Is it possible to keep your brightest team players from moving on? Yes, if you focus on growth. Here's how to do it sustainably — and with a people-centered focus.
The floodgates have opened for talented professionals. Now that the Great Resignation is alleviating people's fears of becoming "job jumpers," high performers are seeking greener pastures. But this doesn't mean that your company can't hold onto your best employees — you just have to win their loyalty.
One of the best ways to do this is to focus on your corporate growth. How does growing your business, brand and revenue help you reduce turnover? According to Ceridian's "2022 Pulse of Talent" report, 30% of active job seekers say they are looking for new roles due to a lack of growth opportunities at their current jobs. Almost 20% say it's because their work doesn't align with their skills.
A lot of workers want their skill sets to be identified, molded and honed. They want to be immersed in a company that sees them as part of the solution today and tomorrow. By scaling your business, you can satisfy all these employee desires. As you grow, you'll have more money to invest in training, more positions and roles to offer talented workers and more chances to create a culture that makes people want to stick around for the long term.
Of course, growth won't happen overnight. It won't happen by accident, either. To increase your corporate profits and provide team members with the opportunities and encouragement they're craving, you'll need to make intentional changes. Here are three steps to get you started.
1. Empower top talent to think like entrepreneurs
As a founder, you know what it's like to be an entrepreneur. You've had to innovate, facilitate and advocate for yourself and your business to get where you are. Do your other team members have the same experiences? Only 16% of adults in the U.S. could be considered entrepreneurs, according to Babson College research. However, your employees (and company) could benefit from adopting an entrepreneurial mindset.
To drive growth and simultaneously reward top achievers, ask key players to help you overcome obstacles and problems standing in the way of growth. Empower them to devise creative solutions. You might even want to authorize them to take steps forward without asking, such as by building a product prototype or working with marketing to attract untapped audiences. Google, for example, encourages employees to spend 20% of their time on what they think would most benefit the company.
Just make sure you offer a soft landing for any ventures that don't pan out. Giving your employees permission to experiment and then pulling away the safety net when they don't succeed isn't fair. When workers feel like they can flex their entrepreneurial mindset, they tend to be more adaptable, more innovative and less stressed. Plus, they'll be more apt to go the extra mile for your company, which can prompt faster growth.
2. Paint a clear vision of what's down the road and around the bend
To maintain your best team members and propel your company toward growth, you have to show your team where you're going. Never assume that workers have read your annual business plans or that they can somehow read your mind. Employees won't know your chosen direction until you tell them.
This puts the onus on you and the rest of your leadership team to lay out company goals for employees. You'll need to go one step further, though. In addition to describing your plan, illustrate how every person can contribute to it. Be as specific as possible so your teams can see where they fit in.
When people feel valued, they'll think twice before leaving. They might also feel more energized because of their sense of belonging. Throughout 2021, Gallup noted a drop in employee engagement. Providing a business roadmap can help stimulate the mental excitement your employees might be missing. At the same time, your purpose-driven team members will be more likely to want your business to grow — and to contribute to that growth.
3. Promote from within when possible
When your business promotes from within and is on a growth trajectory, talented employees know it. They realize that they might just be months away from landing their next role or fulfilling their career path dreams. As such, they'll be less likely to reach out to recruiters.
Although business growth might open up promotion opportunities, you'll also want to reimagine how every employee can contribute to your company's success and scalability. For example, you could reconfigure a role to utilize someone's unique skill set. Case in point: You could pay your best cold caller more and also put them in charge of training other sales team members.
Promoting internally and moving people around creates closer connections in your workforce. Employees will get to know each other and form bonds. Just be certain that you're coaching everyone appropriately and educating your managers on how to mentor their strongest team members. A case study by Together found that employees who took part in a company mentorship program were almost 50% less likely to leave the organization.
Sometimes, business growth means bringing on new talent. That's understandable. Just be sure that you focus on retaining as many high performers as possible. If you don't provide top talent with the career and development opportunities they're looking for, then you'll find yourself back where you started.
These outdated strategies and rules from the old economy are slowly stifling success. These are the reason good companies go bad.
As technological advances have altered the velocity of business and created structural changes in the environment, policies and practices within many companies have not changed. There are mental models woven into our minds and corporate cultures which have not kept pace with modern times as the new economy boots up. Many of these practices are also barriers to change and quickly become legacy symbols. It is impossible to list every one of them here but let us examine a few broad areas.
1. Hiring obsession with cultural fit
Hiring only for culture fit is an outdated recruitment strategy that will cost top talent. When like-minded individuals are hired instead of those with different perspectives, opinions or views on how things need to be done, the company's culture stagnates and declines over time because they have no folks to challenge the status quo or drive creativity and innovation.
Everyone will learn to work at the company in the legacy environment and navigate the status quo skillfully. While hiring people who get along with the team and share vision and values is essential, they need not look, feel or behave similarly to you, only adding to the groupthink mandate disguised as the cultural fit mandate.
2. Measuring in-office presence
Work is an activity, not a place anymore. In a virtual workplace environment, employees can be productive from anywhere. This is an opportunity to provide more convenience for workers and increase productivity by leveraging their skills across separate locations, time zones and cultures. But leaders often have the mindset that if they don't see you in person, your efforts aren't fruitful or productive! Manage for outcomes and, if needed, for milestones. Trying to manage tasks driven by physical presence will not fly in the modern workforce. Exceptions may exist, but the norm has changed.
3. The annual performance evaluation chore
The annual performance review is outdated and ineffective. Business moves quickly, so your feedback should too! To give employees a sense of continuity in their work environment, they should receive continued guidance and coaching from you as close to real-time as possible — make improvements easy by focusing on multiple short and effective coaching or feedback sessions and not one big administrative chore at year-end. Performance management must adapt to business velocity and reality by going agile.
4. Hierarchical leadership
Command-and-control leadership was once a highly effective way to produce material goods in the industrial age. However, it is now important for individuals and teams to operate under collaborative conditions where knowledge-based production rather than physical product creation takes center stage; this requires shared responsibility among team members working toward defined goals and coordinating efforts with minimal disruption, confusion or conflict. A modern-day workplace invests, nurtures and grows people with team member voices considered in day-to-day activities.
5. Consensus and input-based culture
Management in large companies used to be all about consensus and agreement. However, trying to get agreement from everyone can slow things down and stifle voices that disagree. Getting people's input does not equal building consensus. Given the velocity of business, one cannot afford to align to the speed of consensus. It is time for spirited discussions, quick debates, fast decisions and rapid execution. Organizations must optimize for speed and agility than let consensus consume decision-making or cause inclusion suffering.
6. Formal dress codes
The last century was about enforcing formal attire like suits, skirts and ties. As the new century unfolds, professional-looking and casual dress codes are accepted, and it is assumed that one does not win business or create value based on what one wears. Allowing people to be comfortable helps drive a free and positive environment. The meaning of well-dressed may have changed; it is time to rethink the old economy attire too!
7. Optimizing to withstand change and risk
In the old economy, one was taught to build organizations that resisted change and risk. But market dynamics today demand the opposite thought process from that era. Managing through excessive controls to mitigate risk creates agility risk and stifles innovation. To stay current and relevant, one must keep their industry, country and business in context to assume calculated risks.
We are undergoing a significant shift in work, business velocity and workforce demographics. Much of the practices designed from the industrial era may not hold but have seeped into our work practices and self-created mental models around appearance, professionalism, productivity, and a false tie-in to results. It is time to shed the baggage!
Here's why simply having a plan to grow your business is not enough — and what you need to do to turn your plan into a reality.
If you're familiar with the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry saying: "A goal without a plan is just a wish," you've probably only heard the TL;DR version. Here is the full version:
A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.
This is why your plan isn't going to be enough. A plan in itself is just a piece of paper or a bunch of 0s and 1s that make up words. Luckily, I have had experience with failing and succeeding in business (more of the latter), and these are the five things I focus on to turn my plans into realities.
Focusing on one primary goal per quarter is crucial. As much as we like to brag that we can multitask, we can't. When was the last time you saw a population that throws 10 balls in the air and catch them before they hit the ground? Exactly. A much better skill is learning how to take all the tasks at hand and realizing which one will have the most impact.
More specifically, internal company transparency. Does your team understand the finances of the company? Do they understand what a burn rate is and that revenue doesn't mean you are profitable? Internal company transparency means educating your team on how a business works and bringing them into the inner circle that used to be reserved for leadership only. If you add stock options on top of that, you can trigger an ownership mindset that makes your team your partner.
Now that your team has become your partner in success (and failure), they need to be held to a different standard, and being accountable is key. There may be 3-10 people responsible for a priority (remember, only one per quarter) but there is one person at the helm, or what I call the champions, that makes sure everyone does what they need to do. This person needs to understand something, though. They aren't "the boss." A lot of times when someone is given this type of responsibility, they believe that they can just shout orders and they only take credit when they succeed and blame others for "not listening" when they fail. That isn't the case. Accountability goes both ways.
This is probably the hardest part of the process. Your company is only as good as your weakest employee. When you are small (under 50 employees), you don't have the luxury of hand-holding — you either find a team that learns quickly or one that is already experienced. Once again, I suggest the latter. You will thank me later. Understand that salary will be your biggest investment and you should treat it just like that — an investment.
Hire fast and fire quick, especially if you are smaller. Yes, I know this is not the usual battle cry ("Hire slow..."), but you have to realize a day in the life of a small, growing business is like a month for an established one. You need to trust your gut or trust someone else's when hiring. I also strongly suggest you set expectations with new hires to understand they are in a trial period and that they need to step up. This may seem harsh, but as you grow, you can be a little more lenient and mentor with a softer touch.
5. Stay healthy
It's important to stay healthy financially, physically and mentally. Create an environment that endorses the importance of all three. Physical and financial are usually easier concepts to grasp and fix (I said easier, not easy), but mental is a tough nut to crack. Just saying there is an open-door policy is great and must be said, but sometimes that isn't enough. Keep in mind that the time you spend doing one thing — for example, focusing on revenue — usually prevents you from focusing on your employees' well-being. Finding the balance is sometimes not worth the effort when you are smaller but should definitely be on the table as you grow and can afford to implement a mental health check system.
Did you notice a trend here about plans? There was only one point that spoke directly to taking action, and the rest was to help others be effective at their duties — which has always made me think about Antoine's quote. I always wanted to add the following to it.
But remember, a dream is nothing without someone to appreciate it with you
Without your team running smoothly, a plan can't take action. And if you really want to make it big, you aren't going to do it yourself. Don't you agree?
By utilizing these tips, women business owners can alleviate some of the stress of entrepreneurship and find balance while also managing a financially successful business.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
For many women entrepreneurs, success seems to come at a higher price — with more time, effort and sacrifices than men might have to make. If you feel that way, you're not alone. In fact, the majority of women small business owners say they have to work harder for the same level of success as their male counterparts, according to the latest report on small business owners from Bank of America.
While the climb might be steeper, that hasn't deterred millions of women from starting a business. Women have been driving record levels of small business creation since the pandemic began in 2020, and according to Fairygodboss, women are now starting 1,200 businesses per day. There's plenty we can learn from those who've been down the road before. Acknowledging that everyone's path is different, here are three strategies to help women business owners overcome common hurdles:
Crack the code on accessing capital
While access to capital for women has improved over time, our report found that more than a quarter of women entrepreneurs believe they'll never have equal access to capital. It's evident that we still need to overcome systematic barriers, but there are strategies that can help women business owners right now.
Time and time again, I've seen many women entrepreneurs feel like they need to have the perfect plan before going to a bank. The truth is, you don't have to wait until things are 100% polished to talk to a specialist. Don't let fear of rejection stop you from seeking critical advice from professionals who assist a wide range of businesses every day and can help fine-tune your plan and provide guidance around the most appropriate source of funding and next steps.
And there are alternatives to consider. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs) are a great resource for those who may not qualify for a traditional loan, for example. Also, today, there are more and more venture capital funds run by — and focused on — funding women. At Bank of America, we are making strategic investments in funds like Chloe Capital and Coyote Ventures, because they're so good at empowering underrepresented women entrepreneur talent.
Find your people
Entrepreneurship can feel lonely, but you don't have to go it alone. And you may not know it, but just by being a woman business owner, you already have a groundswell of support from a huge and passionate community of fellow women entrepreneurs. There are so many organizations, programs, events and circles of support that you can join.
Take, for example, the National Association of Women Business Owners — a group that started in 1975 with 12 women that's now 5,000 members strong with 60 chapters across the country — which provides a whole range of benefits to propel your business growth and fuel personal and professional development.
NAWBO is one of the gold standards, and there are plenty of other great communities to consider as well, from global to more local in focus, bigger to more tight-knit: Vital Voices, Female Founder Collective, HerAgenda and BizWomen, to name a few. Take a look at what's local to you, too, and there might be a physical space for you to network and work. For example, NYC-based Luminary is a global professional networking organization and non-traditional co-working space specifically designed for women entrepreneurs.
Find the group that clicks with you and where you feel most comfortable — depending on the type of resources you need, the conversations you want to have and who inspires you. You can use those networks to find a mentor, and better yet, an advocate who can vouch for you and help you along your journey.
Shared experience can be really helpful here, too. Through networking, you might meet someone who has faced similar challenges. Maybe that's staffing problems, supply chain disruptions or managing customer expectations. You can get practical advice and solutions this way.
Build your confidence, and be kind to yourself
Women's professional confidence is down, according to research from Fairygodboss and Dress for Success, which found that one in two women don't feel self-confident at work right now.
One of the best things I always remind myself to do is to "own your chair." Whether you feel like it in the moment or not, you deserve to be seated in the room and have your voice heard as a decision-maker — so, own your chair, and don't be afraid to ask for what your business needs.
A powerful way to learn how to own your chair and build self-confidence is to arm yourself with knowledge. The more you know, the more confident you'll feel as an entrepreneur. Tap into the many (free) educational resources out there. A few that I'd recommend are our Small Business Resource Center and SCORE.
Also, it's easier said than done, but don't put too much pressure on yourself. Running your own business can be unpredictable and stressful. Both in business and life, women tend to be harder on themselves than men.
Entrepreneurship is not an easy path and can be very mentally taxing, so be kind to yourself. Prioritize mental health, and do your best to make sure your life is well-rounded and not all work, all the time.
When you can, try to make time for yourself — whether you go for a walk, cook a meal, read a chapter of a book or do whatever it is that helps you unwind. You might feel you're falling behind on work by stepping away, but just the opposite can be true: You come back recharged and better equipped to lead. By utilizing these tips, women business owners can alleviate some of the stress of entrepreneurship and find balance while also managing a financially successful business.
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