How do you keep your employees happy? Here are the steps I’ve kept top of mind as I’ve built out the team at Embark and created the organization’s culture.
Figure out what your employees actually need.
I think the first step in the entire process is: you have to work very, very hard to figure out what your employees really want. And not just what they want, but what they need. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, what’s that base layer that they need so that they can even think about some of the perks that you can give?
Establish a positive reward system that actually works for the organizational culture.
I think you need to be intentional about how you set up, reward, and incentivize your employees, starting with your first hire and continuing as the company grows. Most companies just go through and do the bare minimum to get by, and they never stop to actually think through how their reward structure really works. They operate on more of a compliance basis, like “I have to have a 401k, I’ll do the bare minimum. I have to have health insurance, I’ll pay the bare minimum. These people are costing me money.” I say NO to all that. I believe in a completely different view on people, whether you’re a professional services firm, a marketing firm, a manufacturing firm, an oil and gas firm, whatever: it’s your people who are the ones that push everything forward. If you think of them as the keys and doors through which you step to achieve greater success, then you want to take the best possible care of those people. How someone is incentivized, how someone is rewarded, how they’re acknowledged, etc., really plays into job satisfaction.
Find people aiming for the same general goal.
I think it’s incredibly important that you surround your team (and yourself) with like-minded individuals that share the same core values, and (roughly) want the same core things out of life. When you have people who are pulling in different directions, it can cause people to splinter off and create cliques or factions within the firm.
It’s your people who are the ones that push everything forward. If you think of them as the keys and doors through which you step to achieve greater success, then you want to take the best possible care of those people.
Once you’ve got the right people, trust and challenge them.
Another huge area is trust. I think you need to show trust in your employees, and treat people as peers and professionals. Treat people with trust, manage them well, and you’ll get the very best from them. You also need to challenge people, specific to each person. If you have the right people in the right seats, they’re going to have specific challenges that excite and engage them, and encourage the best from them, and that’s super important. When people get bored, they wander, physically, mentally and emotionally. So you need to have them connected to something. It’s a very fine line between challenged and connected and burned out, though. Sometimes it’s hard to walk that line.
You have to care about the whole employee, not just the part that works for you.
Finally, you need to care for your employees outside the office as well to further foster a positive organizational culture. One of the things we’re working on now is: what do our people need or want that we can provide them that may not have anything to do with our business? Do we need to have people come in to help them plan for retirement? Do we need to have people come in to help them study for their CPA exams? Or talk to them about professional wardrobes? Or help them with health issues - get a personal trainer for the team? Can we have someone tutor their kids? Can we get day care? All those crazy, outside the box ideas about company culture that may not directly relate to our business but could really show that we care for our people, which makes a ton of difference.
Overall, to keep your team happy you have to be seriously intentional, and you have to really want to keep your employees truly happy. Happy doesn’t mean that you just throw a bunch of money at them, and happy also doesn’t mean that you tell everyone they’re a bunch of unique snowflakes. Happy can mean challenging your team while you’re supporting them, and having high expectations and standards, so you maintain the level of respect of those people.