As any good small business owner knows, a company’s people are what really determine its success. After all, you could have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have dedicated sales people who believe in it, engineers to fix its flaws or improve upon its design, and customer service reps to listen to customer feedback, good luck getting it sold. This is all the more true in small businesses, where each employee has a magnified impact on the company’s everyday and long term operations.
As your most important resource, it’s important that your employees thrive while under your employ. How can you help them do that? Let’s take a look.
1. Give Them Opportunities for Advancement
Sure, your employee was all gung-ho on day one of the new job, but now that a few years have gone by, some of that enthusiasm has waned. And why shouldn’t it have? It’s only natural for the best employees to be ambitious and to want to tackle new and interesting problems. Isn’t that why you hired them?
Providing opportunities for advancement at a small business doesn’t necessarily have to look the same as advancement at a large corporation, especially since your ladder is much shorter. Instead, why not give your employees bonuses for reaching concrete new goals? Alternatively, you could have seasoned employees pitch their ideal new job title, created from any self-discovery they’ve done as they’ve pinpointed their talent in their current roles. An employee who clearly wants to be a leader can be given a new project to head up.
Whatever route you take, your company will do much better when it adopts a mentality of developing the talent you have, rather than constantly hiring, re-training and firing.
2. Create a Culture of Trust and Autonomy
Hand in hand with the above is creating a culture of trust and autonomy. In the most obvious sense, this means training your employees and then stepping back, trusting that they know what they’re doing now, and letting them go (of course with regular check-ins). Doing this will not only show your employees you believe and are invested in them, but, done the right way, it can also promote ownership — because when you do check back in, they know you expect good results.
In a less obvious sense, this also means giving employees a platform for pitching their own big ideas or pet projects based on what they see as the company’s most pressing needs. Of course, you don’t have to approve every or even any idea, but employees will feel nurtured and valued if their ideas are shown respected and given space to breathe.
3. Invest in Ergonomics and Wellness
Employees are far more than the talents they bring to work. They possess minds, bodies, and souls that need looking after too. Employees will work better, faster, and more productively when they feel comfortable in their space and free from illness and pain. For that, it’s essential to have good ergonomics and wellness programs in place. Whether you buy your employees who type all day a good split keyboard or you buy the office gym memberships, together, these kinds of programs will keep your employees feeling good and focused on the tasks at hand, rather than on their pain. And with more mental space free, they’re far more likely to be creative and give you 110%, both of which are essential for a small staff and an even smaller budget that needs to stretch.
4. Block Off Time for Creativity
Sure, we all want our employees to be as productive as possible. But if they’re constantly in that “get it done” mode, they’ll lose perspective of bigger trends in your industry, become too hyper focused on the details, and may even burn out. Giving your employees a regular set time to work on their own creative projects much like they do at Google will help your employees refresh and rejuvenate so they have more energy for the job. And who knows? While they’re off tinkering, they just might have a brilliant idea that helps you beat your competitors. And if not, that’s okay, too. At least they’ll feel reenergized and grateful to you for seeing their whole humanity, rather than just what they can check off of your task list.
5. Pay for Professional Development
One great way to help your employees continually challenge themselves and move up in the industry is to help pay for professional development. If you’ve got the budget to pay for a higher degree or online community college classes, these are two ideal ways to sharpen your employee’s skills. If not, then why not bring an expert or two into the office for a seminar? You’ll educate all of your employees at once, and at the end of it all, you just might have your next time lead on your hands.
As a part of this, it’s important to follow up these kinds of opportunities by consistently pushing your employees further than they think they can do. Give them a safe, low consequence space for trying out these new skills, and be patient as they worry about whether or not they can do it. Usually they can — they just need a little encouragement from the boss!
6. Provide Opportunities for Socializing
Some offices will be more social than others, and that’s okay! No one is advocating here for forced socializing. That said, if you can get your employees together for a beer or just an office hangout now and again, you’ll deepen bonds, and also just get a better a sense of who everybody is. This takes you out of those intense work moments, and also makes it easier to put aside any current conflicts and just relate as human beings.
7. Support Work Life Balance
Another key part of supporting workers as complete human beings is ensuring that they have an appropriate amount of work-life balance. This means not working long hours unless absolutely necessary — or at least making up for it when they do with extra time off — and providing flexible hours to people who need them. For example, a parent who needs to pick up their kids every day at 3:30 will feel a lot more invested in your company if they can simply make up those hours later in the evening.
8. Give Them Helpful and Actionable Feedback
From elementary school to the workplace, a key part of developing and improving is receiving clear, actionable feedback. This can be quite difficult for leaders to do, as you don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of their particular job. What’s more, much of the literature on this subjects can feel very cold and jargony.
In giving feedback, it’s fine to embrace these ambiguities. Give the employee an opportunity to tell you what they need out of you, and then provide them with very concrete feedback based on what you’ve seen and what you need. As a rule when teaching, it’s best to teach through the employee’s strengths, rather than their weaknesses. That means saying things like, “I really liked how you did X — you’re really talented at that. How do you think we could use your skill at X to help your improve with Y?”
From there, it’s important to help your employee set growth priorities and make clear plans for next time. In short, feedback should feel like mentorship, rather than punishment.
9. Look to Them for Expertise
If you’ve built your business by yourself, it can be difficult to delegate tasks to new employees and trust that they’ll do them well. But while it’s true that they’ll do things differently, it’s important not to forget that you hired them for their expert. Employees will feel respected and encouraged if you look to them for guidance and leadership in their area, rather than telling them what to do. At the same time, it’s important to encourage your employees to ask questions so there’s not a culture that values overconfidence over learning and knowledge.
10. Have a Mission That Matters
Last but not least, to really get your employees motivated and invested in your company, it’s important to have a mission that really matters. With this to guide everything you do, employees will be more passionate, creative, and eager to perform.
Of course, the key to helping employees thrive is to get great employees in the first place. But once that’s in place, there’s much you can do as a small business owner to help them — and your company — thrive. The real question is: where will you begin? Let us know in the blog comments!