“Success in business is all about people, people, people. Whatever industry a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage.”
This quote by Virgin Group founder and one of my idols, Sir Richard Branson, succinctly sums up the value of an employee to a company.
Employees are the living, beating heart of a company. Whether it’s a startup or a full-fledged conglomerate, employees are the company’s engines of growth.
Without its people, a company is just a name on a piece of legal paper, a brand is just a logo. People make the company and hence keeping employee morale high is one of the best things you can do to instill loyalty and maintain productivity. A discontented employee is a cost to the company, a drain on its resources. A motivated workforce is its greatest asset.
To put it simply – happier employees equal fatter profits.
“I used to think my job as a CEO meant managing metrics and meeting goals, but I’ve realised now that it’s about managing my board and employees,” entrepreneur-philanthropist Leila Janah, founder of technology platform Sama, has been quoted as saying.
As a Country Head responsible for the Indian operations of a leading online travel agency, I agree wholeheartedly with Janah.
My responsibility involves looking after my employees – creating an empathetic environment in which they feel motivated, fulfilled, happy and secure – as much as it does crafting business strategy.
I grew to understand the vital role a company’s employees play in its success early in my career. Over the years I’ve also learned how a company can proactively build a workforce that’s highly motivated, productive and loyal.
Of course, the technique each organisation adopts to engage with its employees will differ depending on the nature of the business and its goals. But personally, I rely largely on a four-fold approach.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
The importance of communication between senior management and employees cannot be emphasised enough. Whether the company is enjoying a great run or passing through turbulent times, communication is key.
Some companies believe communicating with the heads of departments and higher levels of management is enough. But I believe strongly that communicating with the absolute bottom rung of employees is essential and works wonders when a company is going through turbulent times, something startups inevitably have to face.
Communication nips rumours. It builds trust and loyalty and motivates the entire workforce from the bottom up to pull together and ride out the storm.
I also involve employees in the strategic decisions I often have to make.
Sure, you can’t have employees sitting in on board-level meetings. That would be impractical. But inviting them to offer their opinions on a certain strategic decision you’re mulling, makes them feel valued and personally invested in the company’s future direction and growth.
Let me give you an example – in one of my earlier organisations, the management was contemplating making a foray into a new business stream.
The higher management was conflicted because of the highly regulated nature of the business. So, we opened it up to our employees, sat them down in a room, made them understand why we were doing what we were doing, and explained the risks and future benefits to them.
We also explained how things would change – until then we had been a very horizontal business. But the confidential nature of the proposed business would have required ‘silos’ to be set up. We let them know that those who had access to restricted areas weren’t necessarily superior in the hierarchy to those who didn’t.
The process worked remarkably well as at the end of the day, almost the entire room backed the move into the new business.
It was a win-win for both company and employees. The employees felt valued, they had a personal stake now in ensuring the success of it, while it opened up a lucrative new revenue stream for the company.
Active Role To Play In Nurturing Their Employees’ Careers
This is all the truer if you have a young workforce.
“Employees, especially young people, want more than a paycheck,” former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has said.
Gone are the days when the only role companies played in advancing an employee’s career was hand out promotions on an annual basis.
The youth today have bold aspirations. They possess the confidence to live life on their own terms. What they prize most is the freedom to set their own course. They are the masters of their own career destinies.
Accordingly, the role of company management has evolved from setting rigid career and performance targets to sitting down with employees and helping them identify and set their own goals and come up with a plan to achieve them.
Leading By Example
Finally, I think there is no better way to raise your employees’ morale than leading by example. The key is to show good character and conduct yourself and your business in a manner you want to be imitated. How the management conducts itself and how it deals with its customers, vendors, and stakeholders trickles down to the bottom-most employees in the hierarchy and develops a company’s ‘work culture.’
Let me give you another example. I was being interviewed for my first job when the CEO of the bank I had applied to, who was on the interview panel, received a phone call.
“Good morning, this is XYZ bank, how may I help you?” he answered.
After joining I noticed that this act definitely had set an example of customer-first for every employee in the company, whether they were in customer-facing roles or not.
Ultimately every company’s culture is an extension of its leadership. Hence, take pride in your work and your employees will too, set high standards, live up to them, and your employees will follow.
At the end of the day, there’s no secret recipe to boosting employee morale. The key is to generate an environment of value and acceptance; it creates a win-win situation for the employees and the company. It’s simple – ensure your employees are happy and the bottom line will take care of itself.
[The author of this post is Giya Diwaan – Country Head for Musafir.com.]