Nine keys to building a better business team

Throughout my career, I’ve been privileged to work for some wonderful companies, and in the process, have had a number of great bosses. Unfortunately I’ve also worked for some less-than-wonderful bosses who shall remain nameless in this space.

I’ve always been a good mimic, so I have tried to take the great leadership principles I’ve observed and experienced and put it into action in my own situations. And one thing I can say for certain is that every good boss I ever had found a way to build a cohesive team that was diligent, hard-working, enthusiastic and loyal. Conversely, every bad boss I ever had found a way to sow as much discontent and dissatisfaction into their “team” as possible.

For the good bosses, that building process was always by design. They had a plan and executed it, and it paid huge dividends. For the bad bosses, the process was typically haphazard and without a plan; they achieved failure because they simply didn’t effectively plan for success.

Looking back, there are at least nine identifiable areas where the good guys succeeded, and the not-so-good guys tended to be deficient. As a leader in your business, you can use these areas as a checklist or report card to evaluate how you’re doing. Be assured that your employees already are.

Salary: This is one area that most people quickly focus on because they figure that if you pay people well, they’ll be happy and stay with you. But remember that a lot of companies are paying attention to the dollar signs too, and if money is the only tool you’re using to get and keep talent, you’ll lose as much as you win. Amazingly, competitive salaries are not as big of a deal as some of the other areas. Consider this: people who just go to work for the salary are basically just mercenaries, and are always free agents available to the highest bidder. Truly happy employees will stick with a job that pays less, even if they might be able to make more money elsewhere. Why? Because most or all of the next eight areas are strong enough to lessen the importance of a large salary.

Benefits: This is the big one on the list. If paying higher salaries is a problem, then providing a great benefits package will often make your employees a lot happier to stay with your organization. A friend’s company was located in a big military town, and they were known for having the second-best medical coverage in town. (The best coverage was provided by the U.S. Air Force.) Another employer paid a huge portion of its employees’ monthly medical premiums in order to keep the employees’ cost very low. Generous vacation and sick leave policies are also key in this area, as are solid retirement packages. When employees know that they’ll have a hard time replacing the benefits you provide, you’ll be much more likely to hold on to them.

Training: One of the worst things a boss can do is set up an employee for failure by not providing the training needed to succeed at their job. Conversely, employers can greatly increase their bottom line when they also increase their employees’ training – whether it’s on-the-job or in a more formal classroom-type situation. One local medical business is largely funding its staff to pursue and attain certification in their field. There is a risk that the employees will be more marketable to other companies, but this organization has a huge emphasis on education, and wants its team to be knowledgeable on the job, and able to advance up the ranks within the company.

Traditions: This area might seem unusual, but it’s really critical. People love traditions. If you don’t believe it, just try canceling the office Christmas party and see what response you get. My Dad was a newspaper publisher and had functions throughout the year – pot lucks, softball games, picnics, Thanksgiving and the Christmas party. The employees looked forward to every one of them. It was heartbreaking for an employee to have to “man the ship” in the newsroom while the rest of the staff enjoyed the camaraderie of a softball game. A little bit of fun, play and celebration will lighten hearts, develop unity and give people one more reason to stick around.

Stability: One of the big benefits of low staff turnover is that it creates a stable environment. Change is scary for many, if not most, people, so the less often you introduce change, the more your people will feel at home. Of course, change is also inevitable, but doing it deliberately and in increments will make it much more disruptive to a well-functioning team.

Encouragement: A good word from a boss is often like a drink of cool water to a man dying of thirst. It’s invigorating and refreshing, and it’s a free way to keep your employees doing their job with a smile on their face. Just being nice doesn’t cost a dime, but it’s so hard for some bosses to do it. A friend’s former boss only seemed to notice every mistake her staff made, and relished pointing out the flaws in team meetings and group emails. That supervisor’s replacement was the exact opposite, and gave “attaboys” on a regular basis. Which one do you think the team preferred?

Recognition: This one goes hand-in-hand with encouragement, but it’s more formal and less frequent. When someone on your team – or perhaps the entire team – does something notable, you have the opportunity to create a special moment with an award, certificate or bonus. This could be a sales goal, a regional or national award or a certification or college degree achieved. A number of years ago, I helped my company win more than two dozen awards. My boss rewarded our team with engraved desk sets and company cell phones. The next boss not only didn’t recognize anything we did – he tended to take all of the credit for himself.

Pride: If you do most or all of these things, you’ll find that you’re starting to create a sense of pride of working for a place your team regards as special. Nurture and encourage that pride, because it will be attractive to prospective associates when you eventually have to fill openings or expand your team. I especially see this at schools who have a crew of teachers who love and are proud of their school. But it extends to any business, from hospitals to car dealerships to restaurants. When people are proud of their employer, they will work so much harder for its success than if they’re basically there because they have nowhere else to go.

Loyalty: That’s really the end result of this whole process. If you take care of your team, they’ll take care of you. Don’t take care of them, and they’ll cheer when you fail. One former supervisor appeared to set up a co-worker of mine by forcing him to finish a critical project on a completely unfamiliar computer platform. Several months later, the office staff felt no remorse in reporting that supervisor to his boss for violating office policy. Predictably, he was fired. My friend’s former boss? Sent packing for running the department into the ground, and not one associate shed a tear. The boss who hogged all of the credit? He wrecked that business after chasing off every longtime associate, including me.

But all of the good bosses I’ve mentioned? As they prospered, so did their businesses. They all worked toward a well-earned retirement, and a laundry list of their former employees showed up to hug them and cheer them on. If you put these items into place in your business, your team will work harder, longer and with more pride than you can imagine. And they’ll rally around you in both good times and bad. It’s hard to put a price tag on that kind of loyalty.

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About Douglas Blaine

Capnpen is a writer who was a newspaper and magazine journalist in a previous life. A college journalism major, he now works as an administrator, but gets his writing fix by blogging about a variety of topics, including politics, religion, movies and television. When he's not working or blogging, Capnpen spends time with his family, plays a little golf (badly) and loves to learn about virtually anything.
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