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Category: Small business solutions

A blizzard of snowflakes? bullying? or poor management?

…Raab “exercised his executive judgement” and was claimed to have “acted in a way which was intimidating” by being “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” during a meeting…

As justice secretary, Tolley said, Raab had “acted in a manner which was intimidating” by going further than appropriate in “delivering critical feedback”, and insulting officials by making “unconstructive critical comments” about their work.

I get it (I don’t condone it) – you’re stressed, time is short, resources are scarce, and you’re relying on work from your team in order to progress important developments in a project. The pressure is on and others are awaiting your update or presentation or advice or whatever it might be.

But in the final stages, you’re let down when the contribution you were expecting from your team is not to the required standard. Faced with this, it’s hard to remain perfectly composed and to not reveal obvious expressions of disappointment. Your tone of voice changes, facial expressions manifest uncontrollably, micro-aggressions are perceived by others…

Is Raab a bully? Some are saying that Raab is not the problem and that actually this is the snow-flake generation’s lack of resilience. Others are saying that he should have followed correct business management practices. But what are correct management practices?

Is there is a way for managers to avoid the frustration and the feeling that the only remedy is to give someone a ‘piece of your mind’? Yes – there are acceptable responses (as opposed to an ill-thought reaction). And the response should be in the context of the management/employee structures already put in place.

Already put in place? err… what management structures are they then?

Ok – listen… it’s very rare that someone deliberately does a bad job – the chances are, if the work is not as the boss expects then the boss needs to look at themselves, the organisation and how the task was set in the first place: did the member of staff know what was expected of them? Were they provided with the correct guidance? Were they trained correctly? Are they even doing the job they originally joined the organisation to do? And how can you quantify a member of staff’s performance? Is it the boss’ word against theirs?

If there is one key lesson to take away then it’s this: set objective standards!

This is written with the small business owner in mind, perhaps a sole-trader taking on their first employee – but the advice could apply to all levels. The following steps might seem like a lot of work but I assure you that it’s well worth doing – not only does it help with managing staff but also promotes standards, consistency, fairness and contributes to creating autonomous systems that can function in your absence.

STOP – read this: this blog is not about how to write contracts or to discuss employment law, or appraisal systems per se, or QMS etc. We can look at those another day. This post is about how to make your life (as an employer/manager/leader) easier in the long run using basic administration. As ever, meaningful and good quality processes are rarely convenient and easy to put in place. But little incremental improvements soon build up. So…

1) Setup an employee contract which lays out the terms of employment, dress code, ethical codes, details of holiday, sick leave, pay etc. The list is too long to detail here but there is an easy-ish solution for this: become a member of the Federation of Small Businesses which will give you access to plenty of model forms, documents and advice. The ACAS website is also a great resource.

2) Detail the job description – this builds on the employee contract. It might be part of the contract in some way, perhaps as an annexe. But don’t be afraid to list the day-to-day tasks. This could be quite easy for a role that is very prescriptive – such as a machine operator on a production line. However the role of a manager, advisor or researcher might be harder to define. It might take some thinking about – my tip is to think about the outcomes that are required. So a line in a job description might be:

the role requires the individual to research specific areas of potential new policy and then provide written reports (in the company reporting format) to the managing director that allow her/him to understand the salient points of the subject and they also need to be provided with concise and logically ordered reference documents to allow for their further reading if required (sample briefs and further guidance are provided in the company procedures manual).”

Have a suite of management documents to support your staff

3) Articulate and publish your company policies and guide. This might take several forms depending on the type of business and how much reference material your staff might need. You might have industry codes of practice to follow or key H&S Manuals or perhaps technical manuals for equipment. And you may simply have lots of best practice to follow – for example, letters to clients outlining key facts and essential information etc. The list can be endless. A good way to manage this is to create an over-arching management document that is the umbrella document for all the other references – and where necessary, simply reference the other documents.

4) Lay down specific instructions for staff to follow – eg, the fire assembly point, or car park arrangements, or specific telephone manner, or agenda for the weekly meeting, or the policy for consultations held off-site etc. My solution for this is a collection of SOPs – ‘Standard Office Procedures’ – I have over 100 of these for my small business and they are invaluable – each SOP lays down the details and expectation for any given segment of work activity – SOP 1 is how to open the office, who holds keys and alarm codes and even talks about opening and closing the blinds at the start and end of the day. SOP 121 is some details about handling client money in the context of our accounting system. And everything in between. They’re a great resource – especially, when training and inducting new staff.

5) Layout your disciplinary and remedial procedure. This final point circles back round to the 1st recommendation and could be included in the contract: If you’ve put in place points 1 to 4, you will have a comprehensive and layered system for providing employees with the guidance, standards and expectations required. Thus any deviation by staff from the required standards can be referenced against the contract, the job description, the management book, the best practice guides and the company procedures.

It’s worth repeating this point:

It’s very rare that someone deliberately does a bad job…

…the chances are, if their work is not as the boss expects then the boss needs to look at themselves first. But the remedial system should provide a mechanism for further training, one-to-one guidance and also, if really necessary an evidence and audit system for dismissal etc.

So, the correct management procedure is not to get angry and frustrated… the correct procedures are to provide detailed, comprehensive and objective requirements to form the foundation for the employee’s role and then refer back to those as and when required – they will provide the objective resource and reasoning behind feedback, critique, guidance and praise – which could (or should) be part of an ongoing appraisal and career development process.

Final point… you could also stop looking for the things that go wrong and instead concentrate on the things that go right. See here: Stop looking for what went wrong – and look for the things that go right. Part 1 (Introduction)

Are you a business owner and feel like you can’t get “good people”? These recommendations do require some effort to implement but they make the difference between running an ‘ok’ business compared to an excellent business where people can thrive and grow their careers. If you require specific advice then please contact me. I’ve experience of design and development of training and management systems, QMS, SMS, private business support via app and CRM systems. I’m happy to help you create solutions for your small business.

App Development #4 – rise of the bots

Final part in this series detailing the basic development of an app for small business use. Rise of the bots – automation to help and assist staff with routine tasks.

After nearly 2 months of development I’m going to call the app complete. Actually, there is still plenty more to add but it’s too boring to write about.

The major development since the last post is the use of the ‘Bots’. This is something I didn’t have with Filemaker (or perhaps I did but I didn’t know how to implement it). But basically the bots allow scheduled automations, or automations that happen in response to a trigger.

This is a really neat development and, to a large degree, is one of the main reasons for developing the new app. Here’s why: a computer database is great for holding data – but it’s also great at concealing data. So, for example, with our old system, you could write a work order to a tradesman – which is all well and good – but if the tradesman didn’t do the work, then the work order remained open and could get forgotten about (until the tenant contacted us and chased it up). The trigger to close the work order was the receipt of the tradesman’s invoice – but if they didn’t do the work or were unresponsive then the open work order was forgotten. But an automated bot can check for open work orders after, say, 2 weeks of them being created and then email an alert to staff; reminders, feedback requests, auto responses etc are all possible. And they can be complex processes – eg, a rent renewal can be triggered by the date in the AST record, and then the bot emails an alert to the member of staff, an advice email to the tenant, an advice email to the landlord and also trigger an order form for the fee.

Lessons identified:

  • I had more data sets than I realised – and Appsheet has recommendations for maximum file size of data sources. Check this first!
  • A suite of apps for different roles might be more manageable than one big app
  • If you’re migrating from an old system to a new one, then delete as much data as possible


I’m very happy with the end result – we’re cloud-based, with automated functions. Furthermore, our new VOIP soft-phone system has integrated effortlessly – ie, if you’re using the phone app version of our new CRP, then contacts can be dialled by default using the soft-phone app (and not the mobile’s sim) which displays as our local landline number on the recipients display. That puts our whole office into a mobile phone – and can be used anywhere in the world. Neat 🙂

App Development #3

Part 3 in this series of tracking the development of a new app for a small business in the business of residential lettings and property management.

Good progress! The easy phase is nearly over – in other words, importing the existing datasets from our previous system and then relating them together. So the app is now (or will very soon be) displaying an impressive series of connections and relationships between the following datasets:

  • Property Addresses
  • Property Particulars
  • Property Utilities
  • People
  • Log records
  • Tenancies
  • Inspections
  • Snags

This has been a great opportunity to weed out unnecessary data – with my previous system (Filemaker) it was very easy to add fields to an existing dataset – consequently I ‘bolted on’ extra features and functions throughout the last 9 years or so. Whilst that might seem flexible – actually, it created lots of unused data that we don’t need. With Appsheet, in order to add “fields” you need to return to the source table and create another column, then go through a ‘schema regeneration’ process. This is actually good I think – it encourages correct table/data design in the first place. Thankfully, having already managed databases I have a good idea of what we do and don’t need.

Another lesson is breaking down the datasets – previously all our property data was in one table. Now, our property info is spread across 3 tables (addresses, utilities and particulars). This is because not every address is going to be in our management portfolio – eg, we don’t need information on utilities for an address that is a supplier.

The process has also cemented some design of information flow. The app is not going to be public – it’s only for staff. But we still need clients, tenants etc to be able to submit data. So this is achieved by integrations between our website forms and the same table data that the app accesses.

Also, the app is not going to store files – previously, I didn’t really design document management as a separate system from our database – all our records were within the database and retrieved in PDF format on demand. However, this is vulnerable.

With the new app, it will automate appropriate records, documents and PDFs to be sent to clients etc as required – however. It will also save copies to a separate cloud storage area. That way, records and data can be deleted from the app but, for audit trail purposes, documents will still be available in a long-term archive.

Ok… next is building in functionality!

App Development #2

Basic app screenshot

Part 2 of this series tracking the progress of the development of an app for our internal business management and workflow.

After an evening with Google Appsheet I finished with a fairly pleasing app on my phone containing property and people data. The 2 respective data sources (tables) for these are Google sheets – this is neat because the same tables can be used for receiving data from online forms. So, for example, a visitor to our website can (via an online form) register their details into the same table as that used by the app. Meaning that staff do not have a data-entry role when registering new people. That’s an improvement and a nice ‘marginal gain’.

The next challenge is to create a relationship between these tables and then create some basic functionality. eg, when I view a property, I want to see who the tenant is and who the landlord is. This looks fairly straight forward although seems to work a little differently to what I’m used to. Once this is resolved, then most of the data-storage and views will be very similar to incorporate – eg, I need a table for log records, a table for inspections etc. And, again, with relationships created between the tables, I should be able to view all the associated people, logs, inspections etc for any given property.

The other area to think about is data and GDPR. ❤

The other consideration is how to break-down our existing datasets into more manageable chunks. For example, each property has details about the address, and utilities, and particulars for marketing – these probably need to be 3 different tables and not one?

So schema design and setting up the primary keys (unique references that will be used in the relationships) are important.

Hopefully, in my next blog on this subject, I’ll have a skeleton app with multiple tables and relationships. Then I can start to look automation and functionality.

It’s good fun… no it really is! 😀

App Development #1

In 2013 when I started trading with Proudhouse, I knew that I would need a software management system. Spreadsheets and MS Office lacked functionality. I knew that I would need to automate repetitive tasks etc. I also knew that it would be very difficult to employ staff in the absence of an easy-to-use interface that would ensure consistent results and outputs.

Very long story short: With initial guidance from a friend, I learned how to develop our CRM environment with relational database software called Filemaker.(

It has since been the foundation of our office and management processes. However, I bought lifetime licences to FM13 and we’re now out of date. Furthermore, although it works over a VPN to our office, it’s not Cloud based. And in addition to cost, there are other challenges to migrating it to a Cloud based version of Filemaker.

So – we have a challenge: we need a new system. Over the last 12 months we have trialled other industry solutions. But they’re not suitable – the flexibility and bespoke nature of using our purpose-built solution has spoiled us.

So our requirements are:

  • Cloud based solution
  • Predominantly mobile-app based technology allowing staff to work and update records from anywhere
  • Easy, intuitive interface
  • Ability to develop and support from in-house (ie, I’m the support guy)
  • No-code or minimal code solution
  • Integration with existing software in use

The solution so far seems to be Google AppSheet. We use Google Workspace anyway. I’ll blog every step until our solution is up and running. Let’s see how this goes!

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