What Big Business can (and should) learn from Small Business

We all have policies and procedures, right?  Periodic targets, motivational signs in the tea-room, managers for this and that, and performance reviews… and maybe you are right now looking into new performance metrics to understand your business better.  Well, what if there are easier and less risky ways of encouraging employees to do their best for you every single day?  Whatever other methods you use, please don’t forget these.

Learn your employees’ names.  Everybody’s.  And not only line managers need to do this – all the executives too.  There is no more powerful way to generate employee buy-in than to acknowledge that their existence.  Those who like approval will try harder when they know they have been noticed, and those with rogue tendencies are more likely to fall into line.

Leadership - Sheryl Sandberg quote (via The Compelled Educator)
Some people have great difficulty remembering names.  I do.  But it’s a skill that can be learned, and there are lots of tricks that make it easier.  The amount of effort you devote to learning those skills will be dictated by how much you want that buy-in.  However, if you literally have thousands of employees, you might wisely invest in name tags.

I’m not kidding.

Walk around.
  All line managers and executives should regularly be seen cruising the building(s).  Not so often that the employees start wondering if you ever do any work, but certainly often enough that they don’t feel isolated.  Because that feeling of isolation can be a mere symptom of actual isolation between operations and the executive.   On hard days, when work piles up, and when workers are tired or disgruntled, isolation is particularly damaging.

Isolated workers, with no sign of encouragement or even interest from their seniors, inevitably begin to wonder why they bother trying so hard to please the faceless and absent bosses – and productivity suffers.  It is far more difficult to resent a person who shows up from time to time; who says hello and shows interest.  And so you should be interested – these workers are making your money!

Staff meetings are not substitutes for walking through. They are absolutely not the same thing.  Not even remotely.  See the difference in these images:


Image sources:  MicroTek: Meeting Rooms and Pexels.com

But it gets worse.  Apparently it is trendy these days for executives to schedule appearances at different sites, some calling their visits Road Shows.  Seriously?  Do they think they are rock stars?  There is no more surefire way to widen the gap between executives and employees than to put yourself on a superstar pedestal, reinforcing the notion of ‘unreachable’, ‘inaccessible’.  At it’s least suspicious, the term still sounds as if the purpose is to hard-sell.  Even if done with the very best of intentions, these gaffes add up to give the impression that you’re probably a jerk.

Nobody wants that.  You don’t.  And your employees don’t either.

“If you want the cooperation of humans around you,
you must make them feel they are important – and
you do that by being genuine and humble.”

– Nelson Mandela

So if you need to have a meeting to distribute information (or whatever), have a meeting – and call it that.  But if you want to create engagement, you must engage with your people on a personal level.

Let’s say you do decide to visit.  What could you talk about?

Firstly, don’t assume everyone knows who you are, or what you do.  The onus on your employee is to do their own job well; not to know the ins and outs of the whole company (which is your job).   Introduce yourself.

Humility will cost you nothing, but earn you so much.

The first time around, employees might be a little startled to finally put a face to a name that they’ve heard but not seen in person.  And their minds might start racing to figure out why you’re there.  Let them know that you are there to meet them; to find out who the rest of the team are.

After swapping names, ask your employees what they do.  This is incredibly important. If executives (and managers) don’t know what an employee does, the message is that you don’t actually care what they do.  It makes sense that eventually such an employee will begin to wonder:  If nobody knows or cares what I do, why do I bust my arse doing it for you?

That’s probably enough for the first visit.  Easy, right?  Next time you visit (yes, you will need to visit again…), you can do a little more meeting and greeting, and also ask how it is going.  If workers recognise that your interest is genuine, they may even start to volunteer information about how they could do better.  When that happens, ask them what they need.  Sometimes, their insights could be very valuable, and other times they could be less relevant or feasible.  But they are just the icing on the cake – what you are building with this process is respect.

Workers will show up to earn a pay packet, but
they will move heaven and earth for a leader they respect.

Acknowledge their achievements.

Regularly, in small ways, is better than rarer grand gestures.  A spontaneous “good job” or “well done” has the immediacy effect of reinforcing the specific behaviour, so it is more likely that this specific behaviour will be repeated.  It also has the motivating benefit that comes with apparent sincerity.

How can you reasonably expect any person to work
their hardest to achieve your objectives
when you don’t even acknowledge that they exist?



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