Last Update: June 18, 2015
Running a small business gives you the unique opportunity to develop strong relationships with your employees, relationships which are built both upon the employees’ professional goals as well as their personal interests. The trick is to successfully manage these relationships while making sure you and your business is perceived with professionalism.
Unique Company Culture
Understanding your employees on a personal level can be tricky. But the good news is — you don’t have to spend large sums of cash on “team-building” luxury destinations to develop good relationships with your employees.
For example, one popular company event that I host is “Wendy Woman Restaurant Week.” During this time I cook lunch for the entire team. We all share recipes and promote good health and positive well-being through savvy food choices. These lunches are great opportunities to get to know folks on a personal level, and everyone seems to love them.
A more business-oriented activity that encourages everyone’s participation is a monthly whiteboard discussion. This activity, suitable for any small business, gives employees the chance to vet any and all ideas for a business line or strategy change. It ensures that everyone feels they have a say in how things are run.
Leadership by Example
If you’re concerned about maintaining a professional image, the best way to achieve this is to set an example of high performance, coupled with a positive work ethic. Employees will then be inspired to do the same.
The nature of startup culture requires “all hands on deck” (i.e. everybody pitches in, regardless of title or pay scale). In this environment employees can quickly develop a sense of ownership, making them more invested in the success or failure of the business itself.
Foster an environment that empowers your employees. This starts with listening, learning, and implementing. When employees are fully committed to a company, they will share ideas and strategies that show they truly care about the success of your business. Listen to these strategies, learn from them, and implement the ideas that add value to the overall business.
Positive Realities of Startup Culture
The very nature of entrepreneurial companies allows owners to interact more closely with employees. As opposed to managers in larger businesses, entrepreneurs typically work alongside their employees all day.
The lessons from the trenches.
The fact that entrepreneurs are “in the trenches” with their workers changes the way feedback is delivered, which, of course, impacts the relationship. When working side-by-side with my employees I keep the dialogue open. Everyone always knows where I stand, and I expect the same from them. You have to be in the trenches to be able to provide viable feedback. Someone who only looks at the net results may be missing a huge piece because they’re not familiar with the performance that led to that result. If you aren’t offering your employees feedback as part of your daily exchange, then you’re risking an employee heading in the wrong direction.
The notion of hierarchy.
While operations are well-structured in large corporations, it can be nebulous in startups. Somehow, hierarchies have never factored into my relationship with my employees. In my twenty-plus years in business, I have never found myself in a position that required me to remind anyone of my title.
If you set the example from the start, by coupling a positive work ethic with emphasis on the urgency of success, your passion will encourage others to follow suit. I liken this phenomena to team sports. The better players up the level of play for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s about working together to accomplish the same goals.
Your Team will Thank You
Ultimately, don’t shy away from getting to know your team as you run your startup. While keeping your distance might be encouraged at bigger companies, startups run best by knowing the teammates you’re working with.
You’re going to be in the trenches together, so ensure that each and every person feels that you have their back. It will go a long way toward making your team and company successful.
Wendy Komac, the founder of Sustainable Innovations Group, is a turnaround specialist who has helped save companies by focusing on changing under-performers into exceptional workers. She is also the author of I Work with Crabby Crappy People, a humorous and informative book about achieving happiness and success.