Why I'm the best boss... Or, just not the worst

HR and your meat business

I’m not claiming to be the best boss in the world, but I’m certainly not the worst (I should know - I’ve worked for several that can bump me out of that latter category).  There’s a reason why my employees don’t hate me.  And there’s a reason why they enjoy coming to work, even though their job descriptions read like an OSHA nightmare:  they work in cold conditions, lifting over 50 pounds consistently all day, working with poopy animals and later, bloody carcasses.  Handling sharp knives all day, they’ve got to watch out for “butcher’s elbow” (I just made that up) and cutting themselves.  At the end of their shift, they are cleaning a steam-filled room with serious chemicals and 180 degree water.

They certainly aren’t getting filthy rich doing this either.  Work is slow and hours may be cut in the spring.  In the fall, days are long and the speed is “as fast as you can go without making a mistake”.  So why do my employees not hate me?  Or even, why do they not mind working for me?  There are more posts to follow this one, but today I’ll discuss creating your team, company culture, and discipline.

Keep hiring and firing until you’ve got the right team

As they say in “Good to Great,” what can be fixed by being a good boss, go ahead and fix.  But, if someone is not going learn a lesson through discipline or catch on to the work you are asking them to do, then replace them.  Basically what I’m saying is, hire the best person for the job, and fire the ones who aren’t working out.  Don’t keep a bad egg just because you are concerned about having to spend time training someone else.  Especially when you are opening your business, you have a chance to create a dream team.  Don’t just hire your lazy nephew or whoever will be cheapest. 

What has been successful for me to make this process easy is to start every single person, no matter if they’re the CEO or the janitor, on a 3 month trial basis.  Not only does this give the employee the impression that you want them for a long time, but they will know that you are testing them and expecting good work from them.

You should hire the best people for the job, but also the people who can work as a team.  Teamwork is essential to your business’ success.  You have to build an atmosphere of professionalism and accountability.  If there are employees who are difficult to work with, cause distractions, or are not buying into your company’s mission, you shouldn’t waste your time on them.  I’ve passed over applicants with more job experience because they can’t work with others or they’re just plain apathetic.  Of course, it can be much more complicated than that as folks who are excited to work at a slaughterhouse are a special breed.  However, there are good workers who are willing to work for you - don’t think you have to settle for whoever walks through the door.

Company culture: Most work ethic starts from the top down

In order to create a successful, winning team you have to create a culture that matches. This doesn’t come from an employee manual, or a corporate training video, or motivational posters in the break room - it comes from the top.  Their boss.  Which might be... YOU.

Firstly, you must be the one to work how you expect your employees to work.  If an employee does not see you (or a supervisor) setting the example there is little chance you will convince them that they need to have a strong work ethic (conversely, if you are the type of person who is a glutton for 14 hour days, expect that your employees will burn out).

Secondly, practice zero tolerance for violating policies.  You must trust your employees to do their job, that is why you hired them.  If they are not doing their job, or are not doing their job properly, you will eventually find out without having to micromanage them.

That’s the bottom line: If you don’t create a strong work culture AND enforce policy, your employees will realize that there is neither motivation nor consequences for their work ethic.  There are days when I'm not the hardest worker.  There are days when I am.  But overall, we've all made a commitment to being the best professionals we can be, and my employees trust me to try to live that and I trust them to do the same.

It is similar with humane handling, professional improvement, efficiency, and teamwork.  If you are not living the values that you are trying to inject into your business, your employees will not subscribe.  For example: There is no hands-on training required for humane handling by the USDA, ie. how to use visual cues, how to reduce stress on the animal, why reducing stress is good for the meat and for an easy slaughter, etc.  However, humane handling is a major value of our company, and respect for the animals is a crucial part of our company culture.  Therefore all of the humane handling techniques and information I want them to learn and use everyday, I teach them myself.  They understand that they are required to use these techniques, not by the USDA, but by me.  Over time, I hope that humane handling is or will become as important to them as it is to me, but whether they care about it or not, they know how to do it and that they have to do it.  It’s not essential to completing their job, but it’s essential to our company atmosphere.

Discipline: No-call No-shows make it easy for you!

You have no excuse for not working the way you want your employees to work, or trusting your employees. But, disciplining your employees for improper behavior is one way to show how important your company policies are.

I love when firing someone is easy.  They don’t show up and they have a terribly fake excuse for it, they steal something with indisputable proof, they make fun of your new haircut.  It’s the “mild problem-child” that makes it a little harder.  The guy who comes in five minutes late every day, the girl who has a constantly negative attitude, the guy who gossips about everyone and everything.  When you encounter a worker who is causing issues, whether it’s with other employees, the product, or efficiency, you should approach the situation with a few questions: what is this person’s motivation?  Can you respond to the employee and will they respond to you, or is the issue beyond your capacity to resolve?

I find that in very few instances is employees’ bad behavior motivated by money.  If their issues are about money, and that can resolved (eg. if they haven’t had a raise in a while, or can pick up a few extra hours), then go ahead and work something out.  If money is not the problem, then something else is happening.

However, it’s not your place to try and solve their personal issues.  They may need to be let go if they are causing a disruption to your team and that cannot be changed.  An overly gossipy employee or one that has anger issues, for example, are beyond your abilities as a boss to change them.  You are not a psychiatrist.  Have a serious talk with them, explain why their behavior is unacceptable, give them expectations for their behavior moving forward, and fire them if they continue it.

Of my many motivational and disciplinary tactics, that is the one specific disciplinary procedure I would advise to you.  Always Document Everything.  Write down and discuss the issues you are having with the employee in question.  Give them a chance to explain their side of the story and feel heard.  Type up the major points of your conversation.  Both you and the employee sign and date that paper, they get a copy, and the original goes into their HR file.  Not only does this give them a wake-up call that if they don’t improve they will lose their job, but it also protects you if you do need to fire that person.

The successful workplace

Most of the ingredients to a successful workplace will be taken care of when you consider these three pillars for creating a great team:  keep the best people who can work together, create a positive and professional work environment, and exercise proper discipline in proper doses.  The rest of staff management (raises, pay scale, scheduling, promotions, training, professional development, etc.) will come naturally as an extension of the overall expectations you have for your employees, and that your employees have for you as a boss.