Steve Strauss, for USA TODAY
Q: I am in the process of hiring some new employees, but I really can't pay a lot, given the economy and all. How do I attract top talent and keep them, given my financial situation? -- Jocelyn
A: A couple of years ago I saw a survey that looked at successful franchisees. The idea was to find out why these certain small business owners were more successful than other, less successful ones. It turned out that there was one major correlating factor between small business management and small business success, and it was this:
The better the boss, the better the business.
If the boss managed in a friendly, inclusive, understanding, participatory style, if he or she really valued the staff and showed it, if the business treated their people right, the business tended to do well. And when the boss was a jerk, that too was reflected in the bottom line.
And it makes sense, doesn't it? Employees are the ones who deal with your customers. If employees are unhappy, you can bet your customers will feel it. And vice versa. Thus, while it may be cliché, it is also true: For most small businesses, their employees are their greatest asset. And if that is indeed true, it follows from the above that it all starts with the owner.
There are many ways to be a boss. You can be friendly, domineering, difficult, easy-going, or something different altogether. Just know that how you act directly affects the quality of employee you will attract and as a result, your bottom-line.
Moreover, if you want to attract excellent employees, you need to take into account the many things people want out of work. From the noble (the desire to make a difference) to the routine (to get health insurance), work means different things to different people. You need to listen to, and account for, what it is they need.
Another very important aspect of attracting and retaining a good staff relates to their level of motivation while at work. Motivated employees are happy and productive; unmotivated ones are not. It would behoove you, then, to have a motivated staff. Here's how:
Money: Of course, the mightiest of motivators is money. Paying a fair wage and having a good benefits package is a great place to start. Beyond that, linking an employee's pay to performance is usually a good motivation tool.
Appreciation: Studies show that beyond money, appreciation is what employees want. Appreciation can take many forms and need not cost a fortune:
• A special parking spot for a week
• A night out on the town
• More territory
• A round of golf or tickets to a ballgame
• An afternoon off
• A gift certificate
• A rafting trip down the river.
Recognition: Letting everyone else know that someone did a great job works wonders. Consider sending a press release regarding an accomplishment to your trade journal or a prominent industry website. Send a letter home to the employee's family saying what a great job she is doing.
Listen: Listening to employee ideas, and taking them, makes people feel like they are part of a team and that what they say makes a difference. Have a suggestion box and take the suggestions.
Bottom line: Sure, money is important, but there are other things that go into the attracting a good staff equation, and chief among them is being a great place to work. Get that part right and great employees will want to work there.
Today's tip: According to a recent study by The Hartford, most small business owners get what we are talking about in today's column. According to The Hartford2012 Small Business Success Study:
• Small business owners want to provide benefits: 60% of small business owners offer their employees some form of benefit.
• Small business owners don't want to cut benefits: Only 24% of small businesses are shifting the cost of healthcare to employees, according to the study. And only 17% are reducing employee benefits.
• Small business owners want to share the success. 70% of small business owners said the ability to pay their employees enough for them to have a comfortable lifestyle is important.