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Friday, 28 October 2016

Engagement in small companies

Sally Cross

In the past couple of weeks, I have seen two fantastic examples of great customer service and business growth. The first is a local business who fixed a small plumbing job for me. I am going back to them with a much bigger piece of work and I have told at least five other people how good they are. The second is Unipart where an employee working in the staff restaurant identified a gap in their offering, now implemented it's added over £10,000 revenue in just a few months.

So, what do they have in common? In both cases, it's people at the coal face who have made a significant difference to the bottom line in those businesses, and it's the way they are treated that has empowered and motivated them to go well beyond their job description.

In contrast, I was visiting a small business last week which has just been taken over by a new owner. I didn’t meet the owner – he’s not often around, but the person I went to meet couldn’t have been more unhappy; ideas he initiated have been stopped, he no longer feels valued, and he is thinking about leaving.

In smaller businesses, we have the great advantage that it's perfectly possible to have direct contact with every individual. At each contact we can work towards creating an engaging and empowering culture.

But many small business owners struggle with the feeling that by giving their people autonomy and personal responsibility, truly empowering them, they may lose control. On the other hand, empowering your people will ensure that they resolve many more problems themselves, come up with ideas that will expand your product or service offering, and work with your customers in a way that will help grow your business. It will also lead to you being able to step back from the detail and take a more strategic role.

So, what can you do about it?

Test your own mindset. Employee engagement is both a mindset and a way of behaving. Engaging behaviour will come more easily to managers who truly value their people, want them to enjoy their work, grow in their role, do a great job and believe that they are doing work that is valued and is valuable. Once your mindset is on the right track, it's critical that you then act in a way that delivers on this for every one of your people as your normal way of working.

Co-create your organisation’s purpose. Inspire both the hearts and minds of your people by working with them to find a way to describe your organisation’s impact on the lives of its customers, clients or whoever else you are trying to serve. Create this purpose in a way that every employee can see how their work helps to achieve this purpose.

Be clear on what motivates each person. If you know your people well enough to be aware of what motivates each of them, you'll create energy and commitment. Possible questions to ask your people to bring out these motivators and link them to work are: what makes it a great day at work, how important is your work to you, what do you really enjoy, what gives you a sense of achievement, what bugs you about your work, what ideas do you have about how you can improve your role? Ask people at the end of each week what has been their biggest achievement or the thing they are most proud of that week.

Fix the things your people say need to be changed or improved. Use a simple feedback process to ask people what the three things are that they most value about working here, and what the three things are that they would most like to see changed or improved. My biggest tip here is that you need to ensure that your people really believe they can be open and honest in giving their answers. When you have the data, you need to act! Just think how one small suggestion has made such a difference to Unipart.

Just doing these things will inherently increase employee engagement and help to grow your business.

This is a guest blog by Sally Cross of Engage for Growth. Sally is currently setting up her own business focusing on unleashing the potential of individuals, teams and organisations to improve business performance. For help in improving the performance, contribution or engagement of your people, contact sally.cross@engageforgrowth.net.