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  • Energizing Your Business and Your Employees

    Most businesses start with a bang because planning and dreams fuel them. After a few years they might begin to run out of steam if creativity and goals don't continue to be fostered. Recognizing the signs of age and knowing when and how to energize your business and your employees can mean the difference between growth and stagnation.

    It's normal to slip into a "business as usual" routine. Excitement can wane as the business finds its own comfortable tempo. Every business fluctuates with periods of tremendous activity, followed by lulls. However, when a lull lingers too long it can result in bored employees, a ho-hum attitude on your part, and profits that level off. These are signs that your shop has settled too comfortably into a valley and might be headed for a steeper decline.

    Fortunately, there are solutions. You can add zip to your business by energizing your employees, and in turn, recharging your shop to generate more profit.

    Recognize the Symptoms

    It's easy to get so involved in day-to-day activities that you don't see the subtle changes happening around you. The wise business owner will pause every few months to take careful inventory - not of the merchandise, but of the mood.

    Some warning signs that your shop could be in a slump or could use an attitude adjustment are:

    • Employees who can do their work with their eyes closed and their brains on autopilot
    • A nagging sense that the business is stable but not improving and certainly not booming
    • Policies and procedures are more important than people
    • Excessive caution and a fear of failure among employees
    • No one talks or chats with each other unless it's about work
    • If you notice some of the above situations, it's time to take charge and lead your business and your employees out of the valley.

    Rally the Troops

    Begin your ascent by asking your employees to attend half-hour brainstorming sessions. These gatherings will help break the ice and encourage them to begin talking to each other again. Possibly schedule the session during lunch and have food catered in.

    Be upbeat. You don't want to worry your employees by making them think something is wrong or that their jobs are in jeopardy. Your goal in these sessions is to foster an atmosphere where employees speak their opinions without fear of ridicule or reprisal.

    First, thank them for their dedicated work and then ask if they have any ideas to make the shop more efficient, provide better customer service, or improve the shop in general. Simply listen and write down each suggestion. Don't pass judgment on each idea immediately. You can go over them later and make your final decisions on which to implement and which won't be feasible or practical.

    If your employees seem reluctant to voice their thoughts, take the initiative. Share with them your immediate plans for the shop. Try these tactics as a means to get them talking:

    • Ask each of your employees to set goals. Don't set goals for them.
    • Give them new tasks that challenge them, but can be accomplished. This might take some thought on your part, but it's vitally important in order to kick-start employees stuck in neutral.
    • Schedule a few "something new" sessions where a skill, innovation, or trend is discussed and demonstrated.
    • Construct a "suggestion box" and place it in the workroom or design area. This will encourage input from employees too shy to speak in the sessions.

    High Praise

    Now that you've asked your employees to set goals and you've challenged them to learn and take on new skills and tasks, you should implement a reward system. This doesn't necessarily mean cash rewards.

    Surveys have revealed that workers value recognition and respect more than salary increases. To be successful at showing employees that they are valued, it's important to understand first that acknowledging a job well done is different from praise, which can take on the cloak of being patronized. However, acknowledging achievement, such as by passing along a "thank you" card from a pleased wedding customer, is unlikely to be misconstrued as insincere or pretentious.

    Here are some ways to recognize your employees for their work:

    • Write notes to employees, acknowledging their customer service efforts or their superior work on a project or work order.
    • Compliment employees while they're doing something exceptional, especially if others are in earshot.
    • Keep a record of when employees were hired and note these dates on your calendar so you can host anniversary lunches to acknowledge their years of service.
    • Give employees gift certificates from your shop, popular stores, or restaurants to recognize increases in their sales and other improvements.

    Group Efforts

    Whenever possible, thank your employees for their team efforts to encourage them to continue to work together and discourage competitive tension among them. While some competition is healthy, too much can often erode morale.

    As team leader you should not only provide direction and guide work projects, but also plan to celebrate the successes once the shop's goals have been met. If the pace of your shop is such that employees feel they move from one deadline to the next without ever pausing to reflect or take pride in each success, look for ways to slow down.

    Schedule celebratory lunches or bring in donuts and coffee one morning. Insist that everyone join in for some "back patting" before you set your sights on the next big project. This also provides a good opportunity to hear from your employees about what they learned and how they think the next wedding, open house, or holiday sale can be improved.

    Even though some positions might be more important to you than others, be sure that every employee understands his or her value to the success of your shop. During your group celebrations be sensitive to this by promoting equality among employees. This can be done in subtle ways, with your body language. For instance, during any group meeting try to make sure everyone is sitting in a circle, because this gives the feeling of camaraderie and discourages the sense of "levels."

    Plugged In, Not Tuned Out

    One of the challenges most shop owners face is the lack of upward mobility available to employees. As in many small businesses, a limited workforce means that each job is important, but there is often no room for advancement.

    Being part of a team also means that one employee isn't expected to do all the menial work. Divide these tasks fairly among everyone.

    Create an environment where employees are free to talk about work-related issues and personal matters. If too many subjects are taboo or if the employees are reluctant to seek you out for guidance and information, their sense of inclusion is at risk.

    By blocking off a space for informal employee gatherings, you can help create a sense of unity. The area will draw together employees and promote collaboration and constructive conversations.

    Inform your employees of changes, new techniques, and new procedures. Your employees will feel they're "in the loop" and you'll be helping them make good decisions. When you're making large changes, such as altering shop policies and procedures, hold open discussions. Make sure everyone's opinion is heard and respected.

    A florist in New Rochelle, NY complained "my new employee is so full of ideas about how to improve the shop that she's driving me crazy!" Instead of looking at the enthusiastic employee as a nuisance, the shop owner might have been better served by listening and discussing the ideas with the employee. Even if most of the plans might not have been possible, one or two might just have been inspired enough to increase the shop's profits.

    All Charged Up

    Remember that the only things in your shop that don't depreciate are your employees. Begin any rejuvenation plan with their input, realizing that once you act on something, energy levels will rise. By steering away from boredom and toward inspiration, you'll be insuring continued success for you, your employees, and your shop.



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