4 manager lessons learned the hard way (so you don’t have to)

As a small business owner, you know how crucial team communication is for the success of your business. But let’s face it, it’s not always easy to keep everyone on the same page. From dealing with difficult team members to unexpected events and HR regulations, there are plenty of challenges that can come up. 

We asked a few successful small business owners to share some of the team communications challenges they’ve faced — and overcame — to help you build and keep a happy team.

Manager mistake #1: Not asking for regular, and anonymous, feedback.

From Morgan and Andy Sommer, owners of Houston lifestyle marketplace Forth & Nomad

Meet the owners: In 2017, life and business partners Morgan and Andy Sommer started Forth and Nomad as a local handmade goods retail store in Houston — after experiencing the magic of local offerings while traveling abroad. Five years later, it’s grown into a multi-location “feel-good lifestyle brand”  that promotes sustainability. And, great coffee for all.  


The problem

Last fall, we had a manager in place who didn’t exactly honor the lines between management and associates. At the same time, one of their associates presented with a bad attitude, and they managed to bring morale down amongst the entire team. As a result, we had to dive deep to identify and extract the people who were no longer bringing their best to our business — and tweak how everything was running. Eventually, we had to hire another manager.  

The lesson

By the time we heard about the issue, it was too far gone to fix it. Nobody wanted to work with these team members, but nobody was comfortable saying so because there was no clear channel to file a complaint or suggestion. 

The solution

We created a process to allow our team to provide anonymous feedback, as well as a monthly review of their managers, with the goal of identifying any potential issues early on. The entire team fills it out — and it seems like everyone’s been honest about it since we started, which has been incredibly helpful. 

Manager mistake #2: Not having a backup plan for your backup plan.

From Val and Joi Jackson, owners of Hairizon Beauty Bar in Durham, North Carolina

Meet the owners: Mother and daughter duo Joi and Val Jackson saw a need for a natural beauty salon while Joi was in college, and the seed was planted for Hairizon. They started in their home and built it up to be a staple for natural, paraben-free beauty products in Durham, North Carolina. 


The problem

When we’ve interviewed candidates, we’ve had several people come in and say they’re excited about working with us and looking forward to starting on Monday. And then boom — life happens. Someone gets sick, or there’s some other reason they can’t deliver on the initial promises they made. 

The lesson

Many times, we’ve found ourselves scrambling to get coverage. ​​So, we always have to remember that we need a backup plan — even for our backup plan. 

The solution

We use the Homebase app to make it easier to communicate when unexpected events happen. If employees need to trade a shift with someone, they can do it easy-peasy. They don’t even have to call us. 


Manager mistake #3: Not understanding that everyone communicates differently. 

From Kenia Stubblefield, general manager of Forth & Nomad

Meet the manager: Kenia is an 11-year veteran of retail management and works to maintain employee happiness, take care of escalated customer situations, and develop her team to grow the skills they need at Forth & Nomad. She focuses on not only training employees in their current roles but also preparing them for future careers. 

The problem

Communication was definitely the thing that I had the hardest time learning — understanding and developing my own strategies. I’ve been in several situations where I think, “I’m communicating with you. It’s not resonating. So maybe you don’t understand this type of communication. Let me try this type of communication.”

The lesson

Not everyone likes fluffer language, and not everyone likes things super direct — everyone’s different. It’s learning how to communicate on different levels. 

The solution

It’s important to tailor your communication style to everyone’s preferences. And it’s the same with feedback as well. Feedback is actually pretty hard, and it’s not only learning how the person likes to be communicated with. It’s also about taking the emotion out of the issue and teaching your team how to look at feedback for what it is. If it resonates with you, great. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Not all feedback is going to be pretty, but take what you need and move on from it. 

Manager mistake #4: Not understanding HR & compliance rules. 

From MeeSun Boice, co-owner of Mersea restaurant in Treasure Island, San Francisco

Meet the owner: MeeSun Boice, a former tech employee who calls herself an “accidental restaurateur,” opened San Francisco restaurant Mersea with partner Parke Ulrich after seeing the need for a restaurant in the Treasure Island neighborhood. Together, the two created a unique dining experience built from shipping containers — currently the #1 restaurant recommendation for San Francisco on Trip Advisor. 

The problem

Business owners wear so many hats. You’re cooking, you’re cleaning, you’re bussing tables, and you also have to be the HR person who handles all the requirements and regulations. There are so many HR rules

The lesson

Employees are required to take a break. But, if my employees only work six hours and want to work through the break to get paid for it, they can opt out. If they clock out even one minute late, I’m considered out of compliance with the break rule and have to pay an extra hour and a half. I don’t have time to manage everyone’s clock-out times. And, if I’m not paying attention, the penalties add up. 

The solution

In a word: tech. Personally, I like using Homebase because it alerts me if an employee didn’t clock out and also gives me the ability to make changes to any late clock-out times as needed. 

Want to boost employee happiness in your small business — and attract and retain top talent? From building trust and transparency to offering easy earning advances to your team, Homebase’s employee happiness tools can help make your place a great place to work. Get started for free today.


Remember: This is not legal advice. If you have questions about your particular situation, please consult a lawyer, CPA, or other appropriate professional advisor or agency.

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