Making employees your biggest asset

In a small business, the people on your team make a big difference

Small business owners are always working towards having a great team of employees as a part of their organization. Even when the employee pool is in place, effective owners continually adjust job functions to better mesh with people within the company. This is necessary because, at the end of the day, in a small business, it’s the team that makes or breaks the company.

In fact, research shows that when asked “What matters most to you in your business?” small business owners first state, “My employees” and “The quality of my staff.” While talent is important to any organization, the caliber of talent in a small company — where employees assume more responsibility and tend to wear a number of different hats — is instrumental to company culture and vital to success.

Successful small businesses cultivate productive, satisfied employees.
Smart small business leaders realize that the people they have chosen have chosen them as well. Therefore, they treat workers fairly and often generously, respect their personal lives, provide opportunities for development, and fill their jobs with meaning.

In return, these employees impart their talent and efforts on the business while pulling together through transition and challenging times. To help loyal employees excel, small business owners should constantly strive towards creating the best possible workplace for the kinds of people who can help them achieve their business goals.

Building the right team

How does a small business owner go about building the right team? To start, they create a culture that reflects their beliefs about what is important and fair. Practices must be tailored to ensure success and long-term development. In turn, employees know what their employers expect because the entire company lives those values every day. Decisions become easier when anyone in a company can answer the question, “In this kind of situation, what do people like us do?”

Small business owners need to clearly articulate their core values so there is a framework for prioritizing “good values” and making hard decisions. The challenge is that values are assumptions and norms which are unspoken so the owner needs to consciously institutionalize company stances.

The second step is to build a team based on a solid understanding of what is needed to develop and maintain a successful business. Hiring the right people can be a challenge and there is a vast difference between hiring the best candidate who applies to a position and hiring from the best candidates in the market. This may require more creative recruiting strategies.

In fact, it is important to reflect upon who is doing the hiring. Sometimes the characteristics that make one a successful entrepreneur may also make them ineffective in hiring. Owners tend to be in a hurry and it can be all too easy to rush through the selection process and choose a less-than-stellar candidate when there are ten other things that need to be done now.

Rather than take on another responsibility, small business owners may opt to use an outside staffing or human resources firm. These firms recruit the candidates, conduct the interviewing and screening process and check references, allowing for a streamlined hiring process. Improving hiring protocol not only will make the company better for customers and other employees, but it will make the owner’s life easier throughout the onboarding process.

Dan Meyers, Human Resources Manager for Master Finish Company, a small company in Grand Rapids, Michigan that does metal plating, knows first-hand how difficult it is to find good employees.

“We struggle here at Master Finish with finding folks who have a quality background. Finding people with experience in what we do as well as a good, solid employment history is not easy,” Meyers said. “We have about 60 Master Finish employees and then use an additional 10 to 15 contract employees. We rely on employment agencies. They do a lot of legwork for us, [such as] screening and [reference] checks on employees. By now, they know what I’m looking for and I don’t have to spend a lot of time on it. That allows me to focus on more important things, like training, employee relations and monitoring people who come in through the agency to see if we want to bring anyone onboard permanently. It makes it so simple.”

Effective Talent Management = Employee Retention

Talent management — attracting highly skilled workers, integrating new workers, and developing and retaining current workers to meet current and future business objectives — is a critical function, especially in a small business where the number of employees is low and each employee is vital to the performance of the company.

“Talent management is all about gathering information, analyzing career interests and organizational business needs, identifying top talent and successes, and developing employees,” said Jim Caporrimo, Regional Vice President at Adecco Staffing US. “This reduces the risk of losing the best people and experiencing leadership gaps when turnover occurs.”

Again, research shows that the biggest factor in retaining employees is for them to feel appreciated and trusted. One way to demonstrate appreciation and trust this is through on-the-job and professional training, as employees recognize the investment their employer is making in their future.

Once the investment is made, employees need to put the training into play. Owners must create an environment that gives employees the autonomy they need to solve problems and make good choices and recommendations. Micromanaging an employee’s every move may lead to suffocation and make them feel their training was a waste. Giving them the space and the autonomy to make decisions and suggestions, coupled with constructive feedback, helps an employee grow and increases their sense of fulfillment.

In the same way that companies hold regular meetings regarding financial status and budgetary needs, small organizations should conduct regular talent review meetings to develop a clear strategy while increasing awareness around the available talent pool and successors. The talent review meeting is an important part of the overall management process and should be designed to review the performance and career potential of employees, discuss possible turnover risks, identify top talent, and create development action plans to prepare employees for future roles. Smaller companies, which rely so heavily on the dedication, persistence and passion of their employees — and where employees are intimately tied to business outcomes — should make talent management their number one priority.

People want a voice in their career path at an organization and it is important to encourage them to have one. Talent review meetings can help foster that dialogue by encouraging employees to draft career profiles and highlight their experiences, aspirations and factors such as willingness to take on different functions.

“An engaged workforce ultimately affects customer service and the success and profitability of the business,” Meyers said. “Employees who feel connected to the company strategy, their role, their leaders and their team are far more likely to give extra effort and stay with the company. What is happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer.”

Employee fulfillment is an important part of creating a customer-focused culture, especially at a smaller company where each employee stands out more. Fulfilled employees are happier, work harder and care more — all of which ultimately has a positive impact on customers’ experiences — and the success of the business.

Six tips for keeping top talent

Employee fulfillment is a key dimension of competitive advantage and business success. The opportunity to use one’s skills and growth opportunities outweighs salary as the leading reason to change jobs. The following are six tips for keeping top talent. Incorporating these six tips can form the foundation of a strong company management system and help build a successful workforce.

1. The Power of Money – Or Not

Employees want to be compensated fairly for their workload and contribution. But money is only a “deficit need.” If an employee is truly underpaid, it is a powerful motivator. By assessing your salary ranges and ensuring that you offer employees compensation at — or better yet — just above the regional average, you can keep employees feeling fairly treated.

2. Recognition as Motivation

The power of recognition for a job well done is extraordinarily important to employees. What mechanisms do you have in your company to provide recognition, both for individuals and for teams? Selecting a person or a team on a monthly basis that has accomplished an operational milestone, achieved sales objective or made a customer happy is a great idea, and they can be recognized through a congratulatory company-wide email or award.

3. Responsibility and Authority

Employees like to feel as if they are in charge. When they have accountability and ownership for their work, they feel and act more responsibly towards the well-being of an organization. Offer opportunities for project autonomy and authority to responsible high performers in your organization to show trust in their skills.

4. Opportunity for Growth

Employees are fulfilled when they feel there is room to learn, grow, take on additional responsibility and move up the ladder. Take a look at your own company. Do you provide both educational and assignment growth opportunities? A way to do this is through instituting formalized training sessions on regular basis for different levels of employees and implementing off-site training sessions partnering with local business school for more senior employees.

5. The Desire for Community

Employees want a sense of belonging to a worthy group and are happy when they genuinely like the people they work with, including both manager and peers. Companies miss an opportunity to help employees feel fulfilled when they overlook this dimension. By holding quarterly group lunches or after dinner get-togethers, employees have a regular chance to interact outside of work in a social setting.

6. Serving Others

Employees also find fulfillment in serving others and making a difference in other people’s lives. Does your business foster company loyalty and offer opportunities for employees to make a positive difference in the lives of customers and fellow employees? By instituting an online “suggestion box,” employees can submit tips on how to improve customer or employee relations and managers can pick an idea each month to implement.