Small business owners have it tough. They don’t have a lot of employees to spread the workaround. Quite often, a single person manages the work that four people do at a large company. So, when one employee doesn’t pull their weight, the effect on the bottom line is glaring. Not just that, getting all employees to excel is critical to the ongoing growth of a small business.
One of my clients in the technology space recently shared that his business had plateaued. He had good employees, and they did what they were supposed to do, but they rarely did more than they were asked. This meant it was up to him to not only come up with ideas for growth, but also manage execution of those projects.
I thought it would be helpful to share the key areas I explored with him to solve the problem.
Treatment of new ideas
How you respond to ideas plays a huge role in how often your employees come up with new ideas. I’ve worked with many clients who lament the fact that their employees don’t innovate, but when I observe these leaders in meetings, they shoot down every new idea that employees bring up. The worst part is that they don’t even realize they’re doing it. The truth is some leaders are fearful of the unknown and want an airtight plan before even considering an idea. The thing is, when we’re going into unchartered territory, there’s always an element of risk involved, and there will be more wrinkles than you’re comfortable with. You need to be open to new ideas, and even if they’re outrageous, don’t dismiss them. Have your employees bring a plan together and explore the contingencies. When employees have a chance to implement their own ideas, they’re more likely to take ownership and do whatever needs to be done to prove their idea works.
Look at the way your compensation plans are structured. Do you only pay your employees a base salary and a Holiday bonus at the end of the year? If so, there’s no incentive for people to do more. Motivation is an intriguing concept. While we’d all like our employees to be self-motivated, the truth of the matter is, human beings’ behavior is dependent on outcomes. Generally, rewards for good behavior produce continued good behavior. So, if you want your employees to go beyond their job description, give them a portion of the company profits. Or, if you already give them an annual performance-based bonus, make sure a portion of that comes from some business metric such as profit, revenue, or growth rate. Going back to the previous point, perhaps consider an award for the most innovative idea of the year.
Treatment of failure
The manner in which leaders deal with failure is a huge indicator of how likely employees are to bring new ideas forward. Almost every leader I’ve spoken to says that they are accepting of mistakes. They go on to tell me how they continue to support employees even when they make mistakes because mistakes are learning opportunities. In reality, these same leaders make a huge deal when things go wrong. They don’t let mistakes go as easily as they think they do. Employees are generally called into a large meeting, the problem (and the mistake) are dissected along with what happened and exactly when and by whom. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with retracing your steps to see where things went wrong so that you don’t repeat those mistakes. It’s an altogether whole other thing to isolate the people who messed up and rake them over the coals. What’s worse, when an employee makes a mistake, that mistake is held against them for the rest of their working career at the company, especially if it’s a high-profile mistake. You might think this is an exaggeration, but I have seen this with every single one of my clients.
When an employee or a team makes a mistake, ask them to tell you how they would handle it differently next time. Don’t ask them to give you a play by play of what happened and how. When you focus on moving forward, rather than reliving the past, employees know that you’re really forgiving their mistakes and are trusting that they’ve learned from the behavior. And, they’re more likely to take risks and bring forward innovative ideas in the future.
Involvement in setting strategy
Including employees in your journey to take the company to new levels is crucial in getting them to over-contribute. When employees have had a say in the direction of the company, they are more likely to work harder to get to the destination. Most companies will have their senior leadership team at the strategy table. The senior-most people decide where the company is going and how it will get there. Then they cascade that message to the rest of the employees. The reason, they say, is that they have the experience and are best equipped to make those decisions. But, think for a moment. Who in your company is actually dealing with your customers, doing the research, and handling sales and customer service? Who is actually meeting your customers face to face on a daily basis? Shouldn’t those people, then, at least have a say in where the company should go. Shouldn’t they be given an opportunity to tell you what customers tell them every day?
If you’re a small company, it’s easy enough to have everyone invited to the meeting to have a broad discussion. If you’re on the larger side of a small company (more than 15 employees), it might be easier to have people submit their suggestions and ideas beforehand. Whichever way you decide to do this, when employees are involved in strategy setting, they’re more likely to feel a sense of ownership in the direction of the company and excel.
Every small business is different, and this isn’t an exhaustive list, but exploring each of these factors will move you toward the “above and beyond” culture you want. Implementing all 4 ideas will guarantee results.
I’d love to hear of things you’ve done to move your employees from good to great.