October 25, 2014

Why Your Small Business Has the Motivational Edge Over Big Companies

motivational edgeAre you looking to hire employees this year, wondering how you can keep the employees you do have from heading off for greener pastures, or struggling for ways to keep them motivated?

Sometimes it seems like small businesses are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to hiring, motivation and retention, compared to big corporations that can offer higher salaries, posh benefits plans and luxurious settings. But a recent article by McKinsey (targeted, ironically, at big companies) points out the advantage small businesses have that they may not realize.

McKinsey looked at how business leaders can develop and encourage top performers in their workforce and found that, while both IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) are important skills for bringing out the best in your team, what truly matters is the “meaning quotient” (MQ) – in other words, offering them the chance to do work that’s meaningful to them.

How can you create meaning at work?

McKinsey makes three recommendations that are far more easy and natural for a small business to implement than a big one:

Don’t Just focus on How a Person’s Work Benefits the Company

Focus on how it benefits four other elements:

  • Society as a whole.
  • The customer.
  • The work team and the individual worker.

When you drill down to the individual level, whether that’s the customer or themselves, employees become more motivated. In a smaller business, it’s easy to think in terms of smaller groups and units and to see how what you do on a daily basis affects those around you.

If Steve in fulfillment doesn’t pull his weight, Cindy in shipping suffers for it.

Let Employees Write Their Own “Lottery Ticket”

In other words, let them choose what they want to work on and how they want to improve themselves and the company.

While you can’t give employees unlimited freedom here, you can (and should) encourage them to think about what aspects of your business they want to learn more about, what new skills they want to develop, where they want to be next year and the year after – and how this can benefit your business.

Motivate Employees with Small, Unexpected Rewards

Can’t afford to give a big bonus at year-end?

The good news is maybe you don’t need to. McKinsey cites studies that show smaller, random rewards given at unexpected times can prove just as effective.

In fact, because they never come to be seen as expected, such “surprise” rewards can be even more valuable in motivating workers. A thank-you note, small gift or random afternoon off are examples of ways to motivate with the unexpected.

Of course, the bigger picture when it comes to creating meaning at work is that as a small business owner, you’re closer to your employees. You can learn what matters to each of them, and what meaning they find in their jobs – whether that’s solving customers’ problems so they leave with a smile, meeting increasingly higher sales quotas every quarter, or helping the others on their team.

Then, you can make sure each person gets more of what gives his or her work meaning.

How do you create meaning at work in your business?

13 Comments ▼

Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a staff writer for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

13 Reactions

  1. Thanks for this post Rieva. I work at a small business and find it much more motivating than the times I worked at a large corporation.

    My current employer and I have completely aligned value systems, something I could say was lacking at other places I’ve worked. This sustains me more than any bonus or raise – knowing I can go home at night and I haven’t sacrificed what I believe in. The peace that comes from that is a big motivation to give even more of myself at work.

  2. If I didn’t run my own business, I think I’d rather work for a small business! Great post, Rieva!

  3. Sometimes it’s the little perks that small businesses can use to make employees happy. More flexible schedules or “fun” offices can go a long way.

  4. Small businesses also offer positions with greater breadth of responsibility (more variety and less monotony) and increased ownership. Owning my own business, I feel a sense of ownership and pride in what I accomplish. Being a little cog in a big company dilutes that sense of ownership.

  5. Great post. It’s important to motivate your employees to reach set goals. This helps not only the employee but the entire company as a whole. Thanks for sharing your insights on this subject.

    Ti

  6. I have been involved in many different companies, and I can say from experience that larger companies experience a much greater amount of “inertia”. People always seem happier and more motivated in a small office setting where they know everyone by name and see their boss every single day. This is one of the first times I’ve ever seen anybody lay it out so simplistically, though. So great job on that.

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