Communication is the key to any relationship — especially when it comes to your small business team. And for Morgan and Andy Sommer, owners of Houston-based store Forth and Nomad, it’s the cornerstone of their success.
The entrepreneur couple learned the hard way that disjointed communication can lead to a disgruntled team and even terminations. As a result, they established a solid system that allows them to keep everyone updated and in sync — without having to go into the store themselves.
Here, they share how you can do it too.
Open a path for anonymous feedback
It was an unfortunate experience that prompted Andy and Morgan to increase the lines of communication and provide a way for team members to express their feelings anonymously — but one with a fortunate outcome
“We had an instance where we had the wrong manager who didn’t know the lines between management and the associates,” Andy says. “By the time we heard about it, it was already so bad. Nobody wanted to work with them, but nobody wanted to say anything because there was no clear channel for somebody to file a complaint or a suggestion. So we overhauled that feedback process to allow people to give anonymous feedback and monthly reviews on their manager to identify those things earlier.”
Create a clear reporting structure
Organizing an efficient reporting structure has helped the Forth & Nomad team keep expectations clear, says Morgan.
“We have a pretty specific work chart that everyone’s very familiar with. Andy is specifically over our coffee shop and back-office teams, and I’m specifically over our retail portion. And so we funnel that down. We work directly with the head managers over those departments and then everything trickles from the managers down. Employees aren’t talking directly to us about anything business-wise. They go directly to the manager, who then comes to us.”
A communication path with more than one point of contact keeps business running smoothly even in a crunch , says Andy.
“So you have your bottom-level associates who speak to their main manager, but under the main manager, you still have an assistant manager and a team lead that they can speak to if the manager’s not there. And that really covers us, too. For example, this past week our manager was out with COVID. It all went down to the other two and it worked super smoothly.”
Enforce the processes you put into place
For a system to work, it’s important that everyone follows it.
“We remind team members about the path of communication consistently,” Morgan says. “If people are skipping over different levels, we gently remind them, “that’s a great question for your manager.”
Setting clear expectations for team meetings and performance is also critical, adds Andy.
“We identified six KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for each department and position. In meetings with managers, we talk about those and what’s influencing them. No one likes sitting in meetings that really don’t produce anything. We definitely don’t want to waste time, so we provide clear guidelines of what’s going to be discussed and recorded.”
Let managers communicate on their own terms
You hired 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 solidifies your confidence in their unique abilities.
“We tell each manager to run their team the way they best see fit. As long as they’re transmitting information down to their team, they can do it the way that they want, with their own style,” Morgan says.
It’s an approach that’s both improved culture and empowered their managers, says Andy.
“We found our managers didn’t like finding something out at the same time as their team. I think in this way it gives them a sense of ownership. They all have their own communication style too, which makes a really cool, unique working situation. So I feel like it also just helps build morale and that community feeling whenever they’re explaining it in their own way, to their own teams.”
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