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Edition 223 – Toolbox Talks

If your business is trades based, you’ll know what a Toolbox Talk is. If it’s not trades based, you’re about to find out.

In the trade game, a Toolbox Talk is where you gather your team together and:

  1. Update them on what’s happening.
  2. Re-iterate safety standards and expectations.
  3. Discuss new policies and procedures.
  4. Seek feedback about issues occurring on-site.
  5. Make important announcements around leave, shutdowns, etc.

Most trades based businesses don’t do it anywhere near as often as they should do, even though they know they should.

In the old days of running an accounting practice, we used to hold a team meeting. We’d aim for monthly, though sometimes that would slacken off. Often, the excuse for missing it was time – either of the partners or of the team out of the necessity to clear a backlog of work.

In the early days of the COVID 19 outbreak, I implored my clients and my readers to continue communicating with their team around the evolving situation (Growth Edition 215 – Firm and Calm – Wednesday 25th March, 2020). Most embraced the idea. Sadly, most have now forgotten the idea.

Right now, the situation continues to change. Be it health related, financially based or some other aspect of operating a business, what we know for certain is that uncertainty prevails. Which is why now, more than ever, family business owners need to step up, show leadership and communicate with your team often.

Throughout the pandemic, the Prime Minister, the Premier and various other officials have been doing as much as possible to keep the community informed. In my opinion, that has afforded not only a great deal of comfort at a time when no one was to know where this was going to end up, but has ensured that the one-to-many principle has enabled each of those individuals to mass-market their message in an efficient and informative manner.

Right now, your employees are looking to you for a similar kind of leadership and information. They want to know:

  1. Is my job safe?
  2. Will the requirements of my job change?
  3. Will my work location change?
  4. Will my remuneration change?
  5. Will my work conditions change?
  6. What work are we winning as a business?
  7. What work are we losing as a business?
  8. How do we demonstrate to our clients that we are on top of the health and safety aspects of the pandemic?
  9. What help will my employer need from me in the future?

Unfortunately, right now, too few family business owners and managers, whether they are trades, retail or professional businesses, are engaging regularly with their team. If that is happening in your business, it creates an information vacuum that can only lead to rumour, innuendo and uncertainty amongst your team simply because one of the key people in their lives (you – the boss!) is not talking with them.

What you aren’t aware of is that, in the absence of you communicating with them formally, they’re doing it themselves, informally, via text messaging, Facetime or What’s App. Before you know it, the “did you hear…..” question becomes a full blown panic.

If you are a family business owner or manager, here is what you should be doing:

  1. Communicating with your team at least fortnightly, and preferably weekly.
  2. Use Zoom or some other video conferencing platform if you can’t get everyone together in the one place.
  3. Stick to an agenda.
  4. 15 to 30 minutes is all it needs to be.
  5. Have a set time each week or fortnight where it is mandatory to attend – in person or virtually.
  6. Emphasise the importance of open communications – as an employer, you want to hear their thoughts and concerns.
  7. Re-emphasise the basics. For instance, have you noticed how people are not social distancing as the rules are relaxed? Tell them to stick with it.
  8. Thank your team for all they are doing.
  9. Offer them an incentive or a reward for sticking it out in difficult times. People want to feel appreciated, now more than ever.

A toolbox talk will go a long way towards helping your employees feel more certain about their jobs, identify you as a leader they can trust and help them to laser-focus on what they should be doing.