In more than thirty years of working with small businesses I have come to recognize the importance of company culture. I have seen poorly run enterprises that continue to survive in spite of neglecting their employees. And I have seen mediocre companies who focus on product or marketing or anything but their workers and continue to make their numbers. But I have also worked with small businesses that thrive. Their secret? They build company cultures in which employees become fully engaged.
Studies (and my own observations) have convinced me that engaged employees create better business outcomes. In a manufacturing context, engaged employees build better products and increase first pass yield. In a healthcare setting, happier professionals improve patient outcomes. In every small business operating today, creating a company culture that fosters employee engagement is not only good for the employee, but especially good for business and their customers.
There are numerous ways to promote employee engagement, but three of the most important are creating cultures that care for employees, build employee trust, and in which everyone feels fairly treated.
Cultures Who Care
Unfortunately, small businesses often face resource challenges that make employee care difficult to achieve. Larger companies can create a human resources (HR) department, staffed by one or more HR professionals whose job is to help employees navigate everything from salary enquirers to questions about scheduling, sick leave, vacation time accruals and more. Many small businesses manage HR challenges using paper-based forms and vertical file cabinets. Others will appoint one administrative person whose partial job (less than 10 percent) is to field employee enquiries.
Fortunately, some of the newer HR technologies available today can help small businesses create a culture in which employee needs are addressed and respected. It is now possible for small businesses to provide their employees with the tools they need to answer a wide array of basic HR questions, without having to hire an HR professional. When employees have access to easy-to-use solutions that can tell them how much they were paid this week, about next week’s schedule, the company’s policies and more, they not only feel valued, but their value increases. They spend less time digging through a file cabinet or speaking with a paraprofessional for HR answers, and more time being productive. Moreover, when difficult HR questions are quickly and easily answered, morale improves. Happier employees equal happier customers equal better business outcomes.
Cultures Who Trust
More often than not, small business employers must be so hawkish about the bottom line they worry about employees making decisions that can hurt the enterprise. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to scheduling. If an employee wants to switch a shift with another employee, problems can arise. When two employees who work in the same area want to take the same day off, conflicts can lead to frayed feelings and bad morale. More importantly, if business owners are the ones making these kinds of scheduling calls, the owner can place him or herself in the position of appearing as though he or she is playing favorites, or worse … appears not to trust employees to make these determinations themselves.
Once again, some workforce management technologies provide small businesses with the tools they need to ensure employee decisions are good ones while also demonstrating company trust. Some of today’s scheduling technologies, for example, enable businesses to build in scheduling rules that manage actions like trading shifts, and creating optimal scheduling, so these tasks happen automatically. Moreover, when employers provide their employees with these kinds of tools, they foster the notion of trust. Once employees understand how to use the intuitive tools, owners no longer need to be directly involved; they trust employees to use the tools to arrive at their own solutions.
Once again, employees who feel trusted to do the right thing feel respected and appreciated and are happier, leading to better business outcomes.
Nothing can erode employee engagement like perceived preferential treatment, nepotism, or the idea some employees are getting away with making bad decisions while others are doing the right thing and receiving no recognition for it. Again, today’s technology solutions can actually promote employee fairness. Consider the time clock.
Some might consider the implementation of a good time and attendance solution as a demonstration of mistrust. But from my experience, the opposite is true. Employees know when their colleagues are getting away with cheating the system. When some of the new time and attendance solutions are installed in a way that makes employee timekeeping automatic (and foolproof) all employees walk onto a common playing field. And when everyone is playing on the same field, the idea of fairness is not only promoted but enhanced. Contrary to what you might think, most employees are happy to see time and attendance solutions that allow cheating for the few replaced with solutions that ensure fairness for everyone.
Lower Turnover Costs … and Thrive
Ask any small business owner to identify their most expensive and important asset and they will tell you it is their people. Employees not only account for the highest expense of any business, but they also spell the difference between failure and success.
Turnover and the resulting resources required to replace and train key individuals is a huge business liability. Workers who like their culture, who are trusted and treated fairly, thrive. When your employees thrive, they not only remain with your company, but help build and promote your reputation as a world-class employer, making it easier to recruit and hire excellent employees as your happy employee-led company grows.
If you want to create a successful business, then build a company culture that fosters employee engagement. More engaged employees are happier, more productive, and more likely to be retained. Lower turnover rates mean businesses can avoid training and transition costs, which translates into significant savings for the company as well as better outcomes for the business and for everyone who works to make it great.