Several recent studies have indicated that an overwhelming majority of Americans employees are headed for greener pastures the minute the job market picks up. Many of these unhappy staffers are likely looking for higher salaries and better benefits. Some, however, may simply be seeking a more rewarding job with more responsibility and more interesting challenges.
If you want to keep your employees from heading out the door as soon as things turn around, now is the time to let them know how much you value their contributions. Take time to work closely with your employees, helping to motivate them and maximize their productivity. Keep in mind that you’re not doing solely for the benefit of your bottom line. Instead, your goal should be to empower your staff to take on more responsibility, learn new skills, and get more out of their jobs.
It’s important not to delegate these mentoring efforts to someone else just because you’re “too busy.” This is about getting your hands dirty, about jumping in and being a hands-on boss. In tough times like these, when you’re asking more from employees than ever before, you must be very involved and present. You’re the boss and, ultimately, it’s your responsibility to make sure the team working well.
Take the time to listen to your employees. Simply announcing, “My door is always open” is not good enough. I’m not talking about management by walking around; if you’ve never done it before, suddenly wandering the halls and stopping by people’s workstations is more likely to scare your staff than help them. Try to find more casual opportunities to say hi and ask how things are going. Start a series of brown-bag lunches or informal get-togethers where everyone in your office has the chance to ask management questions and, most important, get honest answers.
“Empowerment” was a term so freely kicked about in the last decade that it’s almost become a cliche. But the truth is, empowered employees respect those leaders who trust them and work harder because of it. Empowering employees is easier than it sounds. It’s simply about granting your staff a good amount of autonomy and not punishing people for small slip-ups.
Flexibility counts. While some jobs require being paid hourly and punching a clock, a lot of work today does not necessarily need to take place between 9 and 5. If the job permits, tell your people what you need from them and when you need it. And then give them the tools, time, and space to accomplish their tasks on their own terms.
If you don’t feel like you can do this because you don’t trust your employees to come through, then you’ve got a bigger problem. Getting peak performance from your employees only works if you hire the right people in the first place and match their skill set to the tasks at hand. With the economy in transition, this might be a great time to assess your people, their skill sets, and the jobs you have them doing. If you think some people would be better suited to other positions, give them some new tasks and see how they perform.
If you are among the fortunate few who can afford to hire right now, make sure your new employees gets off to a strong start. During the first few weeks of employment, spend some time with them every day if possible. Make sure they understand their job duties and feel comfortable asking questions when they don’t.
Peak performance does not guarantee success. There are going to be times when your people make mistakes. This is not the time to start playing the blame game. First, figure out what went wrong. If one or two staffers made a big mistake, talk to them privately. Publicly humiliating an employee not only can destroy his or her morale, but will likely cast a negative pall over your whole company.
While you should always be prepared to answer your employees’ questions, make sure you don’t come across as a know-it-all. If your seasoned employees are constantly asking questions, chances are they aren’t really feeling truly empowered. When the occasion warrants, answer a question with a question — ask your employee how he or she thinks a problem should be solved rather than just throwing out an answer.
At some point your business may grow so large that you won’t have the time to be this hands-on with everyone. You might have to delegate some of your tasks to managers. However, the need for peak-performing employees never goes away. Hopefully, you’ve laid a strong foundation and your staff won’t need as much hand-holding. At some point, there should be a natural shift from managing performance (individuals) to managing results (companywide). But this can only happen if employees feel they’re working with you rather than simply for you.
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