Why small business dominates the employee engagement game

If March Madness was about creating jobs, instead of scoring hoops, then small business would be the little NAIA school with a few hundred students who sneaks into the tournament and, against all odds, defeats the big well-funded, well-advertised, Division 1 school with tens of thousands of students.

Oh, and in this metaphor, the NAIA school wins every year.

Small business has been winning the job creation game against its global corporate multibillion dollar NYSE listed counterparts for…decades.

employee engagement

Business cycles, maturity of companies, rapid innovation and disruption, all play a part. But there’s one factor in this stellar performance of small business that, to date, remains overlooked no matter what size of business we’re talking about. And that is, employee engagement.

The edge

Too often the trend that accompanies growth in corporate management is to replace enthusiasm with standardization, participation for consistency, and an employee manual for a conversation.

The edge for small business is not perks. It is not free food or scooters in the hallway. The edge for small business is ownership equity earned by each employee as they see, hear and read their connection to company’s results. More succinctly, it is their engagement and passion for their work.

Only 30% of employees are engaged, emotionally and intellectually, with their work according to the most recent survey of employee engagement by the Gallup organization. As many as 19% of employees in the US are actively disengaged. That means they are actively sabotaging their work or the work of others.

That can only happen in a big company. There is no place to hide the bored and disinterested employee, much less the saboteur, in a small business.

The trick is how does a small business sustain this engagement as it succeeds. How does it balance economies of scale that prove so advantageous for its larger competitors while retaining the culture of excitement and engagement and learning with each new employee added to its payroll?


Let us break this challenge into smaller steps.

STEP 1. Are you prepared to hire A-level talent? I suggest reading Topgrading.

STEP 2. Create a collaborative hiring process that encourages everyone to participate. Everyone’s participation will insure you have an accurate job description including skills and talents required. Blind spots or personal biases can be avoided with many hands making light work. Yes, this requires a longer interview process than a one-and-done, yup you feel good hiring failure. Those hiring failures cost, on average, three to four times the hiree’s average salary.

STEP 3. Call the employee the night before their first day. Be sure to speak to their spouse/partner/significant other even their Mom and Dad if that’s the case. Share with them, the employee and the family member, how excited you are that their first day is tomorrow. Be specific. Share with them how their talents and strengths will be utilized to address current challenges. Tell them where they will work, where they will sit. Invite them to stop by your office and say hi. Leave your personal contact information with them.

STEP 4. Are You Prepared?

Are you prepared for this new hire’s arrival? Some call this the onboarding process. Being prepared means do you have their work area prepared? Do you have their training schedule and materials? Do you have a mentor? Who will show this new person where the bathroom is?

Does every current employee know their role in creating success for this new person? Do they know how this new person’s success determines their next step forward? Map it if you need to. Show the milestones that need to be reached. Show the rewards that come with reaching those milestones.

STEP 5. Assign a mentor.

This is such a valuable opportunity and so often overlooked. (Guilty) Assign is a directive verb. You want a volunteer, one who is a good listener, good communicator and well-respected throughout your organization. Make sure a schedule of meetings and topics are prepared prior to the new hire’s first day.

STEP 6. Create a Welcome Party

Hiring a new person is a cause to celebrate. That shows you are growing. Celebrate it, celebrate their arrival with a party!

STEP 7. Visit with them that first day.

Well begun is half done. Aristotle said that. Make sure that first day is a perfect start to their career. Reiterate your excitement, your expectations of their contributions and rewards. Listen as they reiterate ‘this is everything I expected’ or not. Head off any surprises in that meeting.

STEP 8.  Listen to them.

They will bring not only their talents and skills and strengths but a new perspective. Listen to them. Close your laptops, smartphones, desktops, office phones when you meet with them, as you do your current employees, and listen.

STEP 9. Stir and repeat.

Stir in your own ingredients, the nuances and details that do more than just account for those in your organization. Stir them in so you celebrate their roles and contributions in bringing your company the success that warrants hiring one more person.

Repeat it over and over as you grow from one to ten to one hundred and onward.

As a CEO of a small business competing against global giants in an industry best-described as a commodity-hell, I found the more I celebrated those around me the faster our company grew. Celebrate does not mean ‘Let’s party!’ Celebrate means recognize they are the most important investors as they invest the better part of their day and talents and strengths in making our success. Celebrate means recognize them as the most important customer, buying into the company culture enough to execute its promises to the rest of the world.

It is easy to forget these simple steps and take for granted those who did so much to help bring so much success. Then your company, regardless of its size, behaves like the corporate giants creating disengaged employees or making headlines for thousands of layoffs.

Zane SafritAbout the Author:
As CEO of a small company, Zane Safrit transformed it into fun, innovative workplace that resulted in revenue growth of 80% while prices in the industry, for new and existing customers, dropped by over 70%. Cash flows stayed positive as he invested advertising and marketing budgets in recognizing and engaging employees. He’s a super smart, fun guy and writes on business and employee engagement on his blog. Chat with him on Twitter and Google+.

Photo credit: Dell’s Official Flickr Page


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