Often times in business we find an employee that just seems to be a great fit. They do more than their job, don’t complain and actually prop up other employees. They get their work done without complaints and they take on whatever you send their way. We pat them on the back, tell them they’re doing a great job and pay them what we consider a fair wage. Then, Whammo! They announce they’re leaving. You think, what did I do wrong?
Key employees need a different kind of nurturing than good employees. They need special attention that makes them feel like they are singular, they are an important cog in your business wheel and you treat them differently. They need to know that you know they are good.
I had an employee (Peter) that could actually run the business while I was away. I could take vacations and not worry about the place falling apart. I started by calling each day while away then realized that I didn’t need to. That eventually turned to once a week. If he needed me, he’d call. He was that good. It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t want to lose him and what could I do to make sure he didn’t leave.
This was a small business doing just under $16M a year in revenues. We had about 20 employees and the main daily controls were keeping customers happy, keeping expenses under control and making sure all employees worked safe. If we could do these three things we would generate a profit and stay in business. Peter understood that and did a great job at it. So, first I knew I had to pay him well. But also, I knew that high salaries cause difficulties when the economy dips and revenues drop. Peter was definitely motivated by money. He was single, had a lot of toys and spent most of his off time playing. I gave Peter an offer that would recognize him as a leader in the company and motivate him to keep the company profitable. I wanted to get his attention and keep him from straying away and enough to fend off competitors and recruiters. I gave him a $10,000 a year raise and a share of the profits which could match up to 75% of his salary. The base pay was manageable by our company and the profit sharing was a given, only payable when we had profits. Peter stayed with us for many years and helped us achieve a good bonus for himself.
Recognizing a key employee is the first step. Is this employee truly living the business and understanding its goals. Does he not accept excuses for why it can’t be done. Does she have an ego that keeps her in the focus rather than the benefit of the entire team. Is he smart? Is she loyal? Is she efficient? Does he talk about others behind their backs? Is he accepted by our customers? Is her communication style articulate and her delivery comprehensible? These are important elements of a leader/manager that can circumvent drawn out employee or customer troublesome encounters.
Pay attention to employees that work for you like it was their own business. Never fear that they are trying to take over your business. If you have the proper controls in place, that will not happen. Make them a part of your team and reward them accordingly. They, in turn, will reward you with your time.
Leading Edge Business Strategies, LLC is a consulting firm for small business. Paul Beaudette is the President and has over 30 years of successful business experience managing companies to sustainable profits and leading employees to being productive and aspiring to growth.
“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character.” -General Norman Schwarzkokpf