These uncertain times mean that every business owner is trying to do more with less -- a recipe that can easily kill worker morale. But there's something that can make your workers happy again that costs a lot less than free food or gifts.
It's in the mirror, and it is you.
I consult with businesses owners across the U.S. on improving worker morale, and I've seen bosses drain their employees' souls right out of their bodies. Could that be you, too? Every business owner or workplace manager I have ever met has had room to improve.
Entrepreneurs can be the worst because the very attributes that made them self-starters -- that short attention span, multitasking, risk-taking personality -- means there's little patience to set up procedures, or build trust with the employees who actually have the skills they don't.
Can business owners still luck out and find success while being difficult bosses? Of course they can, but I would bet every time on the entrepreneur who has experienced failure and gained self-awareness as a result.
Here are five questions entrepreneurs should ask themselves about their management styles, but often don't.
1. How do you say thank you? I'm continually amazed by how many employers think just because a worker gets a paycheck, that's enough. At the same time, I'm also amazed by those business owners who demonstrate small acts of kindness. In this age of email and text messages, the power of the handwritten note is just outstanding. Tuck one of those in with the paycheck, and don't just say thank you. Specifically explain what it is that they do that you like.
2. How do you communicate change? The human brain is geared toward loving the familiar. Change creates fear that becomes an impediment. Communicate a change in the company in an ask/assertive versus a tell/assertive way. I like the dialogue that comes with verbal communication. Explain why the change is needed, and then ask for input on the best ways to get from point A to point B.
3. How often do you catch your employees doing something right? Most of us at work are like parents. We're expecting our employees to mess something up. It's little wonder then that the workers quickly start using the third word that children are most likely to learn after "Mama" and "Dada," and that is, "No." Don't wait until a formal performance evaluation to tell an employee what he or she is doing well. Tell them now, and be specific.
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4. How do you see your employees? I used to count the dandelions in my lawn every spring and try to kill every one of them, until my daughter asked if she could pick them and make a bouquet. That's when I stopped looking for dandelions. You should, too, with your businesses. If you keep on asking whether your workers are wasting time on Facebook or stealing office supplies, you will find proof, as surely as I used to find those silly flowers. Instead, look out for your employees doing something right, and tell them every once in a while. It will make their day.
5. How do you structure and focus on action for your employees? I once had a client who owned a five-employee company and was confused why one of his workers couldn't handle customer calls on top of managing timekeeping and scheduling for the office. I persuaded him to take over the job for a day, and he was amazed at the number of customer calls coming in. He never knew. Study after study finds multitasking is inversely proportional to productivity. Put yourself in your workers' shoes and make sure various tasks are similar enough that they can find time to focus on each one and complete it.
As a business owner, I've asked myself all these questions from time to time. I've hired high-quality workers over the years who know who's in charge but also aren't afraid to ask me why I'm not following the advice in one of my books. I try to foster a rewarding workplace, one you can have, too.
Related: Seven Ways to Boost Employee Morale