where are you going? how are you going to get there?

July, 2018

In my workshops on how to start and run a small business, I generally ask participants some variation of this question:

“If I promised to pay you a hundred dollars in cash, could you meet at the Kittery Trading Post by 6:00 PM tonight?”

Most people in my classes say, sure, they could do that. The reason I ask this is to highlight some basic management concepts that are as applicable to life as to running a small business. If we know where we are going and are sufficiently motivated, we can make a plan, implement it, succeed and get rewarded for our efforts.

Next, I up the ante and the reward, and ask, ‘OK. And how many of you could meet me on the top of Seattle Space Needle, by noon tomorrow, if I were to promise you five thousand dollars?”  People start thinking and sharing ideas. This task takes more planning, more time, more money, has more risk but also a greater reward. Is this affordable? Will it be worth it? Can they succeed?

I explain my point to them this way. In small business management, the day to day, close to home challenges take less time and less effort and can be done fairly easily. They are still important and need to be addressed. Bigger plans with bigger rewards are more complex, take more thought, more planning, more time and more effort; not unlike the long term successful of your small business. In either case you need to know where you’re going to get the results you want to achieve.

Let me ask you this, then: Long term, do you have a vision for where you are going? If your company has employees, do they know where you want everyone to end up, and do they know what their jobs are to help you succeed? Do they know what it is in if for them? Will they follow you there? Will it be worth it?

Really great companies to work for have many things in common. They are great places to work because:

  • The vision of where the company is going is clear to everyone.
  • The goals for getting there are also clear as are expectations for everyone’s performance.
  • People trust each other and value the work being done. They enjoy what they do and are recognized for their positive efforts. They get support to be successful.
  • Everyone, especially the owner / “boss” plays by the same rules.
  • Communications are open and focused on what’s important to the business, each other, and the community.

Salaries and wages are always an issue of fairness and affordability, but the intangible concepts listed are some of the employee-focused parts of a business that each owner can begin to address at no cost, to create a successful small business and a great place to work.


relationship at work

April, 2018

This morning I read a Harvard Business Review article on the intangible things that employees really want at work – those things which are so important to workers that when they are part of their work experience, employees feel very connected to their employer and to their work. When this is the norm, people work better.

You may have guessed that none of the points had anything to do with money. Pay is something we are either satisfied with, or not.

What makes the difference for employees, whether they are Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y or Z, or Millennials, has to do with their relationship to their company.

In a nut shell, the article pointed out that the keys to employee loyalty and performance stemmed from a basic philosophy that enlightened companies live by: that “employees are as important as the paying customers who consume the products and services they sell.”

Think about this for a moment. Who are your customers and why do they shop with you? They are those regular patrons who have chosen you as their “go to” company, for one or more of the things they buy day to day. Right? I imagine you could pull together a good list of all the ways you’ve spent developing and nurturing your relationship with them.

If you see your employees as just as important as your customers to your business success ask yourself: What are you doing to develop your relationship with those people who come to work for you every day?

Maslow, through his hierarchy of needs, tells us that physical safety is an essential human need and so the work environment your employees step into each day has a real impact on how they feel about their ability to do their work.

To the extent that people feel physically safe, it is the employees’ psychological needs that make the biggest difference to their performance. Your employees are your people, and they need and want clear communications about what is expected of them. They want to trust those who supervise them. They want to feel that their employers are fair. As people, they need to know why their work is important. They want to be acknowledged and validated for their contributions.

When work relationships are trustworthy and fair, when employees understand what is expected and why and have the resources they need to get the job done, when those for whom they work acknowledge and validate their efforts, and coach them when improvements are needed, when they take to time to get to know what is important to those who work for them, the effects are positive for your employees, for you, as the owner, and for your customers. Everyone wins.


Having a Good Job vs. Doing a Good Job

January, 2018

A colleague asked me the other day, “What’s the difference between a having a good job and doing a good job?”

I think my answer surprised her, “You know, they are definitely related,” I replied.

Most of the time we think that when someone is doing a good job they are driven by their work ethic. They show up on time, they are ready to work when they arrive, they have the talent and they perform their job with a sense of pride in what they do. They exceed their job’s minimum requirements and continue to produce solid results. They “do a good job.” We love these people on our teams, right?

When we look a little deeper into how employees perform at a high level, we start to realize that their efforts are supported by many elements in the workplace that create “a good job” including:

  • They were hired to do work at which they can excel.
  • They feel safe both physically and emotionally at work.
  • They have the resources required to do their work.
  • There is a culture of appreciation for the work they do, and a sense of being part of a team.
  • They are given a chance to contribute and receive recognition for their efforts.
  • Job performance is communicated in ways that highlight strengths and encourage and support improvements.
  • Employees are paid fairly and receive other benefits in exchange for their efforts.

While these qualities are not all that make a good job, they are part of a list that shows that a small business owner understands what it takes to help their employees perform well and has intentionally created a work place to help employees succeed.

Ask yourself: Are there areas in your small business you can see where improvements will help employees succeed in their work?

Remember, these are the people you have hired to help you achieve the business results you want. Creating a good job improves employees’ chances of doing a good job for you.


I know a Good Job when I see one!

December, 2017

Several years back my wife and I were sitting in the base lodge of one of Maine’s amazing ski areas, buckling up our boots and getting ready for a day on the slopes.

As we were heading out, a woman approached us and introduced herself. She told us she worked for the ski area and wondered if we’d be willing to help with an employee focused program that the company was running. We said “Sure.”

She explained that she wanted us to observe the Sunday River employees we saw or met during our day of skiing. “If someone is doing an exceptionally good job,” she explained, “I’d like you to give them this envelope. It awards them $100, a paid day off, and a lunch with the President of the company.” We could choose anyone we thought deserving.

What a great program!  Ask customers to pay attention to the quality of the work that is getting done all around them, and award one employee a valuable acknowledgement of their efforts.

Of course, this was not as random an exercise as it might appear. Good job performance does not just happen. To have the confidence to run this sort of program, where a company intentionally brings attention to their employees, a company must:

  • Have a vision of what it wants to accomplish
  • Know how employees will help make the vision happen
  • Organize and create polices for the work that must be done
  • Recruit, screen and hire to get the right people into the right job.
  • Provide initial and on-going training to employees and regular feedback about their performance
  • Pay a fair wage or salary, and offer on-the-job support and leadership that motivates and encourages strong performance
  • Offer perks or benefits befitting the company’s focus good jobs and employee retention

In my posts I’ll offer insights, observations, short interviews, points from guest bloggers and more on the art and management of good jobs for your employees – the people who help to make you successful.

CEI is a mission-driven investor, a private non-profit community development corporation that helps its client companies and communities to grow good jobs. We know that it is challenging to start, grow and run a small business and lead and manage employees. We also know the benefits of doing so – and are strategically focused to assist.

(By the way – my wife and I awarded the recognition to a energetic ski instructor who in a fun but firm manner managed to organize and maintain the energies and actions of nine very excited 11-13-year-old girls who had just burst into the crowded lodge to warm up and have lunch. Great job!)

Bradshaw Swanson is a Maine Certified Master Business Advisor with the Maine Small Business Development Centers at CEI in Brunswick and Augusta.