If your employees are silent -- when you don’t hear any ideas or complaints -- beware. Your best and brightest could be getting ready to walk out the door. As a small business owner or entrepreneur, one of the best ways to retain talented employees is to foster a culture of voice -- where employees aren’t afraid to speak up.
A culture of voice exists when employees know they can share ideas, concerns and opinions. With a culture of voice, every employee believes they are valued and their voice has merit. They know they can contribute ideas -- even half-baked ones, propose solutions and share recommendations without fear of retribution of retaliation. When voice matters, employees’ sense of significance increases, resulting in emotional commitment.
And commitment matters. The cost of turnover, especially for small businesses and entrepreneurs, is significant. In 2014, the U.S. quit rate rose by 10.4 percent, contributing more to the increase in total separations than involuntary layoffs and discharges, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Replacing and hiring new staff is estimated to be 60 percent of an employee’s annual salary, according to a SHRM report. So how do you create and sustain a culture of voice to retain the best and brightest at your company?
1. Trust your associates.
Although the financial situation of your company is critical, it’s also essential to focus on your employees. If they feel responsible for results, valued and believe their work has meaning -- it’s likely they’ll stay.
Ask yourself, “Did I hire stupid people?” Inevitably, most leaders protest, “Of course not!” Those smart people working for you have some good answers sometimes. Instead of asking, “Do you agree?” -- where often you get blank stares or head nods -- show your employees you value their opinions and ideas by asking each one to offer their own solution to the problem.
In addition, don’t be afraid to strengthen work relationships; they are your social capital, which is often ignored and misunderstood. By holding events that bring employees together, employees will socialize, exchange work-related information and become embedded in your company -- making it harder for them to leave. As colleagues talk freely in social settings, they transfer knowledge through the company, which can result in rapid problem-solving, more efficient processes and even innovative solutions.
2. Shut up and listen.
One tip for creating a culture of voice is to shut up and listen. While this seems simple, your mind processes 450 words of information per minute. However, the average person can only speak at a rate of about 250 words per minute. Your mind is working approximately twice as fast as anyone’s physical ability to speak.
Naturally, your mind wanders, making listening hard to do. So, shut up and REALLY listen. Turn off the internal radio in your mind, so you can hear what your employees say. Don’t interrupt, make hurry-up noises or gestures or get distracted by electronic gadgets. Also, pay close attention to employees’ body language. Research shows that tone and body language accounts for 93 percent of the message, while spoken words account for only seven percent of the message being communicated.
When your employees know for certain that you’re interested and actively listening to them, the message is, “you matter.” This message is an affirmation of your employee’s sense of significance and self-worth to the company. If employees feel their concerns are being heard, it’s more likely they’ll stay.
3. Transfer information quickly and broadly.
By maintaining a culture of voice where employees can speak freely, information throughout the company should transfer at a rapid pace. This will not only increase productivity but will also create transparency and knowledge flow throughout the company. Employees are dissecting every word you speak and every move you make, so it’s best to acknowledge and legitimize the current state and concerns of your employees. If employees feel they are in the loop about business deals and decisions, they will feel more secure, have less anxiety and feel more comfortable staying.
As a leader, you should be communicating often at the three levels -- enterprise, group, individual -- even if you have nothing to report. Keeping in touch with a stressed employee population and letting them know there’s nothing new to share is actually valuable information and can go a long way toward easing tension.
Remember to be visible. It’s not just about what you say but what you do. It’s comforting to employees to see their leader out and about in the company. That way, there’s no assumption that you’re hiding from employees’ concerns or concealing bad news.