SMB Workforce Pt. 1: Why Hierarchy Matters For Your SMB


HR, Established Roles, and Chain of Command Aren’t Just For Large Corporations

Small business employees operate more like a family than a corporation. They work alongside each other each day, developing a natural closeness and loyalty.

But what happens when employees become a little too comfortable at work?

Even the smallest, closest staff needs workplace standards. These standards manufacture productivity by making it possible to set goals, track progress, and analyze initiatives.

Standards are not optional forms of corporate regulation, but financial necessities. A staff without standards is just a group of people hanging out for money.

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To develop, teach, or enforce a business’ standards, you first need to define a staffing structure. Organizational hierarchy acts as the foundation to all other processes within the business. Where do people fit and how do they relate to one another? Like most initiatives, the best way to construct a strong staffing structure is to start from the top down.


Leaders set the tone of the workplace. Define them clearly. Physically separate leaders into distinct workplaces. Hang door signs with titles. Distribute organizational charts during new-employee training. Designate specific areas for private conversations. Ensure your leaders are equipped with an environment conducive to authority and respect.

Command Process

Decide whether employees will work in an open-door environment or follow a chain of command. An open-door environment communicates accessibility, but demands more time and attention from leaders. A chain of command reduces connectivity between leaders and employees, but creates a clear resolution path for everyone. A dedicated chain of command also minimizes a leader’s “friend factor” and maintains boundaries.

SEE ALSO: 8 Things Your Employees Want You To Know

A side note about command structures: Even a strict chain of command allows for exceptions such as whistleblowers and emergencies. Be sure to communicate these circumstances clearly and ensure all employees are aware of when it is (or is not) appropriate to “jump ranks.”


It is possible to maintain quality connections to employees without sacrificing professionalism. Scheduled, reoccurring one-on-one meetings is a great way to stay connected. These meetings afford leaders the opportunity to see beyond an employee’s productivity and cultivate a genuine relationship while still being professional. Holiday events and lunchtime meet-and-greet opportunities function in the same way. These appropriate, yet meaningful interactions add personality and that small-business “spark” both employees and customers are eager to find.

Structuring Subordinates

Once leaders have found their place in the organization’s structure, shift the focus to employees. A diverse workforce means little when individual talent and potential aren’t realized. Streamlining everyone into the same role creates uniformity, but hinders employee development and productivity. This is where a small business’ flexibility comes in handy.

Separate your staff according to skill. Delegate coordinators and identify specialists. Allow mentoring and niche-specific job descriptions. One of the best things about being a small business is the freedom to adjust your staffing needs based on available resources. Use this characteristic to your advantage by revisiting your staffing structure frequently, especially when hiring new employees. Placing individuals in the correct role ensures a happy and productive workforce.

Structural Damage

Even the best-laid foundations can crack. Occasionally a staff member or leader will push against staffing structure by ignoring boundaries. The action could be accidental or intentional, but needs to be addressed immediately. Structural cracks only widen over time; other employees will begin to question their own roles and the stability of their leaders. When a simple corrective conversation doesn’t change the insubordinate behavior, see if the employee would be better suited in another role. When those efforts fail, it’s time to terminate the relationship. Hiring and firing is difficult, but functions as yet another opportunity to earn trust, respect, and solidify leadership roles within an organization.

Revamping a small business staffing structure can be daunting, especially when employees are also family members or close friends. The benefits to overcoming this challenge, however, include a stable work environment, solid problem resolution process, and a more functional, productive staff. Introducing and adhering to a well-defined staffing structure is the first step in developing the standards every business needs to function at their highest potential and ultimately become a successful, profitable family.

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Image: iStockphoto

About The Author

Jennifer Ludwigsen is a freelance writer with a colorful variety of skills gained from her time as a U.S. Army medic, mother of two, and ingenious life-lesson learner. She currently works for the largest medical group in Illinois in multiple administrative capacities, serving both the executive team and the vast practitioner and patient population. Jennifer has leveraged technology in multiple facets of her life to enhance her corporate day job, evening parenting job, and late-evening freelancing job. Connect with Jennifer on TwitterLinkedIn, and her website, Concentrated Creativity.