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Why Employees Are Your Smartest Long-Term Investment How investing in people yields holistic benefits to both a company and its clients.

By Nicholas Nelson, DVM, MBA Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In business, there are what I call "microquakes" and "macroquakes". The former are low-intensity events, rarely felt beyond their epicenter (the place of business or area in which it occurs). These might include, say, electrical fires, theft and pipe bursts — events that are causes for interruption, but are generally infrequent and bring no damage to life and little to no damage to the property's foundation. These are also rarely felt by employees or customers. Microquakes, in short, are simply small inconveniences to be dealt with and moved past, with minor (if any) interference to overall operations.

On the other hand, we have macroquakes. The size and intensity of these events are tectonically significant, meaning business direction, objectives, strategies and tactics can often shift as a result. They may come in the form of a global health crisis, a market collapse, significant natural disasters, supplies or workforce shortages, war, changes to trade policy, industry-shifting innovations, and so on. These influence the survivability of a company and are true drivers of operational change.

When looking at companies that have survived cross-generationally, such as Mars Inc., history has shown that most transformational business decisions were driven by macroquakes. For example, in 1929, at the onset of the Great Depression, the founders of Mars Inc. decided to relocate and open a full-production plant in Chicago, and moving with them were close to 200 essential staff members. Despite widespread economic instability, but now with a more centralized location (and railroad access), the Mars business boomed. In fact, it was so successful during this time that in 1930 the company brought the iconic candy bar SNICKERS to market, and two years later, 3 MUSKETEERS. Both were, of course, great successes.

Recognize people excellence as an asset

As leaders navigate microquakes and macroquakes, and even as they focus on developing and harmonizing long-term business strategies for operational excellence, there is an equally important component on which success lies: people excellence. Its basic concept is that both operational and business performance can improve by enhancing human capital, which is the stock of individual knowledge and attributes — including resourcefulness and creativity.

Related: 11 Proven Ways Young Entrepreneurs Can Retain Employees

Investing in human capital is one of the best ways a company can sustain itself, remain competitively innovative and produce greater economic output. A few examples of organizational investments in such include incentives to advance in education, technical or on-the-job training, career pathing systems, increased compensation and mental and emotional well-being programs.

These areas are of particular importance in the pet healthcare space, as patient outcomes are hinged on how well equipped a care provider is and how each hospital functions as a holistic system of care. Relevant associated questions might be, "How prepared is the technician to assist in a particular procedure?" or, "Are we, as an organization, providing opportunities needed and desired by employees to grow in education and role…are our clinicians supported on the practice floor as well as emotionally?" These are issues we need to address as leaders aiming to create sustainable change for our people and for the future of the industry, which continues to face challenges posed by shortages of trained and qualified professionals.

While top-down macro-level systems are important in cultivating an empowered and fulfilled workforce, there are other tangible and non-tangle ways companies can invest in their people.

Foster an environment of continuous learning

In Michael J. Gelb's 2000 book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, he remarked that the root of da Vinci's creative genius was his "unrelenting quest for continuous learning." I believe this to be true for all innovators and forward-thinkers, and it should not stop at the end of a textbook chapter, a residency or certification program. Learning should be fluid, with each new day bringing new lessons and teachers. Even when we hit the pinnacle of our careers, we should still be continuously absorbing, and improving. However, for employees to feel open to learning and sharpening skills, there must be a culture of openness and communication: a "free to fail" environment. Small ways to begin fostering that may include organizing a book share or challenging workmates to offer new facts on a breakroom "knowledge board". Assign one sticker to one employee vote, signaling they "learned something new", and at the end of the competition the person who supplied the most impactful information is rewarded.

Related: 6 Ways to Keep Your Employees Learning At Work

Provide tools needed to sharpen skills

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe." The task here (chopping down the tree) is an employees' responsibility, and the employee is the axe. Ultimately, it is up to the company to provide the tools needed to sharpen that axe: skillsets required to perform duties. This support could be in the form of hands-on mentorship programs, continuing education stipends or tiered skill compensatory systems, like those offered by CareerTrax.

Start with "Why?"

In Simon Sinek's 2011 book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, he contends that inspiration is one of the main ways to influence human behavior. The same reason an employee feels compelled to do the work he or she does (their why), despite personal sacrifice, is the same motivating factor that will fuel a desire to continuously improve. For example, most veterinary professionals pursue careers in the field because they care deeply about animal well-being. To provide pets with the highest quality care (to deliver on this purpose), these professionals must be adequately educated and trained on the most up-to-date treatments, procedures and technologies. Leaders must develop a storyline that will resonate and remind employees of their why, while simultaneously fostering a culture of learning and offering tools to advance them.

Related: Why Everything You Know About Employee Engagement Is Wrong

Investing in people not only allows each employee to thrive both personally and professionally, it also propels companies forward in innovation and operational growth. By taking these steps, leaders can create sustainable and impactful change for their companies, clients and their most valuable stakeholders: employees.

Nicholas Nelson, DVM, MBA

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital

Nicholas Nelson is president of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. He holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a masters in business administration. He has also served as regional medical director for VCA Animal Hospital and as CMO and president of Pet Partners.

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