Employee engagement in a small business is difficult.
The dream of most small business owners is to clone ourselves. We’d all love a workforce made up entirely of people just like us.
Wouldn’t it be great if all our employees were just as dedicated to the business as we are? If they were all self-starters and could take decisions?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if our staff cared as much about the business as we do?
Unfortunately, in the real world
Employees are not the same as us. Even if you get staff who are super competent, lovely, well trained and very experienced. It is always going to be a job to them.
They didn’t invent this company. They’re not going to make all the profit out of it.
Even if they stay with you for ten years, working for your business is not going to be their legacy in the same way as it is for you. It’s not their baby; it’s their job.
Which is why employee engagement is hard in a small business. But recognising this is the first step to employee engagement at your company.
Getting people to care
You need to recognise that your employees are not going to be as crazy about your company as you are. They might have other things going on in their lives which they care about just as much as their job, or perhaps more so.
This is why you have to add a new area to your job description as MD.
You have to be the “head of employee engagement”. Or that’s what your title would be if you had an 80k a year job in a big company.
As the head of employee engagement, you have to think about how to get people to care. This is becoming increasingly difficult, as people see their identities and life purpose more and more as something distinct from their jobs.
What do employees care about
Well, that’s something you have to find out by talking to your staff and finding out what’s important to them. What they are interested in.
If you were the head of employee engagement at a big company, you’d be talking about “aligning your company goals with the values of your staff”.
What does this mean for employee engagement in small businesses
This means if your priority is more about closing the sale than worrying too much about the last details of the quality to your customer then you are going to have trouble with an employee who wants to take meticulous care over what colour paperclips you should use.
Both are valid points of view, but the two don’t mix.
Having someone who is very detail oriented, when you are much more strategic or gung-ho about sales can be great as they can complement your skills. But you need to be very clear about what the overall business priorities are, and open about how you’re going to work together.
Team building days
What people organise for their staff away days and training is always interesting. This usually says something about the perceived values of the company.
The organisation which has a pampering day at a spa probably has a boss who wants a spa day himself. Or he believes that staff are stressed or overworked.
The company which organises a graffiti team building day, either has a boss who is interested in urban art, or wants to do something which everyone can join in, but is likely to appeal to the values of staff in their 20’s.
Although these team building days look like fun for everyone, make sure that they’re going to be meaningful for everyone. 55-year-old Robin in accounts may or may not want to be the next Banksy if you book the graffiti art day.
For small business owners, look at other ways you could motivate your employees. Maybe you can introduce some employee benefits.
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