It’s well known that small businesses can have big advantages over their larger rivals when it comes to flexibility and reacting quickly in an ever-changing global marketplace. Less often discussed are the benefits for SMEs when it comes to staff motivation. Entrepreneur of 20 years and Statii Director Mark Thornhill offers his thoughts on how SMEs can make the very most of their greatest asset: their workforce.
Everyone who has been in business knows that nothing matters – and I mean, really nothing – so much as its people. Without good employees delivering your great services, you may as well shut up shop straightaway. You might have the most cutting-edge, cost-effective product in the world, but without the best people around you to promote, make and sell it, your business will never work.
So how to get the very best out of your staff?
One of the many benefits smaller companies have over big corporations is the ability to promote a strong team ethic in the workplace. Large organisations may try to foster a close family atmosphere – but with huge departments spread across the country, or even further afield, it’s near-impossible for them to achieve.
In my 20 years of experience running companies in the manufacturing sector, a solid team spirit is crucial in making sure everyone is operating at full capacity. Smaller companies have fewer employees than bigger ones, which is great for engendering excellent communication between each and every person, and making sure all staff are working towards the same goal.
Business owners should devote a lot of thought to how to create the best team around them when setting up. Think of it like a football team: Wayne Rooney is a great striker, but you wouldn’t want eleven of him in one team! So it is with your staff, take great care when recruiting that you find the right people for each job. Look for people with skills that are better than yours – that way everyone in the company is an expert in their field and can be respected for the talents they bring to the table.
Once you’ve got the right team in place, the next key step is to establish processes within the workplace that are transparent and which enable the efforts of each team member to be reflected directly to other employees. Someone’s done a great account handling job and retained a client against a competitor? Let everyone know about it. Social media pages, stand-up meetings, Friday lunch in the local café – these are all good ways of ensuring the team gels together as much as possible and that good work is properly recognised.
Get stuck in
As with any job, even if it’s a company you’ve started and are passionate about, there will always be plenty of not-so-palatable tasks to be done during the working day. These range from boring things – filing, organising, mail-shots – to tricky stuff such as a difficult phone call or a tough financial meeting.
When you’re in charge of company, it’s your task to motivate the team around you and never lose sight of the overall direction you want to be going in. Very often you’ll be required to ask people to do some of these less pleasant jobs, but the important thing to bear in mind is this: never ask people to do something you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself. How you make this clear to your staff is up to you. It could be doing something as simple as doing an hour’s filing in the morning where everyone can see you doing it. If your business has a shop floor, devote time each week to rolling up your sleeves and doing the same job as the people you employ: this will have the dual effect of winning respect and showing by example how you want things done. Moreover, in my experience it is by doing this – even after years of background in the industry you’re still working in – that you can always pick up tips yourself as to more efficient ways of completing key tasks.
When asking someone to do a difficult job, you can also offer your support by suggesting ways of tackling it that have worked well for you in the past. That way, you’ll make it clear that you’ve been down this road before and that you are there to give your feedback when it is asked for. Go into specifics when explaining what you what done, that way you will make it obvious you really do know what you’re talking about.
Most importantly, when an employee does a difficult job well, remember those transparent processes mentioned above, and praise, praise, praise!