One of the biggest challenges we hear from small businesses in Northern Michigan is the ability to find and retain employees. Iknow several businesses that have either reduced operation or went out of business due to the inability to adequately staff their operation.
What can you do as a business owners to build and retain your “bench” of employees? A recently published article by SCORE highlights some of the things you can do to build a strong team.
Like baseball, football or basketball teams, many small businesses rely on a few “superstar” employees to really get things done. But just as the best coaches develop a strong bench of players ready to take the field when their star players can’t, the best entrepreneurs work to cultivate a bench of employees who are ready to move up to starring roles in the business.
As your business grows, building a strong bench of employees becomes increasingly important to success. Some advantages include:
- If a key employee quits unexpectedly, you can fill the position without a hitch, so there’s no downtime.
- Promoting from within saves time compared to hiring from outside the company. You don’t have to get the new hire up to speed on company culture.
- Learning new skills boosts employees’ morale, which makes your workers more loyal to your business.
- You can feel confident that you have employees ready to handle any situation, no matter who is out sick or on vacation.
Do you have go-getter employees? Now is the time to stretch their skill levels by giving them more responsibilities. Delegate some of your time-consuming duties, focusing on things you don’t like to do or tasks that are outside your area of expertise. Provide the tools employees needs to learn, and give them direction, but don’t micromanage. Push employees outside their comfort zone, being sure to give plenty of feedback. Be understanding when workers make mistakes, and focus on successes to build their confidence.
Encourage your employees to sign up for industry seminars, online webinars, or classes at local colleges that will improve their job skills. Consider funding all or part of the cost (education expenses related to improving your employees’ job skills are tax-deductible) or at least giving employees flexible hours to fit in the courses. Send them (or bring them with you) to networking functions, trade shows and industry events. The more exposure to your industry employees get, the better they’ll understand your market—which can only help your business’ future.
The more employees know about each other’s jobs, the better (and smoother) your company runs. Cross-training employees in new skills also ensures they don’t feel stagnant in their jobs. Begin by asking your employees what jobs they’d like to learn. Some might be reluctant to take on more work, but those who are ambitious will see this as an opportunity to get noticed and boost their skills. Also ask your top employees who they think should be crosstrained in specific jobs. When you’re working side by side every day, employees get to know each other well.
Learn what hobbies and interests your employees have outside of work, and think about ways to capitalize on those skills in your business. Is your warehouse manager a whiz at editing and posting YouTube videos in her off-hours? Ask her to help you create videos and social media for your business’s website. You never know what talents you’ll discover when you involve employees in tasks they enjoy.
Building your bench requires trust in your employees and in yourself. It also takes time; don’t get impatient if you don’t see improvement right away. If you’ve hired right and trained your employees correctly, you’ll eventually build a confident, skillful team that’s ready to step up to bat at a moment’s notice.
If you are thinking about starting your own small business or have a small business you need help with, come and see us at SCORE. Our business mentoring services are always free and confidential.
Rex Winter is a retired business executive from the agriculture industry, and a volunteer mentor with SCORE’s Tip of the Mitt chapter. To request SCORE’s mentoring services for small businesses, call (231) 347-4150 in the Petoskey area or (989) 731-0287 in the Gaylord area.