This is the latest of a series of articles from Stringer Mallard the Harrogate Accountants, aimed at offering first class business advice to our readers.
One of the biggest movements in business theory over the last few years has been the move towards customer focus. It’s been a huge sea change and companies now understand more than ever the value of centring their service on the customer.
Unfortunately in amongst this policy shift many businesses seem to have forgotten a key constituent of their business model – the staff.
In Western economies there has certainly been a move towards a flexible approach to staffing with the introduction of zero hours working and less investment in education and training. To a great extent this has led to a very mobile workforce, which in some ways is a very useful facet for companies that need to increase and reduce staff regularly.
However what we find more than ever is that the quality and engagement of the employee can be the difference between a great customer experience and a poor one.
We’ve all had the experience of interacting with an employee of a business who displays a particularly bad attitude. Whilst the employee concerned may be a one off or ‘bad apple’ there’s no doubt that customers form their opinion of a company, not by the quality of the CEO but based on the brusqueness of the waiter that serves their lunch or the unhelpful attitude of the ticket office staff.
Employee engagement isn’t just important for service industries though.
True innovation on any scale can only be achieved through the efforts of a committed workforce.
Many of the recent success stories featuring high growth, innovative companies also feature in the Sunday Times listings of the best places to work for and often these will be non-service industries such as construction, legal and non-customer facing firms.
Although keeping staff happy may seem like a woolly ‘nice to have’ option in fact it makes sound commercial sense too.
A high staff turnover is not only demoralising but can also prove expensive. The cost of recruiting and training new staff can be prohibitive but the unseen cost of lower productivity can also be massive.
Similarly losing excellent staff to a competitor who values their workforce can only be negative for a forward thinking and progressive company and once a business gains a reputation as a poor employer then attracting top talent becomes even harder to achieve.
We can see then that committed, engaged and happy employees can provide significant competitive advantage for a modern and forward thinking company.
What to do about it
The first piece of advice is to ask the staff what they think.
Ironically one of the cheapest methods of promoting staff engagement is also one of the most effective. Research shows that a business that asks the opinion of their staff and act upon it experience a more committed workforce.
A good staff survey will not only show colleagues that the company is interested in their opinion but will also give executives a shopping list of things that they need to improve in the company.
It is also noticeable that the companies that show the most engaged workforce are generally centred around a shared goal. The sense of mission and belonging engendered when everyone understand what they are working towards and that their contribution is valuable is surprisingly powerful and has the added benefit that it tends to make the business more efficient.
One thing that is shown not to improve employee relations is simply paying more money. In fact surveys show time and again that salaries, whilst important tend to rank far below other factors. Buying in staff can leave the company vulnerable too as employees that stay for money are just as likely to leave for better pay from an aggressive competitor.
It’s important to stay abreast of the latest trends in employment practice. A good place to start is the Sunday Times ‘100 best companies to work for’. This lists the businesses with the happiest workforces and gives a short description of what each company does. Without doubt there are helpful lessons contained within this survey that managers can use in their own companies.
A final tip for executives that want to improve engagement with staff is the not only the most effective but is also free.
Say “thank you”.
The one key example of a method that promotes good feeling within the company is the practice of acknowledging the good work and efforts of those involved.
It is true that the business may choose to spend money in schemes such as employee of the month and annual awards ceremonies but actually the daily practice of managers saying thank you for the efforts of their staff tends to ingrain a feeling that the company does genuinely value them and appreciates what they do.
In conclusion then we can see that employees are the lifeblood of a business and keeping them committed and engaged means that the company gains not only from a financial standpoint but also in terms of energy and innovation.
We can also see that engagement isn’t a matter of simply paying the most money but more an attitude of mind and valuing what people do and the effort that they put in. Doing this in turn tends to cost the firm little but provides great benefits for the future.