How Your Small Business Can Create a Culture of Engagement Jonathan Herrick Think about the last time a business really wowed you—whether it was a café that served up an amazing latte or a dry cleaner that saved your favorite shirt from a terrible stain. Chances are that you came away happy because one of the employees showed they really cared. Sadly, that’s a rare experience. Most employees are just not that into their jobs—and it often shows in how they do their work. Though the percentage of “engaged” workers reached a record high in March 2016, only 34.1% of workers made it into that category, according to Gallup. Among the others, 49.5% were “not engaged” and 16.5% were “actively disengaged.” So how do you beat the odds and create a culture of engagement where the vast majority of your team is pumped up about work and passionate about delivering a great experience that keeps your customers coming back? Here are some strategies that work. Really listen to your team. Many small business owners think that because they can’t afford to replicate Google’s culture—with its on-site massage rooms and in-house nap pods—they don’t stand a chance of building a culture of engagement. Not so. One of the best ways to get employees excited about work is to involve them in making your culture better. Instead of assuming that a bowling night or employee picnic will get everyone pumped up about coming to work, ask your team for low-cost suggestions on how to improve their daily life at work and make their jobs easier. It could be that what they really want isn’t a party but rather a practical change—like consistent rotation shift schedules from week to week, so it’s easier for them to hire a babysitter. In case team members are hesitant to speak up about what really matters to them, create an anonymous survey using a free tool such as SurveyMonkey to collect the ideas. Then report back to the group on which ideas you plan to act on and explain why you decided not to pursue some of the others. The more your employees feel they are being heard, the more engaged they will be. Encourage openness. If employees feel they can’t be honest with you or other members of the leadership team, they may become disengaged. To create a culture of openness, publicly thank employees who have called your attention to important issues that have come up in the business, whether it is by mentioning their suggestions in meetings or giving out a small gift certificate to the team member who came up with the best customer service improvement of the month. It’s not always easy to listen to employees’ feedback without getting defensive—we’re all human! —but the more you can train yourself to listen impartially and thank them for their suggestions, the more engaged they will be. Plus, you will benefit more from the insights of the people who have the most contact with your customers. Your employees will be the first to know if customers want you to stock a particular product, are asking for a discontinued service or are griping about long wait times when they make a purchase. That’s valuable information you can act on to grow the business. Keep them interested. In the past, many companies made employees “pay their dues” before giving them challenging assignments. Employees who were eager to get ahead seldom questioned that approach, accepting that they had to “prove” themselves before they got to do the interesting stuff. Today’s world moves at a much faster pace. It’s very possible that someone two years out of college may know more about a particular area of your business than someone with 15 years of experience. By being open to giving millennial employees challenging projects or training them quickly so they can stretch their skills, you’ll find get them more engaged than by telling them, “Your time will come.” Don’t ignore compensation. When you first started out in business, you might only have been able to pay minimal salaries. But as your business grows, keep an eye on what the best firms in your niche are paying their teams—sites such as PayScale and Glassdoor can offer insight—and do your best to keep pace. If your employees can’t pay their bills out of their paychecks, they may have to juggle second jobs, which can wear them out and hurt their performance. The more you view your employees as an investment, the more engaged they will be in doing a bang-up job—and the more revenue you’ll bring in by wowing customers. Focusing on improving the lives of your employees may not always be at the top of your priority list, but actively seeking ways to improve your culture and increase engagement will benefit your company and your bottom line.