The success of every business is underpinned by the strengths of its staff and by how well it can keep those staff happy, engaged and productive.
Attracting good talent and keeping staff happy, motivated, challenged, engaged and productive is one of the big challenges facing small businesses owners. With fewer role choices to offer, fewer opportunities for progression, less money available for training, resources and staff perks, it can be hard to attract good staff.
The effort spent on finding the right staff and keeping them engaged is critical to a small business’ success and will ultimately save time and money as well as ensure staff are psychologically committed and productive.
Putting in place strategies to retain staff will not only prevent the need for expensive and time-consuming rehiring and training, but also reduce the substantial disruptions to the business.
So what is employee engagement exactly and what does it look like globally?
Gallup studies 1# show that on average, employees are:
- 30% engaged – defined as loyal, psychologically committed and more productive than other employees
- 51% not engaged – defined as productive, but not psychologically committed
- 19% actively disengaged – physically present, but psychologically absent and unhappy at work
These are pretty alarming statistics and there is reason for concern, especially for small business owners who have to make do with fewer staff and resources. Lack of engagement is globally costing businesses billions of dollars in lost productivity. Where do you think your staff fall on the employee engagement scale, and what is it costing your business?
So what is needed to keep employees happy, motivated and engaged?
Gallup studies report that engaged staff are more productive, more profitable, customer focused, safer and less likely to leave, so it makes sense to do something to improve your staff engagement.
I can offer the following tips, based on what has worked in my experience as both a business and people manager and through observations gathered during a 30 year career in a variety of diverse organisations and industries, including SME’s, ASX-listed and Big 4 Chartered Accounting. In these diverse environments, I have seen best practices and benchmarks that I have compared others against ever since. Unfortunately, I have also observed really poor people management and practices that made me wonder what planet I had landed on.
Business environments, values, management styles, practices and cultures can be like chalk and cheese. These factors do have a big impact on staff engagement and morale. It does not necessarily take a lot of money to create a collaborative, nurturing and engaging environment but has more to do with leadership and how people are treated.
The biggest problems I have observed in organisations with poor staff morale and staff disengagement have been based around the following areas:
- Ego-driven, autocratic management
- Inconsistency and unclear expectations
- Poor communication, being kept in the dark
- Managers’ lack of awareness, empathy and people skills
- Managers’ erratic behaviour and mood swings
- Lack of regard for staff and people being treated as replaceable commodities
I will share what has worked best for me in hiring, developing and performance measuring and managing and from observing great people managers and also ones who have caused more damage to morale and productivity than good. It all starts with hiring.
- Take the extra time and effort up front to seek out the best-fit candidate for the role, but be mindful of your hiring criteria.
- Hire for attitude and growth potential. It is easier to train for skills than to change bad attitudes. Taking staff on is a big commitment and hard to reverse if you make a poor choice.
- Look for passion and drive and give these types of people a chance over ones with lots of experience and a poor attitude. There are great pay-offs in loyalty and trust, which will enable you to focus on getting on with the bigger picture issues.
- Look for a positive mindset and a can-do attitude. Find out what motivates them and whether they will be a good fit for the culture you want to shape. It will be well worth it in the long run to secure someone who is self-driven and engaged for the right reasons, and better to wait a little longer to find the right person than to rush into choosing someone out of a so-so lot. I have found this to save time and grief in the long run.
- Don’t hire a mini me version of you, or surround yourself with yes-people, but hire for diversity and balance, in order to bring in a range of strengths to complement yours and to fill the gaps of the existing team.
- Be clear on your expectations, have a well-defined Position Description and have clear processes if exacting ways of doing things matter to you, your business and clients. Employees need to know what is expected of them at work.
- Look beyond the present requirements, for future growth potential and ability to step up when the need arises.
2. Significance & Belonging:
- If things are not already well documented, involve staff members in putting together processes and allow them some flexibility in how they will do their role, so they can tailor it to their personal style and have the opportunity to do what they do best.
- People love to feel involved and to feel heard and acknowledged. Give them opportunities to offer suggestions and to contribute to changing processes or things that aren’t working. There will be more buy-in and less resistance to change.
- Make staff feel like they’re an integral part of the business, involve them by sharing your vision and the goals for your business.
- Make staff feel cared for as people and provide opportunities for bonding with other team members and to get to know each other on a personal level. Having good relationships and friends at work has a large impact on employee resilience, motivation and engagement. I have heard people mention time and time again that this was the one thing keeping them from leaving a job that they were otherwise unhappy with.
3. Growth and Meaning:
- Help staff to see how their role contributes to the big picture beyond their everyday tasks, and how their contributions help others (you, the team, clients, the community, or in the positive social impact that your business is making).
- Encourage their development through opportunities to learn and grow. This doesn’t need to be expensive and can be time spent imparting your knowledge and experience and giving them stretch tasks and opportunity for valuable experience. People fear being left behind and stagnating.
- Train them well and give them some autonomy and breathing room to learn and grow from mistakes. Establish that they have the competence to be trusted and then trust them to get on with it, without micro-managing.
- Share and celebrate business milestones and achievements and make them feel a part of it
- As a leader, take responsibility for modelling and encouraging effective, constructive, empowering communication, both down and up
- Don’t put off the difficult conversations that need to be had
- It can take just one negative employee to negatively impact other staff and bring down team atmosphere and morale. It is really important to address tardiness and bad behaviour as soon as possible, rather than letting it slip and affect team morale and the work atmosphere.
- Neutralize your emotions before giving tough feedback
- Don’t put off acknowledging great behaviour and work. Recognise employee strengths and acknowledge great work regularly, don’t assume that they know that you appreciate it.
- Provide constructive feedback if mistakes occur and improvement is needed, but remain focused on the positives. According to Prof. Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory, as we are naturally biased towards negativity, we need a ratio of 3 positives to 1 negative to maintain positivity in our day-to-day lives.
- Keep the communication channels open and encourage staff to provide feedback and suggestions. They are closest to their role and often to your customers and may see things that you have missed.
- Don’t shoot the messenger of bad news. It is better to find out early and to fix things rather than have staff fear approaching you and bury issues under the carpet and hope no one will notice.
- Insist on open, honest communication
- Be consistent in your moods and expectations so that staff know what to expect and what is expected of them. It can be quite demoralizing for staff to be treading on eggshells and being at the mercy of a manager’s unpredictable mood swings and behaviours.
- Emotions are contagious and people mirror them, so it pays off to consciously create a positive work environment and to be aware that people take their cues from you as their leader.
6. Building awareness:
- “What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at the right time.” (Donald Clifton). Be aware of your own strengths and of your challenges and potential pit-falls for better self-management and effectiveness.
- See staff for the unique individuals they are. Be aware of individual’s strengths and weaknesses and aim to allocate work that gives them opportunity to do what they do best. This is where the value of diversity comes in and if you hire for a balanced mix of strengths, there will be complementary skillsets, team-work and a collaborative culture.
- Encourage opportunities for staff to develop a sense of connection, appreciation of each other’s differences and how they can leverage each other’s strengths through team-work.
Giving close attention to hiring the right employees and developing good employee engagement strategies are both critical for your business success. Investing the extra time and effort up front in the planning and implementing of both of these strategies will reap rewards exponentially later down the track, and will save you unnecessary headaches, trust me I’ve seen it!
Some resources if you would like to take this further:
Drop me a line to express your interest in organising a Free Employee Engagement Strategy Discussion. Contact me if you want to discover ways of tapping into your strengths and building your people skills and of testing and improving your employee engagement levels.