The state of Small Business – It’s a team game

Naomi Simson experiences sharks

Naomi_swimming with sharks

Small businesses are essential to economies around the globe; we the little guys – serve our local communities, we too can serve the world because we can access customers anywhere. I find myself in a fortunate position almost as a spokesperson on behalf of small business because of my role on TENs Shark Tank Australia.

In Australia small businesses (turning over less than $2million) represent 96% of all business and employ 63% – almost two thirds – of the working population, making us Australia’s largest employer. So, what’s going to challenge and affect our growth? I think there are three trends that business owners need to be aware of. How you respond to each is going to distinguish the good from the great.

1. The rise of millennial and iGen workforce

The people coming into employment are highly educated, highly mobile and highly connected – and they expect way more than a pay check in exchange for their ambition, knowledge and discretionary effort. Loyalty and job stability are not necessarily as high on their agenda as a positive work experience, exposure to stimulating challenges and the need to have something exciting to tell their friends and social networks about. They also need to believe in the leadership.

Trust and transparency are becoming essential for all employers.

The labour market has become more fluid; the 2014 report by Towers Watson shows that globally, employers are struggling to attract and retain top talent; 48% of employers report that hiring activity has increased in the last year and 35% report turnover is rising. This is in part because the younger workforce is happy to jump ship if their employer or work environment doesn’t meet their intellectual or emotional needs, or align with their personal goals or ambition.

Millennials mightn’t be familiar with the term, but ‘employer brand’ makes a difference to them. The value of eNPS and employee engagement is still largely untapped in Australia; most of the research and activators in this space have their roots in the US. But even here, enterprises with hundreds or thousands of employees compete for talent by improving employee benefits – they invest in professional development or employee recognition.

Simply put, if you want these high-performers on your team, you need to change your recruitment and retention strategy. Most small and medium businesses – especially in Australia – haven’t even considered what they’d give their best employee to keep them there. But you need to, or you won’t keep them. Even if they end up staying (because they have to, as opposed to wanting to), they certainly won’t give you their best effort.

I’ve said before, that the response I usually get when I say HR was essential to RedBalloon’s growth is a horrified look when a business owner thinks about what HR would cost them to implement. But ask yourself – what’s it going to cost you when your best people walk away?

What would happen if your whole team walked out on you… what would happen if they just did not show up one day – and no one applied for the roles you advertised?

2. The measuring stick for success is changing

Around the world, economists and business leaders are calling for a change in how we measure success. I don’t think we’ll see the value of GDP or IQ diminish any time soon, but businesses who succeed in innovating and making waves in the next decade will place equal, if not more, importance on employee wellness and emotional intelligence.

Someone once asked what motivates me to work on RedBalloon and Redii. My answer was that despite technology’s ability to connect us all globally, we still find it harder and harder to make genuine connections. Mental health issues, including isolation and depression – is on the increase in the Western world. I believe that if people have a great day at work and are connected to their team members then employers have an opportunity to support the feeling of well being in the community. Which is why I champion Redii – it tackles that issue head on. Our job in both businesses is to connect people authentically. One is through good times, and the other is through employers.

I believe everyone deserves a great day at work and to be noticed.

65% of people leave their jobs because they don’t feel valued. Given the cost of unwanted attrition, the ROI on building a mentally healthy workplace – a workplace where people know their value and do their best work – is astounding. While most people don’t live to work, jobs are central to how many people live. And most will agree that having a job is more than being able to pay the bills and support a family; our jobs provide a sense of life purpose and achievement and both are important for mental and physical well-being.

As job providers, business owners have a duty to take care of their employees. Recognising and celebrating the achievements of your people is so critical to business growth. A lot of those people spend half their waking hours in your hands. A report by TNS shows 91% of employees believe it’s important to work in a mentally healthy workplace and 75% of employees believe employers need to provide the support to achieve this. But, sadly, only 52% agree their employers fit this description.

Successful collaboration and innovation – the driving force of business growth – relies on emotional intelligence and the ability to build social capital. Focus on taking care of your people and making it easier for them to work together, and you’ll build a game-changing team with a greater potential to grow and change your slice of the sector.

3. Technology is smarter, so we need to be too

The HR technology space (now a $15bn industry) is growing. Employers need to make the most of ‘real time’ results and mobile connectivity to add value, not only to their customer experience but their employee experience too.

Sure, having emails, reports and documents in the palm of our hands makes us more productive on the road. But smart business leaders also use this power of connectivity to build a more connected workforce.

It is all about team – no matter where the ‘team’ works.

I see success in the businesses committed to uniting what is an increasingly global and mobile workforce. Technology that gives leaders visibility as well as the power to improve the transparency and culture of their business will be increasingly important for the small business that want to distinguish themselves as game changers. It’s not just about reporting accomplishments – but amplifying them too. I think business and HR will adopt a lot from social media, and the Millienial and iGen employees will play a big part in that transformation.

This article first appeared as part of the LinkedIn Influencer program.

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