TPR Media/UbiCare CEO Betsy Weaver, Ed.D.

The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Fortune magazine released the 2011 Inner City 100 list of the fastest-growing inner city companies in the United States. The Inner City 100 program recognizes successful inner-city companies and their CEO’s as role models for entrepreneurship, innovative business practices and job creation in America’s urban communities. The rankings for each company were announced at the Inner City 100 Awards Dinner on Thursday, May 12, 2011, in Boston, Mass. Winners attended a two-day summit, featuring seminars for Inner City 100 owners and managers at Harvard Business School. I was honored to be among them.

After the awards ceremony, I joined several other honorees for a nightcap and post mortem on the day’s events. Within minutes the conversation turned from the recognition of the award to what was top of mind for all of us small business leaders: managing employees and evaluating performance (surprise, surprise!) – theirs and ours. It was HR all the way. This was prompted by one CEO’s story of how while she was there collecting her award, all hell was breaking loose back at her company. We all commiserated, and many quickly shared their own recent HR war stories. Why did employee and HR issues eclipse the big win of the day for so many of us?

First, during the day’s workshops at Harvard, we were all struck by one case study that focused on how “to attract and retain talent.” The CEO in question made the radical — no revolutionary, it seemed to many of us — move of promoting staff first and customers second! The value of this being the sense that “we’re all in this together.” As entrepreneurs running small businesses we know, perhaps better than those in larger firms, that we live and die by our staff. But clearly, it was risky to put staff first in such a public way. We all agreed that it took guts.

Second, as rapidly growing small businesses, our HR woes come at us fast and furiously because we are often in the process of integrating new staff and are always evolving and “changing,” which further exacerbates the challenge of training. In fact, for me, I always describe it this way: “The most stable aspect of our business is change.”

But getting staff up to speed and ready for success quickly is one of the toughest things we do. And one of the related challenges is how much time do you give it until you say, “This is not working out.”

I’d love to know how all of you rise to this challenge. And, in case it is useful to others, I’ll share an orientation strategy that we’ve found to be helpful: All new employees have a series of interviews with key staff during which they explain what they do, how the new person’s job will interface with theirs and how they will support each other. This breaks the ice, orients both sides of the equation and helps all quickly learn how they can use one another to achieve success.

As we CEO’s said our good-byes after the Inner City 100 Summit, we all promised to stay in touch and share success strategies. I suspect we will, but the experience will be all the more fruitful with your input, too.

Betsy Weaver, Ed.D., is CEO and Founder of TPR Media/Ubicare and 2011 Inner City 100 winner, ranked No. 22.

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