Small business owners face many challenges. Some challenges are obvious; others are not so apparent. If a person owns and runs a small business employing from ten-to-several hundred employees, she or he is likely to confront daily or weekly issues with customers, vendors, and employees. Yes, employees, as every business manager knows. Problems with employees can range from absenteeism and tardiness to lack of productivity and frequent errors on the job.
I will tell a small business owner at some point during a project that employees view him or her as the richest person in town. Believe it or not, most owners will agree with me. I sometimes resort to hyperbole after the initial acknowledgement by saying employees think dump trucks drop piles of money on owners’ front lawns each week. This comment is normally met with a chuckle and a nod. The truth is most employees don’t understand costs associated with owning a small business, and most owners don’t know how to educate employees. It is common for employees to believe their efforts contribute only to making owners wealthier. How does an owner eradicate this misguided view?
The behavior of owners can change the perceptions of employees. In his excellent Harvard Business Review Article, entitled What Makes a Leader? Daniel Goleman discusses the importance of emotional intelligence for those persons in positions of leadership. A component of emotional intelligence is “motivation,” which Goleman defines as “passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status” and “a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.” Establishing and pursuing goals with “energy and persistence” will not only send messages to employees, but will enable the business owner to focus efforts and resources on making measurable improvements in the business.
As a small business owner do you have goals for the business? Do you have goals for departments? Do your managers and their direct reports have goals? If you answered no to any of these questions, it is time for you and your team to establish and work toward achieving goals. Goleman cites three hallmarks of motivation: having a “strong desire to achieve,” displaying “optimism, even in the face of failure,” and showing “organizational commitment.”
All managers must undergo periodic self-assessment to be successful. A manager with a closed mind who does not acknowledge weaknesses and refuses to improve his or her skills is likely to embody the Peter Principle more quickly than will a manager who makes becoming a better manager part of the daily routine. Establishing goals will demonstrate to employees that you have organizational commitment and are working to achieve results that go beyond money or status, and the behavior of employees will in turn change. Service will improve, recurrent errors will decrease, productivity will increase, and the dump trucks backing onto the owner’s front lawn will disappear from the views of employees.