In today's business world, loyalty is a very powerful concept. Decades ago, most younger employees would stay on a job for several years at a time. Older employees would stay longer, especially if they were concerned about building a career with that employer. But times have changed, and many employees, especially those in their 20s and 30s, don't consider loyalty to an employer to be as important as it once was.
But what exactly does loyalty mean in a business setting? In its most basic sense, it's the relationship between an employer and an employee--an abstract, often unwritten contract in which the employer agrees to provide the materials and resources the employee needs to get the job done, matched by the employee's agreement to work at an optimal level to fulfill the goals of the company. Loyalty is really the glue that ties an employee to their job, and that tie is a function of the respect and allegiance the entrepreneur attempts to develop in their employees. When it comes right down to it, loyalty is a key reason many employees remain on their job.
But when either party to this contact fails to fulfill their role, the contract that's hard to build in the first place gets broken. And then it's extremely difficult to rebuild the trust that existed between the employee and the boss.
But why are loyal employees so important--even critical--to the success of your business? Loyal staffers help create a history and a culture of stability; people who've been around awhile know the road, the rules and the "how it's done around here." Loyalty reduces costly turnover rates by eliminating the time needed to advertise for new hires, then interview, screen and train them, and wait till they get up to speed. Loyal employees are usually also satisfied, productive employees.
Steps to Take to Develop Loyal Employees
So how do you go about instilling loyalty in your employees? Stephen Robbins, the author of Organizational Behavior, offers several ideas in his book. The important thing to remember is that it's all about you-how you behave, how you treat your employees, how you perform as a manager. While it would be nice to think you'll be able to hire people who will be loyal and stay the course, it's really comes down to their interactions with you, because you are the company, and if they like and respect you, chances are, you'll have loyal employees.
First, you've got to prove you have what it takes to get the job done--you've got to be competent, or you'll get no respect. This means you need to show a high level of knowledge, skills, and ability when performing both your operational and leadership functions. If you can demonstrate that, your employees will come to respect you--a major step toward building loyalty.
But if an issue arises in which you don't have the knowledge or skills to develop a solution, then you have to be honest about your lack of ability and seek input from others. If you make excuses or blame others for your lack of knowledge or for the problem, loyalty will suffer.
And that leads us to the next step: You've got to demonstrate integrity in your actions and beliefs. This means you've got to be honest and trustworthy, especially in difficult situations where it would be easier to blame someone else or deny involvement in a negative situation. When false blame or a denial occurs, employees quickly lose respect for their leader, and loyalty decreases.
You want your employees to look up to and be proud of you-and they'll do that if you demonstrate your integrity. Loyal employees trust that their boss will be honest and truthful in their interactions, and that they can be relied on to take the moral high ground, especially in difficult situations.
You also need to behave consistently with your staff. When you do that, you'll show your staff that you're reliable and predictable, and that you use good judgment. Workers who want to follow a leader can't do so when they can't rely on their boss or know their boss's judgment is flawed.
Next, you need to display a willingness to protect your employees and help them save face. Your goal should never be to embarrass an employee. If you do manage to embarrass them, then you're going to be the "bad guy" and the embarrassed employee becomes the martyr in the eyes of others. This isn't to say that you can't reprimand or correct an employee's behavior. On the contrary--not doing so will lead other employees to believe that you have no standards, and they'll lose respect for you.
When you encounter an employee who's made a mistake or has had an error in judgment, the boss who wants to build loyalty will correct the errant behavior in a manner that doesn't demean the employee, but rather helps them learn what the problem was and how to correct it in the future. Better yet, the boss who helps their employee identify the issue before it becomes a problem or results in an error will gain that employee's appreciation, respect and loyalty.
Finally, when it comes to developing a loyal workforce, it's important that you be as open with your employees as possible. Do you easily share information and ideas with your employees? Or do you withhold key data from them? Clearly, there is some information that needs to be withheld from employees due to its sensitive nature. But short of that, the entrepreneur who openly shares appropriate information that enables their employees to work productively and efficiently will be seen as a trustworthy boss who deserves an employee's loyalty.
As you can see, there's a clear link between what you do and how you do it that can impact whether or not your employees will respect you and feel a sense of loyalty. By working to develop that trait in your employees, you're most likely creating one of the strongest factors in an effective employee-employer relationship.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.