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Flexibility and Digitization: A Winning Combination for Frontline Employee Engagement

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Flexibility and Digitization: A Winning Combination for Frontline Employee Engagement

In an evolving work landscape, the clamor for flexibility among frontline workers is growing louder. Interestingly, recent Randstad data shows that 42% of blue-collar workers — individuals engaged in manual labor across diverse sectors, such as manufacturing — value job flexibility as much as pay, if not more. The research also found that 30% of non-office workers had quit a job due to a lack of flexibility.

What does this mean for manufacturing?

Addressing the Call for Flexibility

The need for flexible working conditions is particularly strong among gray-collar talent (roles merging aspects of blue and white-collar roles), with 48% considering it as important as pay, according to the Randstad research mentioned above. This trend signals a strong desire for specific flexible work arrangements, such as four-day or reduced workweeks, split shifts, night shifts, or flexible weekend hours. In response, manufacturing industries must adapt and incorporate flexibility into their work policies.

Traditionally, manufacturing has relied heavily on rigid schedules to meet operational demands. However, a shift in employees’ desires has been noted, especially among skilled hourly workers. Prioritizing employee engagement often leads to enhancements in efficiencies, outputs, and performance, nurturing more flexible and supportive work environments. This shift is imperative for fostering positive company cultures that value individual contributions and professionalism.

Empowering Frontline Workers Through Flexibility

Flexible schedules and increased control over work can provide multiple benefits to frontline workers and the organizations they work for, including:

  • Improved work-life balance, allowing workers to handle personal obligations and engage in personal hobbies.
  • Enhanced well-being with more time to rest and recharge, reducing the risk of burnout.
  • Increased productivity, enabling workers to align their tasks with their peak energy and focus levels.
  • Attraction and retention of talent, as flexible work helps attract and retain skilled workers who prioritize work-life balance.

Using Technology to Enable Flexibility

When flexibility is coupled with the use of an employee engagement platform, companies can reap even more benefits. Such platforms can give workers more control over their schedules, enabling them to align their tasks with their peak energy and focus levels. This leads to improved productivity and work quality. Plus, an employee engagement platform that offers flexibility offers competitive advantages for manufacturing companies. It aids in attracting and retaining skilled workers who prioritize work-life balance and flexibility, contributing to a more engaged and committed workforce.

For manufacturing companies, understanding the needs and wants of their frontline workers is key to boosting employee engagement. When leaders partake in active listening and address workers’ needs, they communicate that employees’ well-being is valued, boosting morale and job satisfaction. This approach can also increase productivity, as engaged employees often go the extra mile in their roles, improving the quality of their work. By understanding and addressing team members’ needs, companies can foster loyalty, reduce turnover, and retain valuable talent.

Employee engagement platforms and tools can aid leaders in meeting their employees’ needs for flexibility. Implementing digital systems, mobile applications, and employee self-service solutions — coupled with two-way employee communication — empowers employees, improves efficiencies, and provides more flexible work environments.

Manufacturing industries are uniquely positioned to use these employee engagement solutions and make their workplaces more flexible and supportive. The industry faces challenges, but with the right use of technology and a dedication to understanding and addressing the needs of their frontline workers, leaders can successfully tackle these challenges head-on. Effective employee engagement tools are critical in this endeavor, offering a range of benefits from improved employee productivity to a more engaged workforce.

At the heart of all this is the importance of critical communication in the journey toward greater flexibility. Providing a means for frontline workers to communicate their needs and wants enables businesses to take the necessary actions to meet employee expectations. It’s not just about digitization and technology; it’s about humanizing the workplace and giving a voice to frontline workers.

Flexibility as the New Norm

Manufacturers must not only listen to their workers, but also respond proactively. By leveraging technology and digital solutions, companies can better cater to their employees’ needs, thereby enhancing the employee experience, engagement, and overall productivity.

The ability to combine technology with a genuine understanding of employee needs is what will truly set successful manufacturing companies apart. After all, a company is only as good as the people it employs — and for frontline workers, job flexibility is the new frontier.

Author Bio

Kelsey Hellens is the Head of Customer Success at Wyzetalk, a leading digital employee experience platform that enables communication and improves engagement for frontline and non-desk workers. During her 10 years of experience in customer success roles, Kelsey has implemented 15+ enterprise mobile, digital, and change management solutions within the employee engagement industry.

workplace

How to Become an Award-Winning Workplace

Every business seeks to provide a desirable environment, but it takes more than desire to become an award-winning workplace. High performing organizations put their people first, the leaders are consistently engaging their team members, and the employees are invested in the overall vision of the company.

The pathway to becoming a Top Workplace may look different, but some specific elements are constant within every winning organization. Below are five specific keys we have implemented to get to where we are today.

Values Based Leadership

“Our main philosophy is simple. We want people to grow with us, to be happy, and to be healthy.” -Alex Dovgal

Some think a strong visionary leader is necessary to be successful. What many don’t realize is vision doesn’t guide the momentum, values do. This is because the values determine the overall direction and the day-to-day operational decisions.

All organizations have a set of values, whether they are clearly communicated or not. Therein lies the danger of values that aren’t communicated effectively. The values need to be clearly communicated and consistently evaluated to ensure they are in line with the decisions being made by the leadership.

Our values are as follows: Diversity, Safety, Innovation, Growth, Health, Happiness.

Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing

In a boardroom meeting somewhere right now there’s a manager being praised for saving the company money, even though they are decreasing the experience for the customer. Cutting costs doesn’t always mean the company is moving forward or getting ahead.

Our main thing is to be a place where drivers and office employees enjoy working. Therefore, we offer more compensation than our competitors, even in the midst of a trucking recession. We also built a gym and an on-site hotel for our drivers and office employees. Companies that keep the main priorities intact will prevail, regardless of the difficulties along the way. Stay laser focused on ways to move the main thing forward, whatever your main thing is.

One more note on this; if your main thing is to make money, find a new main thing.

Involved Leaders

Nobody likes a micromanager. There’s a stark contrast between a manager who is too involved, and a leader who communicates effectively. Even leaders who overcommunicate can be invaluable, while managers who need to control everything will soon have nobody to lead.

That’s why Clued-in leaders who know the pulse of their team and regularly communicate are a major asset in connecting employees with the company’s mission and vision. Here are some good self-assessment questions to find out if you are a clued-in leader:

  • Do I clearly promote an open-door policy?
  • Do I practice active listening?
  • Do I ask for input and feedback from everyone that I’m leading, or only a select few?
  • How often am I holding one-on-one or small group meetings?

If it’s Rewarded, it’s Repeated

This is known as the cardinal rule of behavior change. Progress is achieved by rewarding the right things and expelling everything else. Benefits and a competitive salary are a good start, but top workplaces don’t stop there.

One way we reward progress for office employees is with a quarterly bonus revolving around key performance indicators (KPIs). These indicators are established by the employees and managers together and reviewed at the end of each quarter. Each quarter we ask, “what do you need to be more efficient?” If an employee asks for something to help their performance, they will get it.

Drivers have a couple of opportunities each month to earn bonuses based on specific metrics made by our safety, fleet, dispatch, and accounting departments. Drivers who follow those KPIs can get a bonus. In addition, we offer our “best drivers of the month.” And lastly, we offer pay increases for drivers who have been with us for specific amounts of time and remain in good standing.

Grow Your People

Empowering employees to reach their full potential is an essential part of retaining employees. People want leaders who help them stay motivated. A top-paying company will eventually lose value-adding employees if they aren’t growing. Companies need to find ways to add value to their employees.

One way we add value to our drivers is with our training. Right now, the dry van market is very poor. A lot of dry van drivers are leaving the industry. We offer trailer change training so drivers can master driving a refrigerated trailer or a flatbed trailer. This increases the driver’s earnings, the company’s earnings, and makes the driver more marketable if they ever want to become an owner-operator or fleet owner.

All in all, everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. At the end of the day, we just want to make a difference in this life. When companies hold true to a good mission, there is no end to what can be achieved. Being recognized as a Top Workplace is an honor! But the real reward is in knowing that the people who belong to your workplace are happy to be there.

 

employee job accountability supply chain How to Identify and Address Productivity Gaps Among Supply Chain Employees

How to Increase Employee Engagement

Navigating company culture is a big undertaking. Every business has many moving parts and different, unique employees. When inspired and focused, team members can achieve great things for their organization. By increasing employee engagement, a company can grow and reach new heights, but how can this be done?

Before diving into different ideas, it’s important to understand why employee engagement is important. When staff members are more engaged, they are more productive and creative. On behalf of their employer, they achieve more and display more passion. Engagement helps improve morale, company culture, business results, and more.

There are many benefits to increasing employee engagement. Those perks include greater employee satisfaction, increased innovation, more positivity at work, and better collaboration. All these benefits contribute to a business’s success and drive growth. 

One way to increase employee engagement is to listen to staff ideas and concerns. By prioritizing communication and feedback, companies show that they care about different perspectives. Also, employees will feel respected and valued at work. Staff will work harder for people they trust, and they will seize any opportunity to bring their own ideas to life.

To help employees feel their best at and outside of work, organizations can create a corporate wellness program. This sort of initiative supports mental and physical wellbeing. By taking care of one’s health, staff members can improve stress management, boost morale, work better together, and more. Program offerings may include counseling, nutrition classes, and gym membership stipends. 

Also, consider creating employee recognition programs. By acknowledging staff achievements and merit, businesses build their team members’ confidence. Additionally, recognition strengthens workplace relationships. Not only do individuals become more engaged, but whole teams do as well. Examples of accomplishments to celebrate include work anniversaries, sales performance, and certifications.

Next, professional development opportunities can help employees grow and explore skills and passions. By focusing on what staff members are interested in, companies can make their employees more engaged and competitive within their industry. Examples of development options include continuing education, attending conferences, and shadowing executives.

Another essential tool for employee engagement is incentives and goals. With clear plans and desirable rewards, employees are more driven to achieve. For instance, managers can decide on quarterly sales quotas and goals. Then, leaders can offer interest-aligned incentives to inspire staff. Examples of incentives include added paid time off, tickets to special events, and gift cards.

Last, a flexible schedule and working-from-home options can help teammates create the perfect work hours and office to complement their lifestyles. This way, employees can be engaged when and where they are most comfortable and productive. When implementing this, it’s important for managers to develop parameters that match what is best for the business.

Finding out how to motivate employees can be complicated, but thinking strategically can help businesses decide what will work best for their capabilities and staff. With useful tips and ideas, any team can try new things to drive productivity and creativity at work. Once staff are engaged, they can achieve great feats.

Author Bio

Rachel Harmon is a content writer for Cristaux International – a Chicago-based manufacturing company specializing in awards, gifts, and trophies. As part of a dedicated team, she works hard to develop strategic content. Her work elevates the Cristaux brand and utilizes the digital and human elements of marketing.

employee workplace

How Common Is Substance Abuse Among Supply Chain Employees?

Optimizing supply chain operations requires attention to the workforce’s behavioral trends and issues. Organizations must keep their employees safe, healthy and motivated to protect them and help them reach their full potential, which may involve facing some uncomfortable realities. Understanding substance abuse rates in the industry is an important part of that goal.

Substance abuse can endanger employees, hinder productivity and harm workplace relationships. It may also be a more prevalent problem than many organizations realize. Many companies’ measures to control or understand it aren’t sufficient, and it can be easy to gloss over and assume workers are behaving safely.

Addressing this issue is essential, and that begins with understanding the size of the problem at hand. So, how common is substance abuse among supply chain employees, and how can employers reduce it?

Substance Abuse Rates Among Supply Chain Employees

Some of the most oft-cited data on this issue comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to its 2015 report, on average, 9.5% of all workers depended on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs within any given year. While the transportation and warehousing sector fell below that average at 9.1%, that’s still a considerable problem.

It’s also important to consider that data in context. The SAMHSA study came out in 2015, and trends have since shifted. A more recent report found that drug use in transportation and warehousing increased by 21.4% between 2015 and 2017, more than any other industry.

Figures like 9.1% of the workforce may also seem relatively small at first, but consider the size of that workforce. In an industry as large as this one, any percentage of employees represents a considerable number of people.

The U.S. supply chain accounts for 37% of all jobs, employing 44 million people. Consequently, that 9.1% adds up to more than 4 million workers, and given how rates have risen since the SAMHSA report, that figure is likely higher today. All this data points to the same conclusion: substance abuse is a considerable problem among supply chain employees.

The Dangers of Substance Abuse in Supply Chains

Any amount of substance abuse can negatively affect supply chain operations, too. Most importantly, it can endanger the lives of employees and those around them. Alcohol alone plays a role in 40% of motor vehicle crashes, so substance abuse among drivers or forklift operators increases the risks of a potentially fatal collision.

Substance abuse can affect people’s performance in any job, but that performance drop can be hazardous with as much heavy machinery as supply chain operations. Workers still feeling the effects of alcohol or drugs may have shorter attention spans or extreme tiredness. That decline in attention could lead to dangerous mistakes when operating heavy machinery.

Workers’ social interactions may also suffer as a result of substance abuse. While that may not seem directly related to work, it could hinder their engagement and cause rifts between colleagues. These conflicts, in turn, could decrease workplace productivity and morale.

Overall, drug and alcohol abuse costs U.S. employers $100 billion annually. These losses stem from various factors, from lost productivity to damages to preventable medical bills. With costs this high, especially the cost of human lives, any substance abuse rate in the workforce warrants attention.

Where Does This Problem Come From?

If employers want to help fight workplace substance abuse, they must first understand what causes it. While substance use is a complicated subject with many influencing factors, many cases start with other mental health problems. As many as one in five American adults experience a mental health issue every year, which, when left untreated, can drive people toward drugs and alcohol.

Several factors within the workplace can also raise the likelihood of employees turning to substance abuse. Some employees may feel isolated or uncared for at work, driving them toward drugs or alcohol as a form of relief. Similarly, workers experiencing high stress may use these substances to cope with it.

These issues are particularly prevalent within supply chain organizations. The long hours, high workloads and other pressures of working in this industry lead to considerable stress among supply chain workers. Studies show that 40% of long-haul truckers experience moderate stress, and another 22.7% feel high or chronic stress.

As supply chain pressures ramp up, these stressors and feelings of isolation may worsen. Consequently, resulting behavioral issues like substance abuse may rise within the industry as well.

What Can Employers Do to Help?

While substance abuse is a pressing issue within supply chain organizations, it’s not an impossible one. Employers and managers can take several steps to prevent these issues from starting and mitigate their impact when cases do arise.

Addressing workplace stressors that could drive employees to substance abuse is a good first step. The most-cited causes of workplace stress are low salaries, lack of growth opportunities and heavy workloads. Offering better pay and benefits, creating more upward mobility and reskilling programs and using automation to reduce workloads could help lower stress, reducing subsequent substance abuse.

Creating social programs and employee recognition strategies can help fight feelings of alienation that may contribute to substance abuse. Similarly, it’s important to have a reliable, attentive HR program that can help resolve workplace disputes and build a more comfortable, inclusive workplace.

Tighter restrictions around alcohol and other substances in the workplace can help by reducing their availability. Imposing stricter penalties will discourage casual attitudes around them, creating a healthier, anti-substance abuse workplace culture. Controls like ignition locks that stop drivers from operating machinery without passing a breathalyzer test can help, too.

Finally, supply chain organizations should establish comprehensive substance abuse knowledge and prevention programs. That involves providing meetings and literature to inform people of the dangers of these issues and offering access to treatment. Studies show that abuse treatment programs lead to a 91% decrease in absenteeism and a 97% decrease in workplace injuries.

Substance Abuse Is a Serious Issue

Substance abuse in the supply chain is a more prevalent issue than some companies may realize. Considering rising rates and how destructive, both in terms of health and finances, these behaviors can be, businesses must address them. That begins with understanding the issue itself.

While substance abuse trends are concerning, supply chain organizations have many options for mitigating this issue. As more businesses embrace comprehensive prevention and treatment strategies, workplace substance abuse will decline. With enough work, the industry could virtually eliminate it.

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8 Effective Strategies for Increasing Engagement Among Supply Chain Employees

Even in heavily automated fields, employees are the lifeblood of any company. Many supply chain optimization strategies focus on new technologies and workflows, but any effective measure must also consider the workforce.

One of the most important factors to address is employee engagement. Without an engaged workforce, no supply chain will operate at its full potential.

Why Is Engagement Important?

Engagement, the degree to which employees feel motivated, interested and passionate, is hard to quantify but essential to success. Studies show that highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable, exhibit 59% less turnover and 41% less absence.

Despite those benefits, many companies fail to engage their employees. As of January 2021, just 39% of U.S. workers reported being engaged at work. While that figure has risen over time, it still indicates that most employees don’t feel motivated in their workplaces.

In a field like supply chain operations, where efficiency is crucial, businesses can’t afford to overlook this data. Employers must keep supply chain workers engaged, and here are eight strategies to do so.

1. Invest in Employees’ Careers

One of the most important steps to take is to emphasize career development. Surveys show that 94% of employees will stay at their company longer if their employer invested in their career. By contrast, if workers feel like they have no opportunities for advancement in their workplace, they’ll become dissatisfied, eventually leaving.

One solution is to provide opportunities for upward mobility within the company, promoting from within. Another is to offer career development classes or training, equipping workers with new skills. Whatever path a company takes, it should emphasize and promote these opportunities.

2. Listen to Employee Feedback

Another effective strategy for increasing engagement is to listen to what employees have to say. Workers will quickly become disinterested and disillusioned if they feel that management doesn’t care about their opinions. Asking for feedback can help assuage those feelings, but it’s important to go a step further, too.

Businesses must respond to employee feedback, not just request it. If common threads emerge between workers’ suggestions or complaints, there’s likely an underlying issue that needs addressing. Management should take all feedback seriously, thanking employees for it first, then investigating it further. If meaningful change comes from this feedback, companies should highlight it.

3. Create Volunteer Opportunities

Engagement often stems from workers’ respect for the company or a feeling like they’re making a difference in their role. One way to lean into that is to coordinate volunteer opportunities for employees to give back to their communities. In a 2017 survey, 74% of employees and workers said that volunteerism improves their sense of purpose.

Management should look for opportunities to partner with local charities or organize volunteer initiatives. It’s also important to encourage participation, partly to involve more workers and partly to show enthusiasm for the project. Hosting projects like this at least once a year can help employees feel they’re part of something bigger, improving morale.

4. Host Social Events

Volunteer opportunities aren’t the only events outside of work that can boost employee engagement. Social events like parties, potlucks and trips can give workers a chance to grow closer to one another and their leaders. As employees build closer, healthier social relationships within the workplace, work will begin to feel more cooperative and engaging.

Listen to employees to gauge what types of outings and events would interest them the most. Hosting various social events throughout the year can help appeal to different workers, ensuring no one feels left out. In nearly all settings, providing food can be effective, so find people-pleasing recipes to bring.

5. Recognize Commendable Performance

One of the primary goals of boosting engagement is to get employees to perform to their full potential. If companies don’t recognize and reward exceptional performance, they can’t expect workers to strive for these goals. Conversely, if management shows their appreciation for commendable work, more workers will feel motivated to perform better.

In some circumstances, simply highlighting a job well done to other employees is enough to motivate workers. Offering tangible rewards for meeting certain performance goals may be even more effective, as it gives something concrete for employees to work toward. These rewards could be cash bonuses, extra paid time off, gift cards or anything else that workers would want.

6. Pay Attention to Worker Health

Another effective employee engagement strategy is to emphasize worker health. Employees will have an easier time engaging with their work if they feel their company cares about their wellbeing. In supply chain operations, this should include measures to prevent injury, but sponsored workout classes or fitness goals are also good ideas.

Considering one in five American adults experience a mental health issue each year, this strategy should include mental health. Businesses should emphasize the importance of looking after emotional wellness and offer related solutions. Counseling services, support groups and other measures can help assure workers their company cares about them.

7. Remove Inefficiencies and Complexity

Some factors affecting employee engagement aren’t as immediately apparent. One impactful yet relatively easy-to-fix obstacle is inefficient or overly complicated workflows. If employees have a hard time understanding what they’re supposed to do or face multiple obstacles doing it, it will be hard to remain engaged.

The solution to this issue involves two main areas of focus: training and workflow adjustments. More comprehensive, involved training can help workers understand their tasks better, removing mental roadblocks to engagement. Removing unnecessary complexity or inefficiencies in a workflow will then help employees focus on value-adding work, maintaining engagement.

8. Lead by Example

Finally, it’s important for supply chain management to embody the company spirit in their own work. Workers won’t likely exhibit much engagement if the leaders they see don’t appear motivated or passionate about their work either. By the same token, if company leaders are enthusiastic, positive and driven, it will inspire others to be the same.

Studies show that 50% of all workers have left a job at some point because of a bad manager. What constitutes a “bad” leader may vary between people, but leaders saying one thing and doing another certainly won’t help. Anyone in a leadership position in supply chains must lead by example.

Engaged Employees Are Productive Employees

Supply chains become far more efficient with engaged employees. If logistics companies can follow one or more of these eight strategies, they can engage their workforce on a deeper level. They can then maximize their human potential, mitigating workforce issues that plague the industry.

employees

How Recognizing Top Employees Can Cure The Quitting Epidemic

A record 4.3 million workers left their jobs in August, continuing a trend in 2021. Reasons for quitting vary, but as one recent survey shows, a lack of appreciation from employers is a common driver.

Appreciation is an especially important factor to a large segment of the workforce – millennials and Gen Z. In a poll taken shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began, 79% of millennial and Gen Z respondents said an increase in recognition and rewards would make them more loyal to their employer.

With companies losing talented people and struggling to fill open positions, leaders need to know how to make employee recognition and appreciation a more consistent part of their work culture, says David Friedman (www.culturewise.com), author of Culture by Design: How to Build a High-Performing Culture Even in the New Remote Work Environment.

“Recognition is the best way to boost employee engagement, productivity and profit while significantly strengthening your culture,” Friedman says.

“It may seem intuitive that employees who are thanked and recognized for their work are happier and, as a result, perform better. But unfortunately, managers may be busy with other tasks or have an attitude of ‘If you don’t hear anything, assume you’re doing a good job.’ That approach loses good people who were very valuable.”

There are benefits to company leaders praising teams as well as individuals. A Gallup survey shows giving kudos to teams can encourage collaboration, inspire trust, clarify organizational goals, improve quality, and reinforce a team’s sense of purpose.

“Praise for a job well done should flow across all levels of the organization – peer to peer, manager to their direct report, and direct report to their manager,” Friedman says. “Remember your remote workers – they may already be feeling disconnected from the workplace, so remind them that you notice and appreciate their contributions.”

Friedman offers these thoughts on giving recognition and showing appreciation in the workplace:

It should be authentic and individualized. Friedman observes that employees are savvy and can see through an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. “Saying ‘great job’ is nice, but it’s much more meaningful if you detail the specifics of the person’s actions and how they helped advance the company’s objectives,” he says. “And if their efforts merit more than a compliment, or such efforts are a trend for them, then leaders need to figure out a fair tangible reward. Promotions with pay raises and increased responsibilities go the next step to show consistent high performers that they are truly valued.”

Tailor recognition to the recipient. Some people enjoy being the center of attention, so a formal public recognition is ideal for them, Friedman says. Others avoid the spotlight and prefer a one-on-one acknowledgement. For a team acknowledgment, a company-wide or departmental meeting might be a fitting forum. “That’s a great way to show the link between the team’s accomplishments, company objectives, and the importance of working well together,” Friedman says.

Convey your appreciation in person. Friedman notes this may be difficult with remote workforces, and sometimes a phone call or email will have to do. “But the in-person touch has a lot more impact,” he says, “especially when it comes from an executive with whom the employee has very little exposure.”

Create a culture of recognition. “Culture change starts with identifying the specific behaviors that drive success in your company,” Friedman says. “One of them should be showing meaningful appreciation. That means regularly recognizing people doing things right, rather than frequently pointing out when they do things wrong.”

“Recognition leads to happy employees, better retention, and better business results,” Friedman says. “When your people know they are appreciated, really valued, it will make a huge difference in your day-to-day culture and in your growth as a company.”

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David Friedman (www.culturewise.com) is author of Culture by Design: How to Build a High-Performing Culture Even in the New Remote Work Environment. He also is founder/CEO of CultureWise®, a turnkey operating system for small to midsize businesses to create and sustain a high-performing culture. He is the former president of RSI, an award-winning employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm that was named one of the best places to work in the Philadelphia region seven times. Friedman has taught more than 6,000 CEOs about work culture and led more than 500 workshops on the subject. With Sean Sweeney, Friedman formed High Performing Culture, LLC, based on the culture methodology Friedman created at RSI.

business

Leading a Small Business Through COVID and Other Troubling Times

With the coronavirus shaking up the economy and upending the day-to-day operations of businesses, it’s perhaps more critical than ever that corporate CEOs and small business owners summon up all their leadership skills.

Employees who usually are just down the hall are now working remotely from home. The supply chain is disrupted. And customers and clients may be changing their spending habits.

But, as important as business savvy and financial expertise can be in riding out all the economic effects of the pandemic, other traits also come into play and may be just as essential, says Marsha Friedman, a successful entrepreneur who still leads a business she launched three decades ago.

“One of those essential traits is courage,” says Friedman, founder and president of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), a national PR firm. “Thirty years ago when I started my company, I probably would never have said it takes courage to lead a small business, but without it, I assure you, you’ll fail.”

Friedman, who is also the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, understands this first-hand. Her firm, like many businesses, endured tough economic times after the 9/11 attacks. Revenue dropped and bankruptcy loomed as a real possibility.

“I had to figure out how to turn my company around,” she says. “It took courage, endurance, and perseverance, but I knew I could not go back, so I had no choice but to go forward.” 

Courage is just one of what Friedman calls the 5 C’s for building and maintaining a successful business through the good times and bad. “They’re the guiding principles I’ve learned through the ups and downs and all the mistakes,” she says. “They can work during the difficulties we now face as well.”

In addition to courage, Friedman’s other C’s are:

Caring . First, care enough about yourself and your dreams to believe you can achieve success even in these daunting times, Friedman says. “Just as important is caring about your staff and creating a positive work environment for them despite the troubles we face,” she says. “Be supportive of them throughout this situation that is bringing additional stress to everyone’s lives.” Finally, a good business leader cares about customers, Friedman says. Be willing to listen to their concerns, take responsibility for mistakes, and correct them.

Confidence. Most people have faced and overcome challenges in life. The confidence that allowed them to prevail over those challenges needs to be brought into play in business more than ever right now, Friedman says. “Believing you can reach for and achieve your short-term and long-term goals is essential to getting you there,” she says. “Maintaining your confidence is important to get through these unsettling times.”

Competence. It’s critical to stay up on the disruptions in your industry that the coronavirus is causing. “If you’re forced to downsize, this may be the time to reorganize and tap into the skills and abilities of your remaining team that are different from the roles you hired them for,” Friedman says. “That’s why it’s always important to have hired competent people who you can rely on no matter what the situation.”

Commitment . Stay dedicated to your goals no matter how difficult that becomes during these challenging conditions. Friedman says there may be times when this will be not only difficult, but downright painful. That was the case for her during those tough times after the 9/11 attacks. “I had to make drastic cuts, including letting go beloved employees.” she says. “But I never wanted to suffer a failure, and so I stayed committed to the goal and succeeded in pulling the business through those rough times.” 

“As we face the current challenges, you have to stay the course, remain positive and show caring for everyone related to your business,” Friedman says. “Most of all, no matter how dismal it seems right now, you need to have confidence that you are going to get through it.”

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Marsha Friedman, ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, is a successful entrepreneur and public relations expert with nearly 30 years’ experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations and professionals in the field of business, health and finance.  Using the proprietary system she created as founder and President of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), an award-winning national public relations agency, her firm secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for its clients.  The former senior vice president for marketing at the American Economic Council, Marsha is a sought-after advisor on PR issues and strategies, who shares her knowledge both as a popular speaker around the country and in her Amazon best-selling book, Celebritize Yourself.

3 Types of Stories Every Leader Should Master

The fact that people are wired to react so strongly to stories should motivate business leaders to develop their storytelling skills. But what business situations call for a story?

You might have guessed the answer—it depends. It depends on both the situation and what you’d like to accomplish in the situation. The situation might be a staff meeting where you’re introduced to the people on your new team, for example. As their new boss, your objective might be to get them to like and respect you and to start dismantling the barriers of mistrust and uncertainty. Another situation might be that members of your team have lost enthusiasm for their work, and your objective is to restore their engagement and give them purpose, so they understand the “why” of what they’re spending most of their waking hours doing. Or maybe valuable members of your team feel unappreciated or don’t get the credit they deserve. In that situation, your objective may be to reinforce or highlight certain norms and behaviors with your stories and to draw positive attention to them.

Below are three types of stories that every leader should master. My hope is that they inspire readers to dig deeper into this topic and to identify and cultivate potential stories that can help you accomplish important objectives.

1. Stories We Tell Ourselves

We constantly assemble bits and pieces of information of what we observe around us and automatically turn them into stories that tend to reinforce our long-developed beliefs. If those stories are positive ones—you admire a colleague and tend particularly to notice the admirable things she does, you pride yourself on your own punctuality and pat yourself on the back whenever you find yourself (again!) to be the first person to show up at a meeting—these perspectives are often uplifting and empowering.

The problem comes when we tell ourselves negative stories. For instance, if I feel that the people around me are lazy and incompetent, the stories I create will be based on morsels of data that “conform” that belief. Or if I feel that I don’t measure up to others’ expectations, the stories I create will reinforce this self-assessment, prominently featuring my mistakes, my failures, and others’ expressions of disappointment in me. And so a vicious loop is created where negative perceptions—including of the self—determine the stories we tell ourselves, which in turn play out in full color to reinforce these perceptions.

Clearly these aren’t productive narratives, nor do they serve the people and organizations we lead. And while I’m aware that years of cognitive behavioral therapy may sometimes be the most effective solution to modify such beliefs-and-values–powered narratives, I’d like to suggest that we have the option to intervene any time we recognize (self-awareness!) the unproductive nature of the stories we tell ourselves.

It’s clear that the stories we tell ourselves have an impact not just on our own behavior, but also on our engagement with others and in turn on their perceptions of us as leaders, colleagues, and partners. By carefully examining our dominant narratives and making sure they contribute positive value to our and others’ lives, we’re one step closer to wielding real influence with the power of storytelling.

2. Stories We Tell Others About Ourselves

Whether you are a leader joining a new team, or a job candidate in the first round of interviews, or someone meeting a potential new client for the first time, the stories you tell about yourself often set the tone for how the relationship will unfold, if it does, that is. Which are the right stories in such scenarios? It’s hard to go wrong with stories that illustrate your humility, good judgment, integrity, and expertise and experience. As for what to emphasize, putting yourself firmly into the shoes of your audience should provide clues. The needs and expectations of the people in your audience will, of course, vary, depending on the context of the meeting and their future goals as they involve you.

For instance, if you are the new boss meeting the members of your team for the first time, you know they’ll wonder about your leadership style and how you’ll treat them. Acknowledge this and share a personal story or two that show you empathize—maybe from when you met your boss for the first time. Mention the lessons you’ve learned in managing others and make sure to highlight any mistakes from which you’ve grown. Share examples of how you’ve navigated new cultures in the past—organizational or regional—and what you’re hoping to learn in this next stage with their help. This shows humility, humanizes you, and reduces the power distance that can hamper the open and honest dialogue that builds trust.

If your audience—whether a group or an individual—is looking to engage you for your expertise, share stories that illustrate how you’ve delivered results or solved similar problems for others. Mention the challenges you encountered along the way and how you met them successfully—even if it took a few attempts to get it right. This is also an elegant way to share your strengths without bragging about your accomplishments.

When others want to get to know us, they aren’t just looking for the content on our LinkedIn profile. They want to know the real us to determine whether we’re trustworthy and whether associating with us will be of positive or negative value to them. That’s why recruiters and hiring managers no longer have qualms about digging into our social media pro les and online musings to evaluate our reputation and our judgment.

And judgment is key whenever we share personal information. Faulty judgment can result in some awkward moments if not lasting reputational harm.

Faulty judgment in personal stories isn’t always this glaring. But if you are unsure of how your stories might land, run them first by people you trust. In the end, with personal stories less is more and humility is better.

3. Stories We Tell Our Teams or Organizations

The type of storytelling that is intrinsic to successful leadership is the ability to tell compelling stories of the future, to articulate a vision, to both internal and external audiences. Leaders need to master another kind of story too—this kind is about organizational values.

Whatever the management goal, there are storytelling strategies that can help further it. A former Facebook director of engineering, Bobby Johnson, once saw the need for a cultural shift in the company’s infrastructure team. Although many of his engineers were drawn to exciting new projects and innovations, Johnson knew that other Facebook engineers, the ones who worked behind the scenes to ensure that the existing systems ran faster and better than before, also did critical work. He wanted to highlight these “unsung heroes,” both to honor them and to get more engineers interested in their less glamorous but nonetheless essential work. To accomplish this, he would take every opportunity—in one-on-ones, in meetings, and in group e-mails—to share stories of important fixes that these day-to-day engineers made and to publicly praise them.

Similarly, if you want people to speak up more in meetings and challenge each other, share a story of how a lone dissenting voice was able to change your mind about a decision you’d made, and how this wouldn’t have happened if the person hadn’t felt comfortable in challenging you. Or if you want to increase collaboration among teams, share a story about two teams who decided to join forces and whose combined creativity and brainpower led to important breakthroughs for the organization. And if it’s courage and risk taking you want to promote, highlight stories of risk-taking colleagues—and include their failures, to make the point that learning from mistakes is just another way forward.

As you can see in the three types of stories above, the formula for telling a story is simple. Decide which values you want to promote and which behaviors you want to encourage, and then make those traits the themes of your stories, and include characters who demonstrate the desired traits. Do these stories have to be true? It helps if they are, and it’s even better if your audience knows the protagonists. However, hypothetical scenarios can pack just as big a punch, as we’ve learned from neuroscience research and our own experiences from the myriad of stories that surround us.

Harrison Monarth is the CEO and Founder of Gurumaker and author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO. An Executive Coach, he teaches C-suite leaders, senior executives, high potential managers and other top professionals effective leadership and positive behavior change for professional and organizational success. For more information, please visit, www.gurumaker.com and connect with Monarth on Twitter, @HarrisonMonarth and LinkedIn.