Communication is key to any relationship — especially when it comes to your small business team. And for Morgan and Andy Sommer, owners of Houston-based stores Forth and Nomad, it’s the cornerstone of their success.
Entrepreneur couple Learned the hard way That broken communication can lead to a disgruntled team and even termination. As a result, they’ve established a robust system that allows them to keep everyone updated and in sync — without having to go to the store.
Here, they share how you can do it.
Open a path for anonymous feedback
It’s an unfortunate experience that prompts Andy and Morgan to expand the lines of communication and provide a way for team members to express their feelings anonymously – but with a fortunate result.
“We had one instance where we had the wrong manager who didn’t know the lines between management and associates,” says Andy. “When we heard about it, it was already very bad. No one wanted to work with them, but no one wanted to say anything because there was no clear channel for anyone to complain or make suggestions. So we modified that feedback process to allow people to give anonymous feedback and It allows them to identify those things earlier to give their manager a monthly review.”
Create a clear reporting structure
Organizing an efficient reporting structure helped the Forth & Nomad team keep expectations clear, Morgan said.
“We have a pretty specific job chart that everyone is very familiar with. Andy is specifically over our coffee shop and back-office team, and I’m specifically over our retail side. And so we funnel that down. We work directly with the head managers of those departments and then everything goes from the managers. Employees are not directly communicating with us about any business-related issues. They go straight to the manager, who comes to us.”
A communication path with more than one point of contact keeps the business running smoothly even in a crisis, says Andy.
“So you have lower-level associates who talk to their main manager, but under the main manager, you still have an assistant manager and a team lead that they can talk to if the manager isn’t there. And that really covers us, too. For example, this past week our manager was out with covid. It all came down to the other two and it worked very smoothly.”
Apply the processes you have done
For a system to work, it’s important that everyone follows it.
“We consistently remind team members about communication channels,” Morgan says. “If people skip on different levels, we gently remind them, ‘That’s a great question for your manager.’
Setting clear expectations for team meetings and performance is also important, Andy adds.
“We have identified six KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for each division and location. In meetings with managers, we talk about them and what is influencing them No one likes to sit in a meeting that doesn’t really produce anything. We certainly don’t want to waste time, so we provide clear guidelines on what will be discussed and recorded.”
Let managers communicate on their own terms
You hire your managers because you trust them to lead your team. And giving them the freedom to relay information in their own way not only enhances communication but also strengthens your confidence in their unique abilities.
“We ask every manager to run their team as they see fit. As long as they’re relaying information to their team, they can do whatever they want with their own style,” says Morgan.
It’s an approach that has empowered better cultures and their managers, says Andy.
“We’ve found our managers don’t like to figure things out at the same time as their teams. I think this way it gives them a sense of ownership. They also all have their own communication styles, which make for really cool, unique work situations. So I think that just helps build morale and creates a sense of community whenever they explain it in their own way, to their own team.”
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