When you think of key assets, most people immediately think of plant, machinery or vehicles. Yet the truth is, while your plant and machinery allow you to operate, it’s your staff who can most influence your progress.
However, hiring great personnel is only half the solution. Once you hire them, you’ve got to retain them. Here’s how.
Make sure your people know they are more than just a cog in the wheel:
Regardless of what an employee’s role or responsibilities are, they should know what’s going to happen if they achieve or fail.
If that’s not directly communicated, they will look to what happens to their colleagues to gain more insight.
If the employee’s responsibilities change:
Assigning a special responsibility that relates to an employee’s own professional or personal development can be a simple way to show you care about their future, even though you might not be able to take advantage of their skills in the long run.
This might mean researching a special topic, leading a small team or reporting back from a conference.
Benefit packages are usually provided in a one-size-fits-all template, but HR surveys regularly show what appeals to one staff member doesn’t appeal to another.
Survey your employees every couple of years to find out what they want, and make sure you act quickly on your findings. They may value professional development or personal development opportunities over pay increases, for example.
Often, hearing nothing about your employer’s future viability is worse than hearing bad news. At the same time, it can send the message that employees aren’t valued because they’re being kept in the dark.
If there are challenges ahead, detail the hurdles and involve staff in how they and the company are going to attack them.
A reward can be something as simple as a movie pass and a handshake. The important thing is that the employee’s hard work has been recognised.
A common managerial mistake is being ultra-fast in spotting mistakes and then treating a job well done as business as usual.
Set up a pressure-free system for gathering feedback, preferably anonymous, or just make it clear your door is open so employees can bring up any issues.
You may be surprised to find out what influences your employees’ day-to-day working happiness. You may find even tiny changes – such as changing the brand of coffee in the staff room – have a big impact.
If you want your employees to carry on investing their time and future, make the workplace meaningful and the company fun to work for.
Communicate your passion for your business to employees and tell them about its potential so it becomes a project they feel good contributing towards.
Working for a fun company can be an incentive almost as strong as the pay packet and benefits.
Asking someone to carry out a role without the proper tools or training contributes to a feeling of working in an unfair and inconsistent workplace.
Make sure your staff are coached and supported sufficiently by you or their supervisors.
Equally, staff have to be given adequate resources to fulfil their duties, and leeway at times when those resources might be temporarily unavailable.
Your managers should be coaching staff and offering constructive feedback, and you should be doing the same for them.
If you set a silent example, they may well be doing the same for staff – a trend that can have a big impact on staff retention.
Impart your experience to your managers or, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, hire a leadership trainer who can do it for you.
Giving employees the option of working away from the office for an agreed number of days each week or month can improve time management and employee satisfaction, without disrupting the organisational structure of your business.
And with the accessibility advantages of online software like LiveAccounts, which can be accessed from anywhere within a Wi-Fi hotspot, there’s never been a better time to do it.
However, before deciding if telecommuting could benefit your business, you need to compare the benefits with the potential issues or hidden costs you could encounter.
In some cases, telecommuting can increase employee work satisfaction and save businesses a significant amount of time and money.
There are some potential issues to consider before deciding if it is right for your business.
Adopting telecommuting in your business isn’t as easy as giving your staff some stationery and leaving them to it.
You will need to ensure your staff have access to technology that provides a vital link with your business.
Many small business owners believe they alone can do the job properly or get it done more efficiently, and are often reluctant to hand over tasks and responsibilities.
This perception often has more to do with poor management skills and communication than it has to do with the ability of staff to perform the tasks.
Avoid falling into the “I have to do it all myself” trap so you can manage the day-to-day operations of your business and build up a positive team spirit.
Your employees won’t see the point of trying to achieve a goal if they feel doomed to fail before they even start.
This doesn’t mean you need to aim unrealistically low. Just make sure your goals are challenging rather than daunting so employee engagement remains high.
Clear communication is key to effective delegation and performance management:
Like unrealistic goals, unrealistic deadlines will demotivate. It’s important to make sure your staff have the right training and tools, and enough time to do the job you’re expecting.
Training, tools and time are essential ingredients. If any of these are lacking, your employee will either take longer than expected to do the job or won’t be able to produce the quality of work you expect.
Give your accounting, admin and sales staff the right accounting tools for the job to allow them to work as efficiently as possible.
Try to find that delicate balance of allowing your employee enough space to get on with the job, while being available to problem-solve, trouble-shoot, or bounce ideas off.
Avoid the temptation to step up and take over at the first sign things aren’t going smoothly, and try not to watch over your employee’s shoulder – it can be intimidating.
While you’ll have a tried and tested formula that you know works, don’t insist your employee follow the same exact process.
If they’re able to achieve the desired outcome (or better) by following a different process, allow them to explore these options. You could discover new ways to improve your business’s productivity.
Monitor progress and give regular feedback as your employee learns what’s involved in a task. This function doesn’t stop once they know what to do, but you can ease off on the monitoring and rely on weekly updates or regular progress reviews.
Feedback is always important, whether an employee is underperforming or exceeding your expectations.
Positive feedback helps to establish a culture of good work. It reinforces the behaviour of star performers and might inspire other employees to try harder.
Nobody likes to tell someone they’re not performing to standard, but avoiding doing so means the person is not given a chance to improve. Focus on your employee’s performance, not their character, and try to offer constructive feedback and support, rather than negative feedback.
One-on-one coaching or mentoring can be an effective way to help train an employee for new responsibilities.
Shadowing someone doing the job or having someone else explain the job requirements and details in a different way might make it easier for your employee to understand and better grasp the new role they need to fill.
There’s scarcely a business in NZ that isn’t online – sending and receiving emails, storing and archiving sensitive business information, and carrying out banking and payroll actions.
Unfortunately, the sophistication of cyber attacks is advancing and every time you access the internet, you are at risk.
However, if you understand the threats and implement an Internet Policy for employees, you will have armed yourself to defend against cyber attacks.
Preventing an attack before it causes harm could save your business thousands of dollars.
Cyber crime is a fairly broad term that can be used to describe many internet threats. These include identity theft, fraud, spreading obscene material, unsolicited or ‘spam’ email, and spreading computer viruses or malicious software known as ‘malware’.
It’s vital to remember that every device that accesses the internet is at risk, including work PCs, notebooks and smartphones, as well as home computers used for work purposes.
At the very least, every device, including smart phones and tablets, should have up-to-date virus protection, and be running the latest operating system security updates.
You might not think you are at risk, but small businesses often have less sophisticated IT security measures compared with larger organisations, making you an easy and attractive target.
Here are the biggest online threats.
Cyber criminals look to access information to use illegally for financial gain. They might try to find out your company credit card details to go on an online shopping spree, or attempt to obtain your bank account number and online access details. Company databases containing customer data are another popular target for cyber criminals.
Malware is usually downloaded without the user’s knowledge as an attachment to programs, such as toolbars and even bogus anti-virus software. Most malware bugs transmit data, including your browsing habits and other personal information. More dangerous forms of malware can contain key logging software that takes note of keys entered on websites.
You can reduce your exposure by asking staff not to download programs and installing modern anti-virus software to detect and remove malware.
Many viruses are spread as email attachments that appear to be harmless.
Often an email will encourage you to open an attachment by pretending it is a joke, video clip or photograph. Teach staff to never open attachments or click on links in emails from unknown people.
Make it clear to your staff they should not use their work email accounts for personal correspondence. In addition, you can use a server-based spam filter as another way to stop spam reaching your business’s inboxes, but you will need to periodically check real messages haven’t been filtered there.
Internet and email scams can be easy to spot but in recent years cyber criminals have gone to elaborate lengths to try and seem as plausible as possible.
Cyber criminals often manipulate unsuspecting employees into divulging sensitive information through a variety of means, the most serious being phishing.
Phishing is a form of social engineering, and is a way of retrieving personal information, credit card numbers or passwords by fraudulently claiming to be a trustworthy person or organisation.
Common forms of phishing include email messages claiming to be from your ISP or bank requesting passwords or pin numbers. These emails often look authentic, emulating the look and feel of the real site.
Training your staff to avoid the pitfalls of inappropriate internet use can be as simple as developing a company policy with guidelines for safe practice.
The benefits of this type of training include a reduction in the risk of security issues arising, and improved IT and online skills in your staff.
It is important when writing the policy to clearly state who is responsible for implementing the plan and carrying out ongoing monitoring. If your business has more than a few staff or uses a departmental structure, make sure to include a timetable for implementation so everyone stays on the same page – communication is the key.
Given the high speed of development in the IT industries – and the fact new viruses, scams and malware are detected all the time – it is best to do as much as you can to stay informed about the latest threats. From there, it’s just a case of regularly reviewing the policy as online threats are detected, or at regular intervals.
Strong passwords are long, contain both upper and lowercase words and numbers, and aren’t similar to other passwords staff might use to access personal sites, like Facebook or an online banking website.
These passwords must then be regularly changed every few months.
Unlike traditional forms of marketing, social media marketing is about starting a discussion directly with your target market, not ‘interrupting’ them with advertising.
A social media policy contains guidelines for employees to help them use social media appropriately and effectively without unduly affecting their time management.
If your employees understand how to use social media, they will be more confident and able to maximise the benefits your business can obtain from the time they invest online.
A number of companies have guidelines for staff to cover both personal and official social media interaction.
You can use social media to market your business in a variety of ways. You may want to simply raise your brand’s profile with your target market, or more directly funnel them to sales channels.
Whatever the case, make sure you set out your goals clearly right at the beginning so you can consistently measure your success from day one.
Many businesses take an inclusive approach to social media marketing by forming an in-house social media marketing team of employees who are active on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
These employees are tasked with blogging, posting comments, updating pages and tracking success on a consistent basis.
If you have limited social media experience, you might want to do the same – in which case you should consult your team so they can inform your objectives.
Businesses who get the most out of social media know how they want to project their brand or image online and then tailor their messages to suit.
They plan their messages to ensure they are effective and they train staff to help them balance their social media responsibilities effectively with their other day-to-day tasks.
Your strategy one week might be trying to encourage ‘fan’ interaction on Facebook by asking for their thoughts on a topic, and the next week it might be to secure more followers.
Set aside a few minutes to discuss whether the previous week’s strategies were effective and what you need to work on to generate more interest.
This makes it easy to monitor content and compare responses between media platforms.
Some social media management software is able to generate reports on how many people have interacted with your posts, letting you see what is working and what isn’t.
Use these valuable tools to compare your weekly performance and feed this back into your social media strategy.
Different social media platforms are like different traditional marketing channels. You’d take a different approach to advertising on TV, for example, than you would on radio.
It’s the same with social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook – each of them are different channels with unique communities and different ways of working.
Social media can be addictive. In fact, it can become all-consuming if you let it, whether you’re using it for marketing or your own personal use.
Small to medium-sized businesses tend to use social media in tailored ways, but they invariably come across a lot of the same pitfalls.
Make sure you:
Time management is a key issue for every small business leader. Learning to identify, measure and minimise wasted time is an essential skill.
However, using automated accounting software like LiveAccounts can make your day considerably more productive.
The key to improving time management is to first identify how you’re using your time.
The good news is that there are plenty of time trackers and time management systems available to help you record your day and how you use it.
There are myriad free time-tracking apps available for downloading onto your computer or mobile device.
Many come with features that allow multiple users to use the same account at the same time, so you can pick an app your whole business can use if you want to track your staff’s use of time also.
The trick is to employ a system that’s accessible and easy to use. That way you and your staff are more likely to use it consistently.
For example, AccountRight Live allows you to access your accounts from anywhere. You just have to be within range of a wireless internet hotspot.
Most if not all small business owners contend with the same kinds of interrupting, time-wasting activities that force you to ‘context switch’ from one kind of job to another.
These time-wasting activities make it much harder to complete the jobs on your ‘to do’ list.
Report compiling is a typical time waster, for example. If you’re wasting a lot of time compiling reports, find a solution which allows you to compile reports at the push of a button.
Once you’ve spotted your typical time-wasting activities, make a list and brainstorm solutions with your staff.
If, for example, you’re interrupted by phone enquiries all day, look into training staff to answer the kinds of calls you don’t need to be taking. You could also upgrade your website so it answers all the common questions you don’t need to be answering on the phone.
Once you’ve put a solution in place, keep measuring time wasted by completing timesheets in MYOB Payroll or another time-tracking system so you can continually improve.
Letting go of the reins a little can be hard, but it’s essential for growing businesses.
If you take a cold, hard look at your working day, you’ll find there are potentially heaps of ground-floor responsibilities you don’t necessarily have to shoulder.
Whether it’s compiling reports – which can be done for you by MYOB Payroll – or holding the fort at the front counter, there are many tasks your employees could take off your hands.
Don’t forget, delegating also provides staff training and job satisfaction benefits also. Showing trust in staff can potentially do wonders.
Time management isn’t just about managing your own time to improve and maintain efficiency, it’s also about managing your staff’s time.
They can only work as efficiently as their working environment allows them to.
For this reason, you should make sure they have the tools and systems in place to improve efficiency.
Typical time-wasting issues include:
Brand ambassadors are employees who are so keen on your business they effectively do your advertising for you.
Consider your top-performing employees with customer service skills – they most likely put in the effort because they believe in your business.
Present their energy and commitment to your customers to promote your brand in a cost-effective way.
A brand ambassador is an employee who takes your brand and runs with it – putting their face to your brand and promoting your products and services.
The idea of encouraging the right employees with customer service skills to become brand ambassadors has gained a huge following as businesses of all shapes and sizes embrace social media.
Blog posts and tweets have provided new tools for brand ambassadors to communicate even more effectively to a wider audience.
Using brand ambassadors is a great way to divert your marketing dollars away from methods such as print or television marketing.
It’s a simple way to allow the genuine (and hopefully infectious) enthusiasm of employees to promote your business and brand.
Brand ambassadors could benefit your business by:
Although logos, taglines and marketing campaigns are important for brand success, they don’t operate in isolation. It’s your employees who are responsible for delivering your brand promise and connecting with customers.
Marketing methods often throw your brand message far and wide, but it’s your employees who need to live up to your brand promise – beyond the all-too-familiar marketing hype.
To succeed, you need employee support and buy-in.
Before you rush out and choose your ambassadors, there’s one obvious ingredient you’ll need – a good, solid product or service on which to build your brand or reputation.
Your employees can’t be expected to promote your brand if your products have serious flaws or shortcomings, or if your service hardly ever lives up to the marketing hype. This can be a tall order even for employees with top customer service skills.
If you need to, spend some time refining your products and services so you can get to the point where your employees are naturally proud to be promoting what you do.
Not everyone is naturally social and your employees will have different personalities and objectives.
Keep an eye out for:
These employees value your brand and have great customer service skills. They promote your brand when given the chance but could feel constrained by what they can, or are willing, to do.
These are employees who live, eat and breathe your brand. They are active word-of-mouth marketers who live the brand at work and in their communities.
It’s unlikely that your staff will spontaneously become ambassadors for your brand or business, so you’ll most likely need to step in and help them get started.
Remember, if the company owner and senior managers live and breathe the brand, employees are more likely to follow suit.
Consider involving your employees in brand decisions – it helps them get behind your brand history and future direction.
Emphasize the impact each employee has on your brand, allowing for personal interpretation. If an employee uses your social media platforms responsibly, they should be allowed to show personal expression (within certain guidelines, of course) to promote your offering. It all adds up to a more credible marketing voice.
Investing in in-house brand awareness and promotion provides your business with a new, cost-effective, word-of-mouth marketing channel, with several spin-off benefits.
Employees will be more engaged and feel more involved in their jobs, while customers will receive better attention and service.
Any issues and complaints will be resolved quickly and sales and profit are likely to increase too. It’s a win–win situation.
Like any marketing endeavour, you’ll need to benchmark your costs and measure success.
As the lines between work and life continue to blur, people are caring more and more about work-life balance issues alongside standard concerns like ensuring competitive pay and benefits.
For this reason smart businesses are changing the ways they work and think to provide their employees with more workplace flexibility. This helps them retain existing staff and compete as a more attractive employer on the job market.
This Action Plan covers steps to introducing flexibility into your workplace in a targeted and measurable way. At the end, you can download your answers to refer to later, or use as a document for future planning.Start Online Lesson