Small-business owners have more to lose than most if their employees aren’t 100 percent committed to their jobs. And when you have only a few employees, the success of your business can hinge in large part on the quality of their work. When you work to build employee trust, you enlist key allies in your quest to improve your bottom line.
Kris Duggan, CEO and co-founder of BetterWorks, an enterprise goal setting and management platform, spends a lot of time thinking about employee behavior and engagement. He offers these five ways for entrepreneurs to increase employee trust and loyalty.
1. Set Goals and Share Them
“The number one thing you can do to build a culture of trust is to share workplace goals publicly across the company,” Duggan says. “It creates a culture of people supporting one another.” He suggests giving each employee between three and five goals per quarter and letting everyone see each other’s goals. Founders should include themselves in this practice because employees are more willing to be held accountable if management is too. “People end up having a clarity of purpose” when goals are clearly articulated, he says, which helps them focus on and prioritize their work.
2. Give Frequent Feedback
Reviewing employees annually is not necessarily the best way to provide feedback, because “rather than helping people perform, performance reviews tend to be “more about criticizing them,” says Duggan. He suggests, instead, meeting frequently with each employee to check in with their progress on their goals and to give them feedback. He says a best practice is to meet weekly or biweekly, noting that “moving to more of a coach kind of a role than a manager role” will help employees improve on a continuous basis. Your check-in meetings should focus less on the person than on the goals. Duggan recommends asking employees questions like, “How can I help you achieve your goals?” “Where are you stuck?” and so on.
3. Articulate and Emphasize Company Values
Values reflect your sense of purpose and mission. When they are clearly articulated, company values can be a great way to engage employees. “If the owner hasn’t written those down, it’s hard for other people to demonstrate them,” Duggan says. “Values are the three or four key things that define the culture and the approach” of your small business, says Duggan, adding that “each value should have a few example behaviors.” For example, one of his company values at BetterWorks is “sparkle,” which he defines as contagious enthusiasm. An example behavior for “sparkle” is when employees disagree about something, as that can also spur a productive conversation.
4. Invest In Your Staff
“Business owners need to recalibrate their view on the value of their workforce,” says Duggan. Building a terrific staff may cost more upfront, but your small business will reap the rewards in the long term. “You show you care [about your employees] by investing in their development,” says Duggan. Some ideas for investing in your employees: Take your employees on an educational field trip related to the business, bring in a guest speaker, or schedule regular skill-building training sessions.
5. Have Fun
Duggan says bringing a sense of fun to the workplace and celebrating your victories are important ways to create more engaged — and more productive — employees. He suggests ringing a gong to celebrate a success or taking employees out after the team reaches an important milestone. His startup has an annual whitewater rafting trip for employees. You might surprise your employees by playing hooky and taking them to the movies on a Friday afternoon, for example. Your employees don’t have to be your best buddies, but a sense of camaraderie can pay off for your business. “The teams that are winning are teams that spend time together outside of work,” Duggan concludes.
Photo of Kris Duggan courtesy of BetterWorks.