The release of Fortune's 2011 Best Places to Work list this month prompted me to consider how smaller organizations can attain "Best Place to Work" status among their employees. Small to mid-size organizations and firms
may not have the resources to offer state of the art gyms, on-site subsidized childcare, private healthcare facilities and other high dollar perks. Every organization, however, has the ability to make their employees feel valued through effective leadership. Whether you are running a department, a division, or an entire company, you have the power to set the tone of your work environment. I've worked with and for some good leaders and managers, and here are some things I've learned from them about retaining employees and building loyal, happy teams.
Provide frequent opportunities for professional growth:
The professional maturation of individuals on your team is a direct reflection on your ability to manage. People like to be challenged. By providing opportunities for employees to develop new skills and move forward in their careers, you will keep your staff engaged and convey the message that their career advancement is important to you.
Set clear goals and offer regular feedback:
This is applicable at all levels of an organization. When I ask an executive how they would like to be managed I often hear sentiments such as "Set clear objectives and then turn me loose," and "Let me know if you have a problem with my performance before it becomes an issue." Well established goals and productive feedback help your group stay on target and be successful.
Bring in outside help:
Many organizations are still running a lean staff post-recession. When the workload picks up, carefully assess whether your current staff is able to reasonably manage it. If you need help and aren't ready to hire, bring in qualified contract employees. It's one thing to feel challenged, but quite another to feel overworked. While late nights or weekends at the office are sometimes part of the package, the happiest employees boast of a good work/life balance.
Strong organizational leaders inspire respect, but are approachable. You should expect top quality work from your team at all times, but you should also care about each individual on a personal level. The best managers capture this fine balance and their employees recognize it. Show interest in your staff. Learn who they are outside of work and figure out what motivates them. Ask thoughtful questions and listen. Know when a performance problem is really a personal problem manifesting itself at work, and offer solutions for getting back on track. You will increase productivity through a loyal team that knows you care about their success, and build a congenial climate for all.
Ask for input:
Foster a collaborative environment by taking advantage of your team's insight. Those who are "in the trenches" may have the most knowledge about subjects like improving client relationships or making quality assurance procedures more efficient. Allow individuals to shine and take advantage of their on-the-ground expertise.
Publicly recognize accomplishments:
If Michelle in Accounting just earned her CPA or Jim in Sales just boarded a great new account, shout it from the rooftops! Everyone likes to be recognized for their accomplishments. Let your team know you're rooting for them and give others the opportunity to offer congratulations by calling attention to successes.
Have breakfast delivered:
My first professional employer, a small fifty person investment firm, had breakfast delivered every Friday morning. A highly anticipated event, everyone from VPs to Assistants would congregate in the conference room to partake in breakfast burritos and morning chatter. We all mingled and enjoyed one another's company, building a camaraderie I have yet to see in another organization. One breakfast burrito = .75 cents. Creating a regular outlet to show appreciation and promote relationship building... priceless.
Offer your own unique rewards:
Houston Business Journal's annual Best Places to Work highlights the companies in Houston with the highest employee satisfaction. Of the 2010 winners, popular perks included Sterling Bank's Birthday Holiday, which gives every employee a paid holiday on their birthday. Paid community service days, which allow employees to take a paid day off to do volunteer work, are popular as well. Social activities score big, with annual employee outings and impromptu ice cream socials receiving frequent mention. However you choose to perk up your work environment the ultimate goal, as one Transwestern employee puts it, is to provide a "great environment that encourages and motivates."