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Show your staff you care

Words: Richard Branson. This article appeared in the August/September issue of Your Business.

How to show your staff that you value them as much as you value your customers…

We know that the degree to which employees feel valued correlates directly with how happy and engaged they are. But like most business owners you probably find yourself spending more time dealing with poor performers rather than recognising your employees that add value.

Help them to recognise their value

Show your staff you careOne way around this is to help your top performers to see the value they bring. Building an employee’s resilience (the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties) should be your primary focus because it will mean they need less positive reinforcement in the long run.

At our workshops, I ask delegates to list 10 things that the businesses they work in rely on them to do i.e. things that would not be done properly or at all if they were absent. Without exception, this helps them to see the role they play and the value they add in a new light. For example, instead of seeing herself as ‘just a receptionist’, Busi now sees herself as ‘an ambassador for her firm’s brand’. And Sweetness recognises that the tourism office would be useless to travellers if she did not arrive on time to switch on the lights and activate the switchboard.

Here are a few other ways you can help your employees see the value they bring to your business:

» Encourage them to identify their personal strengths, how these are applied at work, and the positive impact they have on the business.

» Ask employees to reflect on projects or initiatives and identify positive outcomes that resulted from work they did. This can be done one-on-one or as part of a broader debriefing/discussion group.

» Place the responsibility for getting feedback firmly with your employees; if they want to know whether they are appreciated and valued, then they should take the initiative and ask. Soliciting meaningful feedback is an art-form and takes careful consideration by all parties so additional coaching may be needed in this space.

» Encourage your staff to recognise the value that their colleagues add and to share their thoughts with each other. This helps to create a positive working culture that is self-perpetuating.

Recognise your role

We all need positive reinforcement from time to time. And as Gary Chapman writes in his book The 5 Love Languages (1995), appreciation and affection should be shown in a way that appeals to the recipient. In the work environment, appreciation can be shown through four of Chapman’s five ‘love languages’; through gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service.

For example, material rewards mean little to me; instead, I value quality time spent with people. Therefore, I would appreciate the mentorship of a senior employee more than I would appreciate a gift voucher. I would feel most valued if someone invested time in developing me. My colleagues are different; some form of financial reward would appeal to them and make them feel valued. The challenge when managing people is to understand what appeals most to them.

Focus on small, daily actions

Rather than focussing on grand gestures, focus on small, daily actions that can build an employee’s sense of worth. The power of ‘tiny habits’, as taught by Dr BJ Fogg, PhD (Director, Persuasive Tech Lab, Stanford University), is that they need to be plugged into existing behaviours. So, if you already meet with an employee once a week and he values words of affirmation, make sure that you end every meeting with a single statement that shows you value him. Be specific about what he has done and the positive impact it has had. Do this at the end of each of these weekly meetings.

Here are a few more examples of small changes that will have a big impact:

» A powerful way to articulate value is to be intentional with everyday conversations.

Look for opportunities to articulate your employees’ specific value proposition. For example, whenever you assign a task, instead of saying: “You are assigned to user acceptance testing, run with it”; say: “Your keen attention to detail will give this key client peace of mind through the user acceptance testing phase of this project.” These words do not take much longer to say but they will have a lasting, positive impact. Prepare for these conversations by creating a personal list of the strengths of each of your employees; you can’t articulate your appreciation if you do not know their value propositions. Be sure to update these lists as they develop and change over time.

» Foster a culture of continuous improvement and development.

My time at Goldman Sachs International taught me about ‘an assumption of excellence’; if things went wrong, we did not point fingers, assign blame, or make people feel small. So, when something goes wrong, the tiny habits you might apply are to take a deep breath and start with this premise: “I know you are excellent. Something went wrong and now we are going to focus forward. What factors impacted this situation, what can we learn from this and do so that this mistake does not happen again so that we can perform better in the future?”

» Recognise and reward employee contributions in real-time.

For example, if you get an email from a client praising someone in your team, pass it on to that team member immediately, along with a cover note about what the client feedback means to you. Don’t file it away until your annual performance review. Another example, if an employee has worked overtime; give him time off. You may not always be able to pay overtime and allowing an employee to come in late or leave early allows you to recognise the contribution in a timely and cost-effective way. The challenge here is to be open to recognising the contributions of all your team members and in recognising and rewarding them fairly and consistently. Be wary of setting precedents and manage employee expectations carefully. The tiny habit you might apply here is to look at how long it would take to pass the feedback or reward on. If it can be done in less than a minute, do it immediately. If it will take more time, then schedule that time now.

The internet is awash with articles like 4 Simple Ways to Make Your Employees Feel Valued and 25 Ways to Reward Employees (Without Spending a Dime). They make it sound easy and quick. But you’ll find that people are more complicated than that and that there is no ‘one size fits all solution. Instead, it takes a sustained effort to make employees feel valued. And it shouldn’t rely on your effort alone. You and your employees are part of a collective that should endeavour to recognise the value that you all bring. It’s a team effort for which everyone should be responsible.

Deirdre Elphick-Moore is the co-founder of soft skills development firm The Office Coach. Working with her clients, Deirdre and her team create bespoke skills and personal development programmes to benefit individuals and organisations.

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