When a giant tornado barreled through Joplin, Mo., last month, the destruction of one business in particular got my attention. The store was destroyed and one employee and many customers were killed. Wondering how this business was handling the devastation, I went to the company's website three days after the disaster and found, to my surprise, no mention of the loss of life.
Instead I found a home page featuring appliances and patio grills on sale.
Had this been a small business, I would have assumed the owners simply hadn't gotten around to updating their website in the midst of the post-tornado chaos. But it wasn't a small company, it was The Home Depot.
And in spite of the fact that many customers were killed, the only mention of the incident was a banner on the bottom half of the home page featuring a press release about the million-dollar donation the company had committed toward helping rebuild Joplin.
Less than two weeks afterward, any mention of the tornado or the loss of life was gone from the company's home page. If it's still on the site at all, I haven't been able to find it.
As a former communications manager for The Home Depot, I know what it's like to work there. Employees ― district and store managers, in particular ― know each other. They train together, attend company-wide meetings together and transfer to different stores around the country. If a manager or district manager loses a customer, an employee or a store, many employees in other parts of the country will feel personally affected.
To let this loss of life pass without a suitable public acknowledgement seems impersonal and cold. When you run a business the size of The Home Depot, your focus must remain on the larger organization, I guess.
And that is where your small business will always have an advantage over the big guys. No matter how urgent the business matter, your employees will always come first. Making sure you're communicating that you care about them, their families and their futures should be high on your priority list.
Last week I heard a public radio host, who regularly uses interns, do a segment on internships and the legal and ethical issues surrounding them. I thought it took guts to examine an issue directly related to the show itself.
You, too, could be using your social media to discuss and promote issues aside from those directly related to selling your product. Your Tweets and Facebook posts are sending subtle messages to your employees about how you feel about them and their value.
Creating a social media presence that takes into account issues that concern your workers, not just your bottom line, will let them know you truly care about them and value their work and worth.
There will be times when even your best employees disappoint you. They'll make a silly mistake, forget to do something or just slack off because they're having a bad day.
Try to remember that you were once an employee, too.
No one can be on their game all the time. We all have arguments with our spouses, money problems and health issues. No matter how professional the employee, sometimes, they will bring their problems to work.
The best you can do in this situation is be sympathetic. Tell your employee that you understand, and outline a less taxing game plan for your employee that day. They will appreciate your compassion and, most times, will work harder the next day out of gratitude.
Reward hard work
Let's face it. Some companies are so small, their career ladder is more like a step stool. With only a few employees, there's not much room for anyone to advance beyond what they already do.
If your employees' growth potential is limited by your size, then you need to find other ways to reward them. Extra time off, small incremental raises or a small holiday bonus are good for starters.
More creative ideas will also go a long way towards helping reward – and retain – your hardest workers. Imagine their delight if you handed them an extra $100 to spend on their family vacation. Or the appreciation they would feel if you sent a nice gift for their child's birthday. This kind of thing isn't possible for all of your employees, but for your best employees ― the ones you need in order to keep your business growing ― this kind of thoughtfulness and generosity will have a very high ROI.
Most of your employees surely have interests and passions outside work. Maybe it's their kids, their church or a local charity. Whatever it is, there are ways you could get involved to help support the causes near and dear to their hearts.
Maybe you could sponsor their kids' sport team or donate a gift certificate to their school fundraiser. Maybe you could offer to buy dinner for their book club. Whatever the gesture, finding a way to support your employees' outside interests tells them that you care about them as people, not just as cogs in your corporate machine.
Taking an active role in validating and supporting them will ultimately pay you back in spades. Just be sure your efforts are genuine and your offers sincere.
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