What Your Employees Can Teach You About Running Your Business Better

Even when you're working toward the same goals, employees and leaders often have different perspectives. Try these strategies to get your team back on the same page.
Contributor, Amex OPEN Forum
July 01, 2014

It should come as no surprise to small-business owners that employees often see things differently than they do, especially when it concerns how the company should be run. Understanding what these differences are, however, is crucial to a healthy business—one that prospers under strong management and continues to thrive and grow with help from loyal employees.

"CEOs who speak to their teams about the company's purpose and invite their employees to help build how they collectively behave and realize their purpose are companies of inclusion and respect," says Shannon Mullen, founder of New York City-based Mullen Marketing Search. "CEOs who know that their job is to keep the whole organization energized and aligned on a clear purpose spend their time talking to, and listening to, their employees."

And so, if we're after a better understanding of best communication practices—a reconciling of employees' and CEOs' varying points of view—then a recent CEO.com report further illuminates how small-business owners can make that happen.

It's time to take a closer look at today's business owners and their employees, and discuss strategies for getting everyone on the same page.

Communications Breakdown

According to the report from CEO.com, today's chief executives think they're emphasizing positives, but managers often see it the other way around.

While 84 percent of CEOs think they never speak to reprimand the company, 10 percent of employees says that's all they ever hear, while an additional 32 percent say it happens sometimes. But no matter how often their leaders communicate, nearly half of all employees surveyed are thirsty for more frequent communication with their company leaders:

  • 74 percent of non-executive employees say they want updates and important information from their CEOs at least monthly.
  • 28 percent say their business leader delivers a message to the entire company on a monthly basis.

 On the CEO's side, responses about communications came back as follows:

  • 31 percent say they communicated to the entire company monthly.
  • 38 percent report speaking to the company as a whole on a quarterly basis.

This example of varying perceptions between leaders and employees regarding the frequency of communications in the workplace can provide evidence to strong business owners that communicating frequently with employees should be a critical task on their to-do lists.

Motivating Employees With a Vision

When it comes to what makes an employee aspire to succeed at work-related tasks, fear and praise both ranked at the low end of the study's spectrum. So what is the greatest motivating factor for employees? Turns out, it's the ability of the CEO to instill a company-wide vision in their directives and interactions. Adding incentives to that kind of inspiration was the second most-cited motivator.

And that's one thing CEOs and employees agree on: The chief executive's number-one priority should be motivating and inspiring the company. To that end, what follows are three key strategies business leaders can employ—not only to build on the idea of vision and inspiration, but also to implement the kind of participation, incentives and open channels that employees say they want.

1. Create a company purpose statement. Move from a vision, a mission, or a values statement to a statement of company purpose. Then validate this purpose statement with your employees. Ensure that it resonates and makes them feel the importance and impact of your organization. Use it to build and sustain pride in your business.

2. Put the emphasis on your internal brand. Build your internal brand from the bottom up and from the top down. Connect your company purpose, as developed and issued in your statement, to departmental employee-purpose statements. In these, provide examples of clear employee-purpose behaviors that you and employees both believe will help  you achieve the company purpose.

3. Use the intranet as a conduit. Re-build your intranet so that it's actually useful. Make it a two-way street, one that carries news from the CEO to the company and a channel for employees to discuss, debate and ask questions in return. In this way, your news and updates become a powerful lens for identifying business issues that, as the CEO, you can address further.

Tell Your Story

One way to manage your business better is to think of the underlying process as a kind of storytelling. "Stories can define and illustrate an organization's values and aspirations," says Andrew Hurteau, a communications and presentation coach at San Francisco-based Butterfield Speaks, a media training and communications firm. "A CEO needs to know these stories. More important, a CEO needs to tell these stories to motivate and give a sense of common purpose."

Understanding what your employees want from you and then revisiting whether you're telling them the right story—one they want and need to hear—is essential to creating a more successful company. As a business owner, your goal should be to give the people who work for you a 360-degree view of your business goals and dreams so you're all pulling in the same direction.

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