Loyal Following

On The Hunt

Want to fill your employee roster with New Loyalists? The good news is that finding them is getting easier, according to Interim's predictions. "We estimate that by 2000, 40 percent of all employees will be New Loyalists, and they'll be the majority by 2002," says Fiore. "What makes this trend so important is that it transcends generations and genders. It truly represents a revolution in the work force."

While finding New Loyalists may not prove too tricky, keeping them could. That's because New Loyalists have no compunctions about leaving a job if it fails to meet their needs. Think hard on that last point. Frankly, many businesses flounder when faced with New Loyalists. "Their attitudes are very different from what traditional management has expected of employees," says Fiore.

Impose a rigid organizational hierarchy that sets strict limits on employee growth, and you're sure to turn off New Loyalists. "There's a real disconnection between employee expectations and employers," says Fiore. "If you want to keep New Loyalists on your team, you've got to give them the opportunities and the freedom they demand."

Providing a flexible, growth-oriented environment is just the beginning. You need to do more to fuel continuing commitment by New Loyalists to your company. Survey the experts, and they offer critical steps for maintaining worker loyalty, among both New Loyalists and more traditionally minded workers on your payroll:

  • Treat your people well. "The golden rule applies to work as well as to the rest of life. Create a workplace that's friendly, one where you don't look over your employees' shoulders," urges Herman.

How will you know if your people feel well-treated? "Ask them," says Herman. "The best way to know is to develop an open relationship that lets people feel comfortable communicating with you. Ask them, too, `How can I help you do a better job?' "

  • Let workers see the results of their labors. "People really want to see that their work is important and has payoffs," says Herman. When good news comes in from customers, for instance, spread the word. And keep working to let employees know that what each of them does truly matters--to the business and to your customers.
  • Hire smart. "Hire people who are motivated to build things and who want to commit to sharing in the excitement of building a venture," says Mark Rice, professor of entrepreneurship at the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. "You need to hire people who will thrive in your environment." Not all job candidates are suited to a fast-paced entrepreneurial company. Find the ones who are, then watch their loyalty grow as the excitement around them keeps them inspired.

Granted, that isn't easy in today's tight job market. (See "Labor Pains," April.) But if you want people who will be assets to your company, you'll probably have to sift through a lot of candidates before settling on the ones who will become your New Loyalists.

  • Go the extra mile--and farther--for your employees. In today's workplace, you have to set a precedent: Show your concern for and commitment to your people, and they'll reciprocate.
  • Give people challenging responsibilities. Let people grow by trying new tasks, even wholly new jobs within your company. The more you challenge today's employees, the longer they'll stay aboard.
  • Train your employees. Fiore indicates there's a clear connection between worker longevity on a job and the training they've received. It seems ironic: The more skills you teach your workers, the more easily they'll be hired by competitors--but the more apt they are to stay with you. "If they're learning, they're growing. And that means their satisfaction is likely to be high," says Fiore. "Our study showed that employees who received training were much more likely to be with the same employer five years later."
  • Establish conflict resolution mechanisms. Face it: In a high-performing entrepreneurial environment, good workers will occasionally butt heads. Sometimes the collisions can be loud, and even bitter. Don't let hurt feelings undermine a worker's loyalty to your business. "Build in mechanisms that facilitate reaching constructive resolutions to conflicts," says Rice.

What kind of mechanisms? Perhaps teams can sort out conflicts; perhaps the job should be yours. Either way, don't ignore them--that's how resentments solidify. Deal with them swiftly, and problems will likely evaporate.

Follow these steps, and you're well on your way to building a loyal work force. But Rice offers one last tip: "Succeed," he says. "Success is the best reward for employees who have been loyal and who have committed themselves to helping build a winner."

Put your business on the track to growth and success--and let employees enjoy at least a taste of the financial rewards--and you'll find yourself surrounded with your own band of loyalists. And that's just the fuel you need to move up to the next level of success.

Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or ideas, e-mail rjmcgarvey@aol.com

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Loyal Following.

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