It seems, at least in my experience, that there are two types of small businesses. The kind with short-term staff who seem to constantly change, or the kind where the staff has been firmly cemented in place over the past 15 years. If you have ever walked into say a family owned restaurant, or tailor shop, you know what I’m talking about. You either deal with the unenthusiastic new face, or the 80 year old who has basically been in the business his whole life. In the little-business world, key employees are not easily replaced, nor are they easy to find. It seems like most great employees are attracted to the ever glamorous, big-business culture. There they are absorbed into the woodwork, never to emerge again, with the exception of a lucky few who rise to the occasion—becoming the CEOs, CMOs, etc. of this world. But there are those few that stay in our little world and it is not by sheer happenstance.
As we who live in this realm know, there are huge benefits to finding a place here. Here, people listen, take your opinion into account, and care for one another. Compared to a large company where you are “just another cog in the ever moving machine of large business” it is extremely refreshing. If employment was like a romantic relationship, a small-business would be the shy and conservative, but caring and cute brunette, sitting in a nook reading her Jane Eyre—while big business would be the loud, somewhat obnoxious, attractive but growingly annoying, blond at center stage that demands everyone’s attention. It may look good at first, but the attraction fades with time, as there is little engagement to be found sitting at a cubicle mindlessly punching away at keys, farming out work—while the brunette, however less interesting they seemed at first, somehow can hold your attention, challenge you in conversation, and get you to stay. So why do little businesses lose their best employees? Well most do not try hard enough to keep our theoretical conversation going. And, like I said, that rather attractive blonde-big business is right over there calling out, ready to sweep them away. We do not hold that large-scale attraction, but we have the personality. We just have to show it.
So on to the question at hand, with that good-looking blonde, how do we keep our man? Well its simple really, its just like any other relationship. Let’s frame this in the way of a first date—in business terms, the first couple years of your employee’s tenure, and they’re doing great.
First thing to remember? Listen to what they have to say. No one will be shut off more than a significant other that doesn’t care what they have to say. It’s much the same with great employees. Often times they will have helpful suggestions and new ideas that would further the company. If you as the employer don’t listen and respond to these ideas, employees can get turned off very quickly—driven to find other jobs, another relationship, and your chance is gone. Often times, other articles addressing the same topic find this a very difficult thing to address; after all in a place with 10,000 employees, it’s hard to hear everyone out. But in our world, where the average amount of workers totals a grand 20-30, it is pretty easy to at least hear a little of what our employees have to say. It doesn’t take much, but it plays huge dividends, and helps your employees feel wanted. It’s something simple and easy that we can do, that large employers can’t.
Moving on with our date, everything’s going fine. It’s now time to prod a little and get more in depth. So you pop the question, “What are your long-term goals?”. It may seem a little trivial and cliché—or perhaps a line from some romantic comedy (In fact it is, I recall hearing it in Think Like A Man, which I would recommend)—but the question has merit. Where do you see yourself in five years? If you own your business and are reading this to figure out how to keep your employees—first of all, good job, that’s pretty tough—then you may answer pretty easily, but I would be willing to bet your employees wouldn’t. It may be hard to believe, but I know many business type staff who have changed jobs rather regularly, in fact, my close personal friend is on her fourth job in twelve years (for those of you who don’t like math—like me—that’s no more than four years at one company). Talking about these long-term goals is key to keeping your employees because you and your business should be in them! Again, it’s another thing that can be easily accomplished in a small business where employees number in the tens, rather than the ten thousands.
So there you have it! We’ve made it past our first date successfully. Lets say we are now in years 3-6 years of keeping your star employee. But other companies have begun to notice their success. They are the jealous suitors some of whom will stop at nothing to gain such a great employee, and some of them are jocks and Calvin Klein models, the Fidelities and Geicos of the world who have a massive amount of resources and attraction. So how can we keep our best employees now? In a similar fashion as before! Again, it’s just like dating
Now that they have stuck around for a while and gained some repute, why not reward them with giving them more freedom of what they want to do? I’m not saying to allow them free reign over the company, just give them a choice in what project out of three or four that they want to handle. It’s like going to a nice jewelry store and allowing your girlfriend to pick a piece, instead of giving her one. At the start of the relationship a surprise gift was nice, and now it is still good, but she really didn’t want another diamond necklace, because she already had one just like the one you gave her—she kind of really wanted the gold bangle that would go great with that dress she bought earlier. Employees appreciate choice, especially those who have proven themselves. The same-old-same-old get old after a while—so choice and variety is key. This is one area small businesses really have to try for though. Its easy to give your employees the pick of the crop so to speak when you have a hundred luckiest to do the other, less interesting work—but at a our type of organization, that isn’t an option. It’s a hard task, but just allowing your employees some choice at least once and a while will really boost their spirits.
So we’ve gotten past the gift stage but what’s next? Well we are at the point in our bond where we can be truly honest with each other. It’s the key to every relationship—openness and willingness to accept critique. After all, this is how you resolve issues and grow stronger as a couple. It’s the same in business. Whether or not you choose to believe it, great employees like critique. They want to get better, work harder, or be more efficient. This is not to say slam them with criticism, just give them the bad with the good. Don’t be afraid to actually use those employee evaluations to there fullest. It is a time to reflect upon that individual and not only will it benefit the company as a whole if they are taken seriously, but the employee will feel engaged and wanted.
My final advice to you in this dating venture, is to keep watch over your managers. A bad manager
is like an extremely annoying best friend, or an over involved, super in-your-face boyfriend. Nobody wants to be checked in on every second of the day—at every stage of the project—just like nobody wants to be texted for 24 hours straight. It’s just too much, and it will lose you your best employees who want freedom. Just sit back and supervise, they will do the rest.
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