First class coach: I have set up my own small business, which is rapidly expanding. I've just taken on my first few employees, but worry that I am not experienced enough in people management. I am 24 and several of my new employees are older than me, incl

First class coach: I have set up my own small business, which is rapidly expanding. I've just taken on my first few employees, but worry that I am not experienced enough in people management. I am 24 and several of my new employees are older than me, incl

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Good leaders are made, not born, and usually self-made. As a leader of a growing business, you have a great opportunity to build a lasting enterprise, but also to develop your own leadership ability. Not surprisingly, the two are inextricably linked.

You are concerned about lack of experience, particularly in managing people older than you. At its simplest, people need a clear view of what you are trying to do with the business and an opportunity to shape that.

Yet often the need to discuss business goals is overlooked. Share your passion and ideals for the business, and engage your staff in its development.

A great way of building a team is to have weekly or monthly 'touchdown' sessions, perhaps combined with an informal lunch. This gives you the chance to review how things are going and deal with issues before they become problems.

Members of your team also need a clear understanding of their jobs and their role within the business. You don't want to be too bureaucratic, but a one-page summary agreed by you and each employee can work well.

It's too risky to rely on verbal agreement. I once worked in a small firm where there was a poor relationship between the founder chief executive and several team members. This caused disputes at every meeting, but it could all be traced back to misunderstandings about each person's role.

Once these differences were flushed out, much of the heat was dissipated.

Another key aspect of managing people successfully is to define the different degrees of freedom. People with lots of experience may expect a good deal of freedom. You need to decide what are the 'tights and looses'. For example, you might have strong views about the management of pricing or customer service. On the other hand, you may be much more flexible on marketing and selling. If these parameters change over time, say so. Otherwise you could find that the firm you think you founded has metamorphosed into something very different.

Your staff need a chance to grow and develop, no matter what their age.

The great thing about small businesses is that individual jobs often have more variety and interest than jobs in large organisations. When I founded a firm we all did everything, from ordering stationery to designing the corporate identity. It's a great chance for people to build their skills and to learn from each other, before the need for specialisation sets in.

Pay and ownership issues can be a problem area. Your people need to feel fairly rewarded for helping you build your business. Your might offer a financial stake, but be extremely careful. It pays to be generous, but you don't want to lock yourself into financial relationships with people who may not stay for the long haul. Take professional advice and keep it simple.

You are also concerned about managing staff who are older than you Acknowledge and honour their experience and capitalise on it as your business grows.

Don't block out this valuable source of learning merely because you want to establish your own status. So long as you have defined the 'tights and looses' and made your view of the developing business clear, all your team should be engaged in building and shaping the business. You will still have the last say on key decisions, but listen to your staff. Their experience may prevent you falling into bear traps. If you are genuinely concerned about your people-management ability, consider whether one of these older members of staff is better at it than you. In time, they could take on responsibility for recruitment or training, so you can focus on developing customer relations.

Having youth on your side is enormously helpful - you will have drive, energy and focus. You are building a team that is not a mirror image of you; in doing so, you have already acknowledged the importance of a variety of expertise in the business. This diversity is at the heart of a good team; continue to promote it. At the same time, be clear about your ground rules with colleagues, define how you want things to be, and don't give the shop away. If you do all of these things - and if you have a great product or service - you will build a long-lasting and sound business.

Margaret Exley leads Towers Perrin's European practice on change and communication. A founder of Kinsley Lord, she is a non-executive director of the Treasury's management board.

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