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Here's the Most Important Secret to More Productive Employees

From The Hartford
Here's the Most Important Secret to More Productive Employees
Image credit: Thinkstock
By The Hartford

Ensuring employees are happy is one of the best things a small business owner can do to cultivate success.

The book, The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want, found that when companies value and actively cultivate high employee morale, they tend to outperform their competition by 20 percent.

Good morale is often fostered by strong benefits, competitive compensation, and positive company culture, but there’s another way, too: great leadership.

Great leaders understand and accommodate their employees’ working style.

Everyone has a way that they’re most comfortable working, and when employees’ work uses their strengths and stays within their comfort levels, they’re more likely to be happy. Why? Because they’ll be doing good, satisfying work while living up to their potential.

For a small business owner, discovering how best to manage and empower employees can have a steep learning curve. After all, you’re not just becoming a manager; you’re running an entire business. You may not have realized that you need to prepare for the responsibility of managing a team, but ready or not, that’s one of your key roles now.

Managing becomes easier and more fruitful when you learn who your employees are and how they work. “People who are able to motivate folks by understanding who they are, have a much better chance of success than those who don’t,” says Paul Tieger, founder and CEO of SpeedReading People, which specializes in helping teams collaborate more effectively.

This isn’t about letting employees shirk their duties, but taking advantage of the flexibility inherent in running a small business coupled with your employees’ unique strengths.

Understand Yourself First

Before you get too far, take some time to examine how you work. If a team is like the inside of a clock, you’re the gear that turns the others. Scrutinize your own talents and—especially—your weaknesses.

Imagine for a moment that you’re someone who loves big, strategic thinking. Chances are you’ll be happiest doing tasks that use that skill. But what happens when you’re asked to do detail-oriented work? Chances are you’ll have a harder time completing your task because you’re not good at it and don’t enjoy it. If you can understand and remind yourself how difficult it is for you to work in a way that’s not natural for you, it will help you better understand those moments when your employees may struggle with a task they’ve been given.

Of course, sometimes we all have to do tasks we don’t like, but getting in touch with your own strengths and weaknesses—and how it feels to perform tasks in each category—can go a long way toward helping you understand how your employees will feel.

In the same way that you want to enable yourself to work in a style that suits you, you can begin to do the same for your employees. Knowing that you’d rather work in a style that suits your strengths will help you enable your employees to do the same.

Don’t Force Employees to Work Your Way

Once you know how you work, it can be tempting to think that the best way to manage employees is to make them use your way. After all, your methods led you to be successful enough to hire employees in the first place, right?


“The days of top-down management – ‘I’m the boss. Do what I want you to do’ – are gone,” says Tieger. Instead, he explains, small business owners need to be like sports coaches. You need to get to know your players, understand their individual talents, then work with them to create a well-oiled team that collaborates toward a shared goal: success.

Use Resources to Help You Understand Your Employees

Who your employees are as people is directly tied to how they work. That includes, Tieger explains, “what drives them, what motivates them, how to engage them, and how to communicate with them.”

How do you discover those answers?

One way is to ask your employees to fill out a personality test. Tieger’s company, for example, offers an assessment based on the Myers-Briggs test, which is used to identify people as one of sixteen possible psychological types. Companies like StrengthsQuest, Insights Discovery, and CPSA also offer variations on the Myers-Briggs test. Another tool is SpeedReading People’s assessment. It takes five minutes and can identify strengths, weaknesses, working habits, and more.

If you’re looking for something less comprehensive and more budget-friendly, there are free options like Harvard Business Review‘s personal productivity style quiz, or sites like 16 Personalities.

Be Approachable

Possibly the best way to get to know your employees and understand how they do their best work is by talking with them. Many employees wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about what they’re good at (and what they’re not so good at) with a manager they barely know. “The only way you’re really going to find out the truth and get real feedback from somebody is by developing an ongoing relationship,” says small business owner, Gene Marks.

But even with an established relationship, don’t be passive—think and act more like a detective. Look for clues that reveal an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Always be observing. Behavior is the result of patterns, so keep an eye out for them. Here are some suggestions on what to look for:

  • When enthusiasm creeps into an employee’s voice while they’re talking about a task, you’ll know it’s something they loved doing, and you can give them more things like it.
  • If an employee’s work isn’t as good on tight deadlines, you’ll know to give them more advance notice on a project.

When you’re paying attention, you’ll naturally notice where your workers excel and where they stumble. From there you can reverse engineer who they are and what they’re good at. Then you can start to adjust how you delegate tasks to them.

Ignore Your Employees’ Working Style at Your Own Peril

Why does all this matter? Because happy workers are 12 percent more productive, and greater productivity likely means more revenue for your business. If your employees aren’t happy, you risk the opposite: losing revenue. Employees who work in a way that’s uncomfortable to them can become frustrated. This frustration can lead to unhappiness and the possibility that your workers will leave. “The cost of replacing an employee is very expensive. It’s the time, it’s the lost opportunities, it’s the training. Then, there’s the disruption to the organization,” Tieger says. In other words, if you don’t invest in understanding your employees, your business can suffer.

But if you do spend the time finding out who they are, and work with them to accommodate their working style, you’re tapping into their true potential. You’re helping them do work they’re happy with, that excites them, and that makes them feel like they’re being their best selves. That’s a major benefit for your business. The reality is it’s a win-win,”  Tieger? says. “When you capitalize on someone’s natural skills it benefits you, but it also benefits them. It’s a positive cycle.”

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