Procurement · 13 September 2018

Do startups have office politics? How to get yours right from day one

office politics
For micro business owners, fostering a happy and democratic workplace is central to productivity

Running a startup does not mean bosses are free from the chains of office politics. Establishing a democratic and by-the-book environment is even more important for smaller and high-risk businesses.

Micro businesses are an iconic aspect of the British business economy – and we shouldn’t be surprised about it.

After all, 95% of all UK based businesses are micros, and the staggering statistics continue with an estimated 81% of all UK employing businesses being micro businesses.

Given the fertile startup economy, it’s no wonder that so many of us are leaving bigger businesses to embrace the creative and strategic freedoms starting a smaller one offers. But being the boss of your own successful startup isn’t the final story. To ensure solid brand reputation, recruitment interest, and employee retention, creating a democratic workplace environment is key, and this isn’t just about beanbags and cold beers on a friday.

Startup bosses must sit down with their senior staff, whether that is one other person, or simply themselves, and set an intention. That intention must be to create a workplace environment that includes all the positive aspects of larger offices including workplace decorum and a safety net for employees including HR support and line management.

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At their best, startups can be dynamic spaces where employees enact more influence over a business than a role at a larger company could ever allow, but at their worst, they can become sites of unprofessionalism, which can lead to bullying, an unproductive workplace, and high staff turnovers. To make a business succeed, employers must make the ground fertile, and this starts with getting their office politics handbook in order.

Accept flair and difference if it’s producing results

Unless you work solely for yourself, you will have to manage and support at least one other person in your workplace, who will have a different personality and approach tasks in a way that will differ from your own. In a small company, bosses will be directly exposed to how an employee will complete tasks at micro levels. In a small environment, bosses cannot enforce uniform approaches, they must be patient and accept their different methods, as long as the work gets done.

How are you speaking to your employee, and who are you speaking as?

There has never been a one-size-fits-all approach to task completion in any office, in any industry. In bigger companies, line-managers provide the buffer between employees and higher management not only to manage workloads, but to ease undue emotional concerns about how they get the job done. That’s why as a startup CEO you must have your “line-manager” hat on instead of your boss one when you are speaking to your workforce about daily tasks. Reserve the other for team meetings and client interactions.

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CEO “ego” doesn’t belong in a startup

Don’t get impatient if you are asked “lower-level” questions about admin or approaches to small tasks at work. Part of the challenge of being a startup boss is having the boss and manager dual-identity. You have to be just as patient, enthusiastic and supportive of employees when they ask mundane questions as when you conduct creative meetings, hold events and meet clients.

Being a startup founder and CEO requires a hands-on approach. Being exempt from the “nitty-gritty” of internal business operations is reserved for those in larger, more traditional company formats that have a hierarchical structure.

Being humble boosts productivity and costs nothing

Imagine if a graduate employee approached the founder and CEO of a large company about a minor question. The experience would no doubt irritate the “boss”, because the company has numerous line managers the employee could ask, and intimidate the employee who doesn’t  usually have much regular contact with the CEO.

In a small or micro company, bosses do not have the right to be irritated by any questions or advice employees ask, as there are no line-managers to soften the abrasive blow of boss-employee communication.

If micro bosses conduct themselves like they are running a large hierarchical company, they run the risk of intimidating their employees, and being accused of unfriendly, bullying or even intimidating behaviour. The results of which can be lack of productivity and high staff-turnover.

If you act the approachable and patient boss-manager in your company, staff will feel confident about approaching you, which means problems are solved faster and work completed at a higher rate. Setting this intention doesn’t require any investment, apart from positivity and a willingness to try on your part, which is easy on the company pocket.

Take an HR course

Because no one else on your small team is likely to. HR knowledge shouldn’t just be for those with a prescribed HR role. Thanks to the internet, HR courses are online, more affordable, and more accessible than ever before. From online courses such as ICS Learn, that offers foundation to advanced HR courses, to workshops and tailored support services, as provided by Boss HR, a consultancy that provides advice at a cost-appropriate price for startups on everything from employment law, handling absences and recruitment.

By learning key HR skills, you can have strategies and contingency plans in place when issues with employees inevitably arise. You will also be more informed in the way you deal with employees, on a daily basis, thereby lessening the chances that issues will arise at all.

Go forth and be a better boss

For bosses running startups and micro businesses, fostering a happy, democratic and non-intimidating workplace is the key to employee productivity and brand success.

Modest investment in HR training will produce pay-offs in the long-run, including reduced staff complaints and turnovers and higher employee wellbeing and productivity. But for the most part, creating a healthy workplace environment rests in cost-free positive intention setting.

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