When you think of key assets, most people immediately think of plant, machinery or vehicles. Yet the truth is, while your plant and machinery allow you to operate, it’s your staff who can most influence your progress.
A rude or unhelpful service assistant, for example, can detrimentally affect your word-of-mouth reputation, while their energetic, problem-solving colleagues are the ones personalising service and thinking on their feet, so customers return.
However, hiring great personnel is only half the solution. Once you hire them, you’ve got to retain them. Here’s how.
Regardless of what an employee’s role or responsibilities are, they should know what’s going to happen if they achieve or if they fail. And if that’s not directly communicated to them, they will look to what happens to their colleagues to gain more insight.
If you haven’t done so already, provide each employee with a detailed job description outlining all their responsibilities, tasks and targets, so they know what a satisfactory performance level is. If a reward is linked to each goal, make sure they know about it.
Now they know where they stand, it’s down to you to respect the goals and limits you’ve set by maintaining them. If they change, sit down with the employee and discuss the new rules, provide an updated job description so their new responsibilities and targets are on record, and consider remuneration, title or benefits boosts if they’re going to take on a greater load.
Provide growth opportunities
One of the common characteristics of motivated employees is a focus on professional growth and building a career. Not all small businesses can accommodate careers – in fact, a one-company career is an increasing rarity in this day and age – but they can give their employees opportunities that can add to their CVs.
This might mean researching a special topic, leading a small team or reporting back from a conference. Assigning a special responsibility in chime with an employee’s own long-term career goals can be a simple way to show you care about their future, even though you might not be able to take advantage of their skills in the long term.
Benefit packages are usually provided in a one-size-fits-all template, but there’s no reason why they can’t be tailored. HR surveys regularly show that what appeals to one staff member doesn’t appeal to another, so setting your benefits package to a universal standard devised long in the past or based on industry norms won’t necessarily prove competitive. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Survey your employees every couple of years to find out what they want, and make sure you act quickly on your findings. What may prove desirable now might not be so desirable in a few years’ time, as lifestyle trends and economic factors change.
Business owners often want to shield employees from reality if hard times are ahead, but in truth that’s a very hard trick to pull off and it can often backfire. Often, hearing nothing about your employer’s future viability is worse than hearing bad news. At the same time, it can send the message that employees aren’t valued because they’re being kept in the dark.
If there are challenges ahead, the smart employee will want to know what they are and even have some degree of self-determination. Detail the hurdles and involve staff in how they and the company are going to attack them.
Rewards don’t have to be hefty bonuses. They can be something as simple as a movie pass and a handshake. The important thing is that the employee’s hard work has been recognised.
A common managerial mistake is being ultra-fast in spotting mistakes and then treating a job well done as business as usual. However, you can never assume an employee knows they are doing a good job, so let them know they’re doing well so they then have a level of performance they can work to maintain.
Ask for feedback
You research your markets and competitors, so why not get feedback from your employees? Set up a pressure-free system for gathering feedback, preferably anonymous, or just make it clear your door is open so employees can bring up any issues.
You may be surprised to find out what influences your employees’ day-to-day working happiness. Most people don’t like bringing up issues of any kind to their boss, even if they are relatively inconsequential, so you may find even tiny changes – such as changing the brand of instant coffee in the staff room – have a big impact on a staff member.
Asking for feedback reassures employees they have the freedom to speak up rather than suffer in silence while, again, emphasising their value to the company.
Engage and excite
A job is not unlike a product you ask a member of the public to buy into. After all, your employee is investing a significant part of their life into the role. If you want them to carry on investing their time and future, make the workplace meaningful and the company fun to work for.
Communicate your passion for your business to employees and tell them about its potential so it becomes a project they feel good contributing towards. This will not only have a positive effect on customer service – as the employee will champion the company to customers – but it will help them buy into the role, creating a more emotional connection to their part in the company.
Having a fun company to work for can be an incentive almost as strong as the pay packet and benefits. Again, it’s all about emotional connections, so don’t view team building opportunities simply as ways to get staff working more cohesively during work time – they’re also a great way to bring everyone together to have fun. In addition, having a regular social events calendar can have a positive impact on staff retention rates.
Provide tools and training
Asking someone to carry out a role without the proper training or tools contributes to a feeling of working in an unfair and inconsistent workplace, so make sure your staff are coached and supported sufficiently by you or their supervisors. Equally, staff have to be given adequate resources to fulfil their duties, and leeway at times when those resources might be temporarily unavailable.
Coach your managers
A company owner can have a fair and equitable attitude to employing, but still lose employees thanks to the actions of their middle managers. Your managers should be coaching staff and offering constructive feedback, and you should be doing the same for them. If you set a silent example, they may well be doing the same for their staff – a trend that can have a big impact on staff retention.
Impart your experience to your managers or, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, hire a leadership trainer who can do it for you. One of the top reasons quoted for leaving a company on exit surveys is the attitudes and actions of immediate supervisors, so it’s worth investing in your managers as much as you invest in their teams.