As a business owner, I firmly believe in the adage, “You’re only as good as your people.” Maintaining high quality, building customer relationships, and being a positive presence in the community all come down to having a solid team. A recent AT&T poll* hints at the value small business owners place on their employees: Nearly half called providing benefits and fair wages their top responsibility as business owners.
What can you do to help strengthen engagement and loyalty among your employees? Here are five tips I’ve found to be effective:
1. Encourage ownership.
Employees who feel they own the work they do are far more effective than those who see themselves as just earning a paycheck. An important way to foster a sense of ownership is to help them feel connected to the bigger picture of the company. I encourage my employees to learn about what their colleagues are working on. Weekly meetings are good forums for this. At the same time, you should periodically discuss how the business is doing. This gives your staff confidence in the future, and it helps everyone understand shifts in company policies and practices.
2. Provide growth opportunities.
Along with helping employees feel connected to the company’s mission, it’s important that they feel fulfilled in their roles. Check in at least twice a year to see how their responsibilities align with their goals. In some cases, a small shift in duties might make a big difference in satisfaction. Though you might fear that letting employees try new things will hamper productivity, I think there’s a greater risk in never allowing anyone to move beyond their comfort zones.
3. Say thank you.
Recognize employees for their efforts when they excel at a task. This simple piece of advice is often given, but I think it’s just as often overlooked. This doesn’t mean you need to start giving “Employee of the Month” awards if that’s not your style — but a few heartfelt words about a job well done can go a long way. Given the amount of time that many employees spend at work, it’s a good way to let them know how they contribute to the company’s success.
4. Allow flexible work arrangements.
While the work-from-home debate continues to simmer, 2013 Gallup research suggests that providing this option may help staff members feel more engaged. Permitting remote work helps employees balance work and family commitments and can go a long way toward strengthening loyalty. Technology tools such as online conferencing and cloud-based collaboration tools make it easy to stay productive while away from the office.
5. Leave time for fun.
Schedule two or three team-building events each year. These can help employees get to know each other better and reward them for their hard work. You might plan a trip to an interesting spot in town or hold a potluck dinner and ask everyone to bring a favorite dish. My company volunteers for a river cleanup every summer. The event has offered a nice way to build camaraderie and give back to the community. There’s something about working together for a good cause that has a positive impact once we’re back at the office.
How do you motivate your team? Please share your thoughts below.
Alice Bredin is America’s foremost small business expert, with more than 15 years of experience in the small business market. She has provided highly practical, actionable advice to millions of business owners through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary, and small business forums.
*The Small Business Omnibus poll was fielded October 28-30, 2013, among 294 decision-makers with 1-99 employees. Interviews were conducted online through the U.S. Research Now business panel. Panelists indicated that they participate in decisions to purchase supplies or services for their companies and have more than $100,000 in annual revenue.