Feb 18, 2016

Guest Blog By: David Romano, Benchmarkinc Founder

Finding and retaining productive long standing employees in the restoration industry has never been more challenging. Millennials, who now make up 34 percent of the workforce, require a rewarding working environment, or they will opt to go back to school or job hop until they find their perfect employment match.  All job boards are reporting a record high number of employers looking to fill positions and a decrease in the number of applicants.  And, highly competitive pay for qualified candidates is at levels well above what they were pre-recession.  So, what does all this mean?  It means that in order to avoid having to pay recruiting companies top dollar to poach your next great employee from your competitors, you need to focus on making the ones you have happy.

Information on empowering your employees is highly available, but applying these more “corporate” strategies to a small business environment needs a bit of interpretation.  Outlined below is a hodgepodge of beliefs of some of the top strategists, modified to be more relatable to a small business owner.  The goal is that after adopting a fair amount of these practices, you will realize a real difference in performance, satisfaction and turnover.

  1. Start with a Clear Strategic Vision

Give your employees something to get excited about, and to actively work toward. That something is the company’s vision statement.  It describes where the company is, where it’s going, and how it’s going to get from point A to point B.

  1. Make Sure Everyone is on the Same Page

Make sure individual work goals are aligned with those of the company.  Employees who are able to connect their efforts to the overall work of the company will find it much easier to make decisions that are in line with the organizational vision.

Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager found that at least two-thirds of employees who strongly agree that their manager helps them set work priorities and goals are engaged. The more engaged employees are, the more productive they are.

  1. Clearly Define Roles

People who don’t know what they are supposed to do can’t do it very well. Additionally, they need to know their boundaries, so they don’t step on others’ toes or create inefficiency through redundancy. Establish specific roles and responsibilities with employees so all are clear and can work together cooperatively.

  1. Remove Roadblocks and Provide Assistance

Eliminate any hurdles – organizational policies, practices or habits – that may keep employees from feeling or acting empowered. If they are struggling to improve due to policies and procedures, the only options are to concede to the current system, risk becoming a non-follower, or seek employment elsewhere where they can be successful.

  1. Don’t Babysit

Giving up control and empowering your team can be a terrifying experience for many leaders. You might feel compelled to watch their every move, but by doing so, you’re actually impeding his or her ability to grow. Give your team some space, trust them, and you might be impressed by what they’re able to achieve.

A leader who is constantly looking over the shoulder of employees is little more than a babysitter. Give your employees reasons and opportunity to stretch out on their own and even lead others. They may stumble, but they’ll learn a lot and build the respect of their colleagues while preparing to be future leaders themselves someday.

  1. Fling The Door Wide Open On Information

Not sharing information is the most disempowering thing you can do. A study by George Mason University showed that, apart from interesting work and appreciation for work well done, a feeling of being “in on things” tops the list of what many employees want. Sharing information ensures that everyone on the team understands the critical issues and essential tasks required for success.

  1. Foster Open Communication

So many companies are built on top-down communication from management. Employees in this environment feel there is no purpose in taking a stand, since they have no direct channel and don’t feel they’ll have an impact. As a leader, you may have clear direction and more experience, but that doesn’t invalidate feedback and ideas from people on the front lines. Give employees structured ways to make their thoughts, feelings and observations known easily and regularly.  Help them understand that their input is valued even if you decide to go a different way. Make sure you acknowledge them for sharing, and reward valuable input that helps the company.

  1. Let Employees Make Decisions

Nothing kicks employees’ personal power into high gear more than having a voice in the decision-making process when it comes to areas that affect their work. The people who are best qualified to make decisions about customer issues, for example, are often those closest to the customer. But, even your best employees will inevitably make some wrong decisions. If that happens, you need a culture that says to employees, “Fix it. If you can’t fix it, elevate it and we’ll help you fix it.”  Fear is the antithesis to empowerment. Eliminating the fear of making a mistake is one of the keys to truly empowering people.

  1. Give Them Flexibility

Okay, so you might be used to gripping the steering wheel really tight while directing your team. It’s time to let your employee drive. Sit down with your team and explain how much flexibility they will each have within a task. Don’t leave it open-ended – give them some parameters to work with so that they’re not overwhelmed with options.

  1. Tell Them How They’ll be Measured

The worst thing in the world is doing something, and not knowing if it made a contribution. You can’t become better unless you know how you’re measured.  Every time you hire someone you must have an honest conversation about what that person’s responsibilities are and how they’ll be evaluated.

  1. Require Accountability

People need to know when they are meeting expectations and, more importantly, when they are not. No one will maintain accountability if they don’t understand the consequences of failure. And, if they see others not being held accountable, they will see little need to make the extra effort for success. Be consistent and diligent in your measurement and rewards so employees are motivated to do their best.

  1. Present New Challenges and Opportunities

It’s important to challenge your employees so they can demonstrate and achieve their full potential. For example, you might notice that your marketing person tends to rely heavily on driving the same route talking to agents and adjusters – challenge them seek other outside opportunities and go beyond their comfort zone.  If you’re out of ideas, sit down with each member of your team and ask them what types of experiences would help them grow professionally.

  1. Encourage Safe Failure

Many employees, by their very nature, are risk-adverse.  That’s why they are employees and not entrepreneurs. If they work in an environment where the boss is always correcting them before they have a chance to execute, they will constantly look for approval before taking action or, worse, simply avoid any new or dynamic action. Give employees the opportunity to try new things in a way that doesn’t put the company in danger.

  1. Appreciate Their Efforts

Yes, it’s true that people get paid for the job, but the best employees don’t work at your company just for the money. Empowered people need a greater level of satisfaction than simply financial stability. They need to feel that leadership appreciates their contribution and values their participation. Don’t be shy about finding ways to say, “Thank you,” or celebrating the good things your employees do. If they have to ask how they are doing, you are doing your job poorly as a leader.

Empowering employees is fundamental to the success of your business.  Great leaders should be focused on improving the business through innovation and diversification instead of trying to have their fingers in all operational aspects.  Much more will get accomplished if the people paid to do their jobs are empowered to do so, believe in what they are doing, and when required, get the support they need from their leadership team.