Managing a Small Business: How to Inspire Employee Loyalty

on January 30 2012 10:20 AM
Applying Ernest Shackleton's leadership style can help small business owners today inspire loyalty from their employees
Applying Ernest Shackleton's leadership style can help small business owners today inspire loyalty from their employees Public Domain

A big part of successfully managing a small business is inspiring loyalty and getting the most out of employees.

Loyalty among employees cannot be taken for granted anymore; many workers keep their résumés permanently on the market and are easily enticed to switch jobs, said Jeremy Kingsley, a well-known speaker and business expert.

Moreover, many employees are suspicious of management and have an “us-versus-them” mentality.

If a small business can rise above this depressing trend, however, it will likely secure a meaningful advantage over the competition.

Hiring Great Employees

Getting started with the right kind of people – those who can potentially turn into loyal employees – is the first crucial step.

Jon Burgstone and Bill Murphy Jr., writing for Entrepreneur, stressed the importance of determining how well a job applicant would fit in with the small business.

Rosemary O'Neill, writing for Inc., listed having the right attitude and outstanding communication skills as important attributes.

To get this type of information during the interview, an employer can use a variety of methods.

Burgstone and Murphy, citing Matt Szulik of Red Hat, suggested asking people their “life’s journey as they’ve created their success model” and their definition of “successful.”

O’Neill recommended asking people to write a one-page essay in 15 minutes.

Giving Loyalty

One reason loyalty is lacking among employees is that employers have become less loyal; many businesses no longer offer “up thirty or forty years of employment, a gold watch and pension plan,” said Kingsley.

Moreover, many managers are “preoccupied with short-term, bottom line thinking often view their employees as little more than resources to be hired, fired, and manipulated as the need arises.”

In the last few years, the fear of layoffs and firing has only intensified.

While some of these developments are a reflection of current economic realities, small businesses that assuage these fears and offer loyalty to employees and will likely get loyalty in return and reap the associated benefits.

Shackleton’s Way

Small businesses can also learn from the leadership style of Ernest Shackelton, a famed explorer in the early 20th century, according to Kingsley.

Citing the book Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, Kingsley listed the following loyalty-inspiring leadership principles:

1.     Take the time to observe before acting, especially if you are new to the scene. All changes should be aimed at improvements. Don’t make changes just for the sake of leaving your mark.

2.     Always keep the door open to your staff members, and be generous with information that affects them. Well-informed employees are more eager and better prepared to participate.

3.     Establish order and routine on the job so all workers know where they stand and what is expected of them. The discipline makes the staff feel they’re in capable hands.

4.     Break down traditional hierarchies and cliques by training workers to do a number of jobs, from the menial to the challenging.

5.     Where possible, have employees work together on certain tasks. It builds trust and respect and even friendship.

6.     Be fair and impartial in meting out compensations, workloads, and punishments. Imbalances make everyone feel uncomfortable, even the favored.

7.     Lead by example. Chip in sometimes to help with the work you’re having others do. It gives you the opportunity to set a high standard and shows your respect for the job.

8.     Have regular gatherings to build esprit de corps. These could be informal lunches that allow workers to speak freely outside the office. Or they could be special holiday or anniversary celebrations that let employees relate to each other as people rather than only as colleagues.

“If you demonstrate a strong measure of loyalty to your team, you’ll find that same measure of loyalty being returned to you. In these trying times - inspiring loyalty will help you get the most out of your team and lay the foundation for lasting success,” said Kingsley.

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