This might seem like one of those posts you can pass by — because c’mon, of course you know your workforce. If your business is small enough, then chances are you were the one who hired them!But actually, studies show that there’s often a huge disconnect between the management and the workforce of an organization. And if you’re not connected with your workforce, it’s only a matter of time before you start having serious problems.
The good news is that you can avoid so many issues with just a little bit more knowledge about your people. So if you’re starting to wonder if maybe you don’t know your workforce as well as you thought you did, ask yourself, do you know:
The #1 Gripe Going Around the Office
If you do nothing else after reading this post, I’d really encourage you to find out the #1 thing that’s bugging people in your workplace. It might be an easy fix that you’ve never even thought of simply because of your position in the company — by knowing what it is and addressing it, you’ll show people that you’re actively invested in making work better for them, which will go a long way to inspire loyalty and improve productivity.
As an example, a client in Portland recently upgraded their workplace coffee, water, and snack program to the absolute delight of their employees. Perrier sends a message of class, high-end, and engagement while tap water might send the message of unremarkable, ho-hum and unimportant. Every workgroup is different so it’s important to ask, and ask more than once.
Even if it’s something that you can’t fix right away, you can at least let your team members know that you hear them and the lines of communication are open, which goes a long way towards easing tensions. Besides, there’s a good chance that this issue is related to the second most important thing to know about your workforce:
Why People Leave
You probably have some sort of idea of your turnover rate already — and if you don’t, you need to get on that ASAP. But it’s not enough to know that people are leaving. You need to know why people leave, and especially why your best people leave, otherwise you could be needlessly hemorrhaging talent and knowledge capital. Is it more money, better career opportunity, workplace culture, are they burnt out?
How do you figure this out? By asking and observing. Make it a point to include questions about this sort of thing in every exit interview, and make it clear that you really do want to know to improve, not to harp on people or defend the company. If you are afraid that employees will not be honest with you to the extent that you need have an HR Consultant or another key leader in your company conduct the Exit Interview. In the digital age, exit interviews can even be conducted electronically.
Why People Stay
Similarly, you need to know why people stay in your workforce, both the things that keep the great employees and the things that keep the not-so-great ones. That way, you can keep doing those things that encourage the people you want to stay, and stop doing the things that encourage the underperformers.
The best way to find out why people stay is to conduct Stay Interviews. Here are some great Stay Interview questions taken from the book, Hello Stay Interview, Goodbye Talent Loss.
- What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
- What makes you hit the snooze button?
- If you won the lottery and resigned what would you miss the most?
- What can I do to keep you?
- What would entice you away?
Have you ever heard an underperformer say that they like your company because they are on easy street while a top performer likes your company because of the rigor? This insight is valuable. The solution here is to balance the rigor with the goal of losing underperformers and attracting and retaining top performers. Hint; 1:1 meetings and mid-year reviews are a great way to balance the rigor keeping tabs on each team member's performance.
The Ambitions of Your Key People
You may already get a sense of this as you’re finding out why people leave and stay, but make sure you really get a good sense of the ambitions of your key people. This allows you to support them in achieving those ambitions (which is a very important part of leadership, and one of the top intangible things employees want from companies). This alone may keep you from getting caught off guard by one of your key people leaving to pursue an ambition you knew nothing about. You may even be able to keep them if you can find a way to support that ambition while still having them work for you!
An example of this is when a client of mine found that their right-hand gal had aspirations of working in the medical field in an auxiliary role. My client pursued clients in that industry, which satisfied the curiosity of her employee. Small businesses have a way of being nimble to meet these needs. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Something Personal About the People You Work With
So you already know that people are not widgets or computers … but it can be hard to remember that when you’re head down in paperwork, schedules, and payroll. The truth is, most employees work to live, so make it a point to find out what they’re living for outside of work, and ask them about it! It doesn’t have to be a big production; something as simple as “Claire, how was your hike to Mt. St. Helen’s?” works just fine.
Doing this keeps you connected with the pulse of the workplace and makes people feel well cared for and not just as one more number on the payroll, both of which are characteristics of an exceptional leader. (Not to mention being crucial for a happy, productive workforce.)