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Doing business in small town America

OK, so, every so often, I'll chime in with one of these types of blogposts. I really can't help myself. This one is for the small-town business owner here in Eureka Springs that has a team of employees.

Please enjoy.

In my corporate day-job, my Monday through Friday life, I am in the office, living my 9-to-5 experience as Director of Corporate Human Resources Operations for America's 7th largest poultry manufacturer and I am deep in the throes of human interactions in my workplace.

I am also partnering daily with business leaders. Strategically helping them align their people goals to their business goals. During these strategic discussions, the subject of leading people can get complex and dramatic.

In the bustling landscape of modern workplaces, drama can often feel like an inevitable companion. From petty conflicts to power struggles, navigating through the tangled web of workplace drama, even in small town America like Eureka Springs, can drain energy and hinder productivity.

I can tell you that the following are likely top three counterproductive behaviors that your employees are doing, which is significantly hindering your business growth, operation, and customer service. Here are some suggestions to consider:

1. Lack of Engagement and Initiative:

Employees who do the bare minimum or show no interest in the business’s success will stifle growth. This lack of engagement can lead to missed opportunities for upselling or innovating on processes that could attract more customers or improve efficiency. When employees are disengaged, they are less likely to follow procedures correctly, leading to inefficiencies and errors that disrupt the smooth running of the business. Disengaged employees often provide subpar customer service, which can result in negative customer experiences, damaging the business’s reputation and discouraging repeat business.

2. Poor Time Management and Punctuality:

Inefficient use of time by employees can lead to reduced productivity, limiting the business’s ability to take on more customers or projects. Unreliable employees disrupt work schedules, cause delays and create a domino effect that impacts the entire team’s workflow and overall service delivery. I hear this a lot here in town, "Sally was a no show today" or "Sally called in sick today." When employees are late or misuse their time, it leads to longer wait times for customers, business reputation becomes blemished, customer dissatisfaction festers and ultimately you will experience business losses over time.

Remember, customers tell one person about a good experience on average, but they will tell ten about a bad experience. Add to that the impact of social media. Sites like Yelp, Facebook, Insta, etc. shuttle those poor reviews faster into the minds of new potential customers. People will come to Eureka Springs intentionally avoiding your business if they've already read about a bad customer experience that happened there.

3. Negative Attitude and Poor Teamwork:

A negative attitude can spread among the team, creating a toxic work environment that hinders collaboration and stifles creativity and innovation, which are crucial for growth.

Poor teamwork leads to communication breakdowns and conflicts, reducing efficiency and increasing the likelihood of mistakes and misunderstandings. A negative attitude and lack of teamwork are often evident to customers, who may experience unfriendly service or witness conflicts among staff, leading to a negative perception of the business and driving them away.

Addressing these three main issues through proper training, clear communication, and fostering a positive work culture is essential for the success and growth of any business, even a small-town "mom and pop" business.

Here's what you can do about it all:

  • Foster a Positive Work Environment: Create a workplace culture that values and recognizes employee contributions. Regularly acknowledge and reward employees who go above and beyond.

  • Encourage Open Communication: Maintain an open-door policy where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and feedback. Implement their suggestions where feasible to show that their input matters.

  • Set Clear Expectations: Clearly communicate job expectations and how each role contributes to the business's success.

  • Implement Time-Tracking Tools: Use software or tools to monitor time and attendance, making it easier to track punctuality and productivity.

  • Establish Clear Schedules and Deadlines: Set realistic deadlines and provide support to meet them.Ensure that work schedules are well-organized, communicated in advance AND PUBLISHED WEEKLY.

I can't stress this enough - "publish a weekly schedule."

So many leaders that I connect with tell me, "I don't post or publish anything, my team knows their schedule." Sure, this is most likely true, but leaders are doing themselves a disservice when they leave this as an assumed knowing week over week when in actuality it is a constantly changing factor to the business based on business needs and changes that happen to the business. When it comes time to call out a team member on poor timekeeping, referencing the consistent weekly "published" schedule is a solid base for the manager to work from.

Sally, I know you have a solid idea of your usual schedule, but business needs change and so this is why we have a published weekly schedule, you know, the one posted inside the locked bulletin board in the breakroom. It says you should've been here at 8am on Monday, and you arrived at 9:10am. Please remember, it is the responsibility of every team member to follow the published weekly schedule.

  • Enforce Consequences: Have a clear policy on punctuality and time management. Consistently enforce this policy, including appropriate consequences for repeated tardiness, no-call-no-shows or poor time management.

I encourage the three-strike model:

  1. Counseling notice - a documented discussion that indicates counseling took place.

  2. Written notice - a documented discussion that indicates an infraction happened.

  3. Final notice - a documented discussion that indicates "line in the sand." In other words, "do it again Sally and you will lose your job here, you've already been warned two times prior to this final notice so this is your last strike."

Even in small businesses, doing this practice is a fair and empathetic approach and creates an environment of psychological safety. In other words, team members clearly know what the consequences are for poor timekeeping at your business.

  • Address Conflicts Promptly: Do not ignore conflicts or negative behavior. Address issues as they arise to resolve underlying problems. Do not let things fester.

  • Hire for Cultural Fit: During the hiring process, assess new prospects for their attitude and teamwork skills, not just their technical abilities. Hiring individuals who align with your business’s values will help to maintain a positive work environment.

Much success to you all. With love, JM. ❤️


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