When a couple of employees were habitually late to work at
Oceanside Photo & Telescope
in Oceanside, Calif., owner Craig Weatherwax refrained from harsh words or disciplinary action. Instead, he opted for a heart-to-heart discussion, explaining the reasons behind their start time and how their tardiness was affecting other team members.
"I believe there's a rough and tumble way to handle things," Weatherwax says. "But I try to use kid gloves, and we all get along better that way."
Managing employees isn't a popularity contest, but if your workers like and respect you as a person, your company's bottom line is likely to show it. Handling problems gently is one way Weatherwax has built positive relationships with his 23 employees, who in turn have helped his business grow to be one of the largest telescope dealers in the United States since he bought it in 1974.
Increasing the Bottom Line
Taking careful steps to build trust, respect and goodwill among employees doesn't just make it more fun to go to work, it can also boost your bottom line. Research by Leadership IQ shows that "the overwhelming majority of employees are not giving 100 percent at work; 72 percent admit that they're not giving their all," says Mark Murphy, CEO of Atlanta-based research firm Leadership IQ and author of Hundred Percenters: Stop Making Your Employees Happy, Start Making Them Great , to be released in November by McGraw-Hill. "One big reason is because their boss is not leading them in a way that encourages them to give 100 percent."
Employees of large corporations often view themselves as working for an impersonal entity, while those at small businesses conflate the organization and its owner. Quite simply, if employees like and respect you, they're more invested in your company and interested in its success. They're willing to work harder and give more. But if they don't care about you, they don't care about your company.
"Dislike and disrespect can turn into resentment," says James Harwood, CEO of Ravens Fire Group , a rental service consulting firm in Asheville, N.C. "Negative attitudes can turn into mediocre work and even theft. Those with negative attitudes can pull down other workers with them."
For many small companies, employees are the primary asset, says Stephone Darby, president and CEO of Advanced Information Technologies, Inc ., in Florence, Ala. "For companies like us, if employees perform their work with expertise and timeliness and provide good customer service, the employer will retain their customers, grow their business with them and get referrals based on their relationship with them," Darby says. When the employer provides an environment that is conducive to earning respect, employees will perform their work to these levels of expectation. But if there is not a mutual respect between an employer and employees, there is a great likelihood that one or more of these requirements will not be met. In turn, the employer will lose customers and sacrifice the growth of the company.
Employee Relationships in a Recession
While it sounds good to build and maintain positive relationships with employees, priorities often get shifted during an economic downturn--and relationships with employees may suffer. "For the majority of leaders, their leadership performance is suffering right now," Murphy says.
Some business owners are slacking simply because they can get away with it, as employees are just happy to have a job at the moment, Murphy says. Some others are dealing with such high personal stress levels that they are neglecting to give feedback or provide coaching and training. "They're so stressed and frazzled that they're forgetting some of the basics of leading a company," Murphy says.
But the recession won't last forever and those companies that survive recessions are the ones that continue to focus on developing high performers and keeping people engaged, Murphy says. "The best way to win in a recession is to keep employees' chins up."
Murphy's research shows about 70 percent of companies that make positive progress during a recession will continue those gains after the recession is over. The organizations that suffer during a recession "often maintain that suffering for a great deal of time after the recession is over," he says, frequently due to increased turnover rates when the job market improves. "A recession shakes things up in the marketplace and offers an opportunity to take market share. What if you're the one company that's able to motivate employees and keep them going while your competitors' employees are frozen in fear? This is your chance to win."
Bridge the Boss-Employee Gap
Keep your company afloat through the recession--and ensure that employees will stick around when times get better--with some of the following strategies:
1. Nix double standards. Don't expect employees to follow your instructions if you don't follow the same instructions yourself. "You can't just sit back and not have the same standard for yourself as you have for your employees," Weatherwax says.
2. Share the work. Nothing widens the gap between employer and employee like doling out the "dirty work," such as asking employees to do something unethical or simply to work an unreasonable number of hours. To earn employees' respect, business owners, "should never ask an employee to do something that they would not be willing to do themselves," Darby says.
3. Make them laugh. Humor is proven to reduce stress and take the edge off of a tense conversation. "As the boss, you can set the tempo or the mood for the business day," Weatherwax says. "If you can have fun with your employees and joke with them, they'll have more fun and they'll joke with the customers too."
4. Enforce consequences. Whether it's rewarding good work or holding employees accountable for mistakes, enforcing consistent consequences helps workers know what to expect. "Sometimes in tough times we overlook bad behavior and don't recognize the good work being done by high performers," Murphy says.
5. Share your thought process. Especially during tough times when employees are worried about keeping their jobs, you can earn goodwill by being open about the choices you make, whether it's to cut costs or cut personnel. "The more transparent a leader becomes with his decision making process, the more likely employees are to trust those decisions," Murphy says. "Share the data, explain where you got that data, and why you decided what you did. What scares employees is the unknown, and if you're not transparent, they'll expect the worst."
Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer who writes frequently about small business issues. Reach her at www.nancyjackson.com .