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Every business leader influences their employees, but that influence should proceed with intention and a clear understanding of the desired end state of their workplace culture and its relationship to company objectives. A leader moving without a clear, consistent focus can very quickly erode confidence and lead to toxic impacts that can be difficult to reverse and impact the company’s financial bottom line. Leaders of small businesses, in particular, should realize the direct line between leader-employee functioning and company stability.
Becoming an effective influencer as a leader is not a simple task. If it was, there would be a smaller percentage of disgruntled ex-employees and broad-based reduction in workforce turnover. A commonly referenced fact in human resources is that a majority of employees leave their employers due to management and failures to lead. From personal experience, having supported many entrepreneurs of large and small organizations over the last 20 years, a sampling of common, consistent reasons for employees departing shared with me include:
- “I didn’t feel heard or respected.”
- “My contributions weren’t recognized.”
- “The environment was toxic and chaotic.”
- “There was no clarity in my part in the greater strategy.”
- “My manager didn’t support my growth.”
Here are some approaches toward building a workplace devoid of these beliefs, with committed employees.
Training for “unicorn employees”
A common desire shared to me from business owners experiencing growth is that their next employee be a “unicorn” — that elusive individual with the innate qualities that are hard to cultivate and can lead to evolution of the organization at large. My response when hearing this is, “What plans do you have to develop your current workforce into that ideal?” The answers are commonly inconclusive.
Most companies have not invested in training programs that provide effective means for evolving their workforce towards its highest potential state. Such investments, when made effectively, have the benefit of not only improving workforce success in people individual roles, but lead to improved satisfaction, long-term workforce stability and improved confidence by leadership being “in their corner.”
A few critical, but often overlooked, training areas that I recommend companies incorporate include:
- Effective communication and conflict management.
- Skill building, aligned with individual responsibilities and career plan.
- Alignment to corporate objectives and putting shared principles into practice.
- Leadership-skills development, based on establishing trust and rapport.
Reassess and then reaffirm your corporate values
At some point, nearly every company will arrive at the decision to document its shared beliefs as value statements. When I work with a new organization to identity areas of improvement, senior leadership will inevitably share their corporate values as a precursor introduction to their culture and guiding principles. In a vast majority of cases, I receive feedback that indicates employees mostly experience those as somewhat akin to buzzwords — affirmed infrequently (and generally for public benefit), and mostly absent from daily decisions.
This importance of a focus on daily application of values cannot be overstated. It is foundational to belief in leadership and shared sense of accountability to the organization. As an example, in my current team we have defined our values around the acronym HOOK: Humility, Over-delivering, Optimism and Kindness. We work to incorporate this into daily circumstances to ensure that application of the values to emerging scenarios does not follow a divergent path from what is intended. Driving long-term team alignment, most especially with new members, comes via documenting relevant scenarios for further shared awareness in discussion or training.
Without this contextual application, values sometimes slip into obscurity or introduce conflict in their interpretation, which can relegate the acronym too a mnemonic device reinforcing different outcomes and a source of frustration.
Aligning to different communication styles
There are multiple personality-assessment types used for evaluation of prospective employees. Unfortunately, what is less understood and rarely applied is the ability for those assessments to be used in ongoing employee engagement and growth of interpersonal skills.
I have worked with many clients that have leveraged the DISC method of profiling to onboard employees, which is used at the onset of employment and rarely (if ever) referred to again. My strong recommendation to clients is that such profiles are made available to all team members as a basis for understanding optimal communication methods with the new member, and further using collective team profiles to bring improve collaboration.
As an example using the DISC model, if I was addressing teammate with high Dominance (the “D” in DISC) in a particular situation, I would modulate to being on a direct path towards resolution. If I was instead going to work with an individual with high Conscientiousness (“C”) for with a similar scenario, I would instead be focusing on providing significant detail on the situation and path forward. For all distinct profile types, the key opportunity being that the assessment can guide subtle changes in interaction that allow leaders to reduce reluctance and drive clear improvements in communication and influence.
While there are multiple facets to the relationship of an employee to their company, leaders in the organization have a singular potential to shape the health and longevity of the relationship. Key to that is balancing what employees bring on their own against with how leaders can reinforce trust through systems the raise the likelihood of success for all.