owner, it’s not only imperative to set boundaries with your external clients, but set boundaries and expectations with your internal clients as well - that includes your staff.
Before we get into why boundaries are important, let’s identify some of the things YOU do as an entrepreneur that could actually hinder your ability to establish those boundaries with your staff, partner and/ or family.
You’re always on your phone.
You’re always working.
You don’t have any hobbies or free time.
Interruptions drive you up the wall.
You complain a lot.
You talk too much.
You don’t listen - you dominate the conversation.
You are a dictator.
You take advantage of them.
It’s your way or the highway.
It’s kinda funny to read this isn’t it?! Ha.
How many of these line items above can you check off about what annoys you about your employees?!
Or how many of the below could be considered qualities that you should maybe incorporate into your own routine?!
Employee Handbook says no personal phone calls.
They’ve taken a break to converse briefly with a co-worker.
They’ve requested vacation during “busy season”.
They ask too many questions.
They’re too personable - need to be more transactional in construction!
They never told you they were not challenged or unhappy in their position.
They only work 40 hours a week.
They don’t think for themselves, but why would they - you’re telling them what and how to do it!
The reason for setting boundaries is so that each person knows what’s expected of them. It's not fair to just go around bamboozling people is it?
Setting boundaries is part of the communication process and the work between each of you will flow easier if the boundaries are clearly defined.
Here are some types of boundaries to try out or work on improving if you think you are currently implementing them.
Physical - close the door to your office, express that you need additional concentration for a project you are working on and work offsite, putting blocks in your calendar that let people know when you are or aren’t busy. Less is more here.
Emotional & Intellectual - allow them time to express themselves in a situation if they need to, but don’t get sucked in. Even if it's someone you consider a friend - keep it separate.
Workload - as an owner, you should delegate delegate delegate! Yes, shit will go wrong, but if you try to do everything you won’t be able to and your business could end up suffering for it. Your only responsibility is to make sure your staff has the information and tools they need to do the job you hired them for. If you are going to be out of pocket for a short or extended period of time, establish what absolutely needs to get done before and after. If anything needs to be done while you are out, task one person on your staff to manage that. Everything else? All the things you hired your employees to do? Let them do it.
Time - everything you do as a business owner equates to time. If you feel like you are always running out of it, then get better at estimating what it really takes to complete the process or, do less. Stealing time from your personal life and health is not more time.
Communication - this is probably the most important. If you are not clear in how you want to be communication with, then the other person will do what is convenient for them which could be stepping on that last nerve. Instead (using some notes from the above) let your staff know that when your door is closed, they are to send you an e-mail; Microsoft Teams message or text if it’s urgent. Or, if they need to request time off then that’s an e-mail (to someone else to manage those requests so you can approve them all at once.) Or, if they have questions about the project they are working on and without your response they are at a total standstill, they can come into your office or call you on your cell.
Now that we’ve put some of this stuff out there - how do you put it into play?
Well, for starters, what you don’t do is be a dictator and send out a company email with the above paraphrased.
What you do, do is start implementing those boundaries. Yep. No need to declare that boundaries have been set or will be set, just start it right meow.
If you are planning to go out of town, you can use that as an opportunity to start as well.
That time can be when you start only answering e-mails first thing in the morning/ late afternoon and not taking any phone calls after 6pm. I often suggest starting this over a long weekend or short travels when you might be going away. This serves as a very accurate Stress Test for your business because out of sight, out of mind. If things go completely wrong when you're out for a few days, then now you know and you can invest time and resources to improving it. And if they don't go wrong, then that's one point for you - trust your training process (finally).
Of course there will be many instances when people don’t respect your boundaries (or you theirs because we are human), just remind them and yourself that this boundary has been put in place for not only the success of your business, but the personal self as wellbeing of you and your employees.
Oh, and you've heard that saying about pouring from an empty cup right? It's true. There is only one you and you did not start your own business to run yourself into an early grave. You started it because you had a passion for what you do. Don't sell your staff short, but also if they're not cutting it and you have discussed a plan for getting better - then you gotta let them go.
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