Beverly Smallwood

Article Summary:

Guidelines for making your business a great place to work.

How to Make your Business a Great Place to Work

Ask the typical manager or business owner what it takes to attract and keep good people. Frequently, pay and benefits are at the top of the lists they name.

But, is money really a motivator? Take this quick true-false quiz to test your knowledge of the facts.

  1. True or False? – High wages are a must if you want to attract good employees.
  2. True or False? – Good money is what keeps good people.
  3. True or False? – Money is a motivator.
Did you answer “false” to all three? If you did, you’re right! Here’s why.

1. High wages are a must if you want to attract good employees.
Competitive wages are essential, but workers today are looking for more than money. They look carefully at the quality of the work environment.

2. Good money is what keeps good people.
The research clearly shows that if people are staying only because of what they would lose financially by leaving, the outcomes are poor performance, excessive absences, high tardiness, conflicted interpersonal relationships, and low promotability. It is only when employees feel emotionally identified with the organization’s values and goals that the opposite outcomes are evident.

3. Money is a motivator.
A motivator is something that internally stimulates a person to action. Certainly, it may be said that money makes it more likely that we will show up at work. However, on a given day when we are deciding how we will respond, how much effort we will put forth, how much creativity we will call forth to address a problem…it’s not the dollars at the forefront of our minds. The catalysts are much more immediate.

What, then, are the key factors that determine whether employees will feel emotionally attached to your company in ways that call forth their best efforts and their loyalty? Here you’ll get a smoorgasbord of strategies. Which do you think are most important to each of your groups of employees? (Hint: Why not ask them?)

Let’s use the acronym “FAMILY” to describe these factors. In fact, the term “FAMILY” is well-chosen. Today’s workers want more than a job. They want a life! Men and women alike appreciate the opportunity to be a part of an organization that respects their desire for life balance.

An example of this is SAS, named in Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work for the year 2001. After one year of continuous service, full-time employees can enroll their children in an onsite child care center. In addition, they have an adoption assistance plan, including both financial assistance and paid leave for adoptions.

Many companies are building flexibility into work options… flextime, telecommuting, part-time work schedules, and job sharing.

Employee assistance programs are another valuable benefit to employees and their families. EAP’s provide counseling services when family members experience problems.

Increasingly, elder care is also an issue for workers. Many companies are either providing elder day care or helping employees connect with other community elder care resources.

A fewer number of organizations actually house on-site services such as workout facilities, medical clinics, beauty salons, and even dry-cleaning services. This impacts family relationships by freeing up the time that employees would spend running around town to perform these activities.

I realize than many of these strategies are not practical for the typical building supply company. However, giving flexibility that respects the commitment of your people to their loved ones can create powerful loyalty to your organization.

The word “FAMILY”, then, actually becomes the first element of creating a great place to work. Now let’s use its letters to identify six more.

Contrary to what your elementary school teacher taught you, work and play are not opposites. (“Quit playing and get to work!”) Fun can be created in planned on-the-job and outside social activities. Smart companies find ways to make that happen. In positive workplaces, laughter often occurs spontaneously between co-workers who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They have learned the secret of surviving the constant stresses and demands in today’s work environment. They find the humor in stressful experiences, and they share a laugh about it. Their leaders model and encourage this kind of camaraderie.

A fun-filled workplace is a happy, profitable workplace. Studies show that laughter and fun in the workplaces enhance creativity, increase productivity, build teamwork, make employees mentally and physically healthier, and relieve stress.
When employees are happy, they tend to go out of their way to make others happy. Their customers profit from the organization’s high morale, and they respond by continuing to do business with the company and telling their friends about it.
Having fun in the workplace is good business!

No matter how personally confident or secure you are, it feels good to know that you are appreciated, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, I’ve been told by many managers, “Why should I have to go around patting people on the back? They’re just doing their jobs, and that’s what they’re paid to do.”

Why, indeed? Because as humans, we need to know that the hard work we’re doing matters to someone, that someone notices and cares. Psychological studies have demonstrated time and again that behaviors that get noticed and reinforced tend to be repeated. Over time, the feeling that your company appreciates your efforts results in both your best efforts and your loyalty.

Take Smuckers, for example. A recent survey of this company revealed that 90 percent of its employees say, “Management takes a sincere interest in me as a person, not just as an employee.” Interestingly, a full 31 percent of their people have been employed there for more than 15 years.

What if these surveyors walked into the yard of your company and started asking questions? How many of your people would say “very true” about the above statement?

Showing appreciation has to go beyond the obligatory walking around, patting employees on the back, and telling them, “You’re doing a good job.” It should be more than selecting one employee as “Employee of the Month” or “Employee of the Year.” These actions, admittedly, are better than nothing. But they stop short of the kind of acknowledgment that is perceived as genuine and helpful.

Employees place much more value on praise and recognition that is specific, clearly delineating what they did and how their actions made a difference. Describe in behavioral terms exactly what the person did, along with how it positively impacted the organization. For example, you might say, “John, I appreciate the way you pitched in to help Mary on the XYZ project yesterday. We were able to meet the customer’s deadline, and they were pleased with the outcome. That’s the kind of teamwork we need to see throughout the organization.”

Considine said, “To bring out the best in a man, go to what is best in him.” (That works for women, too!)
To bring out the best in your team members, expect the best, look for the best, and celebrate the best.

A few years ago, I had a casual conversation with a stranger that changed my life. I was conducting a seminar for a company who had brought their plant managers in from across the globe. I was within the first two or three sentences of the customary social chit-chat with their plant manager from the Netherlands, Parvis Tavakolly when he looked me in the eye and asked, “Tell me, what is your purpose in life?”

I was blown away! Not the question I was expecting to hear, but one of the most important questions I had ever heard. I determined that I would find the answer to that question. (I did. After months of soul-searching and prayer, I recognized that my purpose in life is to bring out the best in people. What’s yours?)

All people in your organization are “hard-wired” with talents, dispositions, and skills they’ve learned. All of these are clues to each person’s personal purpose and to the elements of the work experience that provide meaning. When people see that what they are doing at work makes a difference personally meaningful ways, they will persist even though the work is difficult. They will call on their creativity to get the job done when they “hit a wall”.

Someone said, “You can tolerate almost any what when you have an important why.” I would add, “And when you have a significant why, you’ll manage to find a how.”

I worked with one manufacturer of medical equipment who, once a quarter, brought to their team meetings several patients whose lives had been impacted by the company’s products. Hearing first-hand testimonies of the significance of their work gave this manufacturer’s team members a perspective that changed the way they view and approach the tasks of the day.
What are you doing in your organization to help team members keep in mind the end result of what they are doing?

How do you feel when someone hands you a decision, expecting that you will adjust your plans and set aside your preferences and just do it? If you have an independent streak like I do (and who doesn’t?), you may bristle and be less than positive about carrying it out. On the other hand, when you feel that you’ve had input into decisions and that your ideas have been respected and included in the plans, you’re much more likely to work hard to see that the process succeeds.

Employee involvement benefits your company in several specific ways:
  1. greater buy-in to improvement projects;
  2. increased motivation, effort, and performance;
  3. less anxiety in employees, especially during change, because they feel a sense of control.
In short, involved employees feel a sense of ownership, making it more likely that they’ll do whatever it takes to achieve results.

How, then, can you create greater employee involvement in your company?
1. Keep employees informed.
Do this through multiple means…e.g., communication meetings, newsletters, email communications, business reports, and one-on-one discussions.
2. Elicit employee ideas for improvement.
The people doing the work are often in the best position to see what can be done to improve quality and service. Create systematic ways for bringing out their improvement ideas…then (very importantly!) let them see that many of these ideas are implemented.
3. Establish team processes.
Learning to work in productive teams is one of the best ways to increase involvement. Team building helps to create the positive connections that enable the necessary free flow of communication. Training in team problem solving methods provides the necessary structure for productive discussion.

The Container Store has topped Fortune’s 100 Greatest Places to Work for two years in a row. One of this organization’s secrets is an unbelievable training program for employees. For instance, this company provides 235 hours of training for its first-year, full-time employees. Compare this to the national average for others in the retail industry…7 hours of training for similar employees. The Container Store’s turnover rate historically runs 15-25 percent, compared to more than 100 percent industry-wide.

Other than the very important outcome of retaining good people, why else is the creation of a learning environment important to your organization? Top employees today want to be on the cutting edge. They want to feel that they are not stuck where they are, but are going somewhere. Learning new things enhances productivity, both preparing and energizing team members to meet your company’s competitive challenges. The opportunity for continuous learning is consistently listed at the top of the “report card” in the minds of motivated workers, especially younger ones.

You may be saying, “But we have a tight budget! How can we provide training when funds are tight?” That’s challenging, but here are the facts. The companies that are able to consistently attract and keep good employees find a way! They make training a priority. Creating a competent, motivated work force pays impressive dividends for a long time to come.

When I walk into a workplace, I can feel the “yes!” or the “no!”. I can see it in the eyes of the employees, the positions of their shoulders, the briskness of their walks. If I dig more deeply, I see it in organizational data…productivity indices, turnover rates, employee and customer satisfaction figures, absenteeism rates, usage of healthcare benefits, and bottom-line profitability.

I challenge you to ask yourself…are we creating an environment of “yes!”, or is ours a negative place to work?
You see, a Magnetic Workplace ® is made up of thousands of moments that either attract or repel employees. It’s the accumulation of these magnetic moments that create the collective view of your organization.

Build a “Yes!” workplace by applying all the strategies we’ve discussed to encourage and equip your people to do meaningful work. In the positive “attracting” environment you’ll create, employees will feel the “yes” in three critical areas:
  • Ability: Yes, I can!
  • Desire: Yes, I want to!
  • Action: Yes, I will!
Yes! You can create a Magnetic Workplace ®, a building supply company where people feel their best and perform at their best. That’s how your organization will get the best results possible!

Beverly Smallwood is a licensed psychologist who has worked with Fortune 500, healthcare, and other organizations around the world for over 20 years. Her specialties are leadership development, employee retention, and personal resilience. She’s often featured in such national media as MSNBC, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, FOX, and New York Times. To contact her about speaking, consulting, or coaching, call 877-CAN LEAD (226-5323) or visit her website Magnetic Places, where you can also sign up for her free email newsletter.

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