If you are reading my words, it is likely that you are a business owner or business leader in some capacity. That means that YOU can make a huge difference. I love what Margaret Mead had to say on this subject: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I believe that when that small group is made up of entrepreneurs, change can happen faster. We have tons of control in this regard. Here’s why I say that:
The SBA reports that there are over 30 million small businesses (defined as having less than 500 employees) in the US. Astonishingly, that means that over 99% of US businesses fall into this entrepreneurial, small biz category. So, if we all adjusted our business policies to pay our people a truly fair living wage, they’d all have the means to buy homes, to buy your goods and services, and STILL have money to save for a rainy day or the vacation they’ve never gotten to take…and yes, we could eradicate hunger.
We entrepreneurs have incredible power to change things, to deeply affect the lives of those who work with us.
It all HAS to start with empathy, being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other person, being able to see the world through their eyes. So, based on what YOU pay them, tell me with that lens, what is the reality of your employees? Can they pay the rent without stress? Can they ever make enough to save for a down-payment on a small house? After careful budgeting, is there enough left over to plan for the future? Get my drift? What can they do with what you pay them?
Now, balance that with where you’d be without them. How could you possibly grow a profitable business without them?
So, if you know me at all, you KNEW I was going to go there first…prying into what you pay and what your company benefits are. But beyond pay and benefits, what are the other things you can do to show empathy, the “glue” that will keep your employee relationships healthy and growing and that will create a healthier, happier society?
- Talking…and listening. Really, we are born with the desire to be heard, to have a voice, so spend time with your employees, getting to know about their daily lives. Ask questions and listen. Questions that will help you get a glimpse into their lives: “What did you do last weekend?” “As soon as the arena opens up, what’s the first concert you’d want to see?” “Which household chores do you like most?” “Do you cook? What’s your signature dish?” You get the gist – ask about their daily lives. It was in such conversations that I found that:
- One person was a serious jazz music aficionado – never would have dreamt that of her
- The dream of another was to be an elementary school teacher
- One was frustrated that he’d just gotten his accounting degree and was having to work a production job in our factory (he was moved into the finance office immediately)
- One was an actor with a lead role in the new play at a local theatre…imagine his delight when 9 of us showed up at his next performance!
- When you finally have the chance to interact with others, no matter how briefly, put away the technology. If you are scrolling through your phone on the way through the office and halls, you are missing a crucial chance to notice someone, to make them feel seen and cared for. When I was running LetterLogic, my desk was an odd shaped old farm table, long and narrow with a rounded end on one side and the other squared off. When someone came into my office to visit, I’d ask them: “Hold on for a sec and let me close what I’m doing here so I can enjoy this time with you”. Then, with my screen on the far right side of the desk, I’d slide my chair over to the far left, to the rounded end, so the screen would not be between us. If they were to stay for more than a few minutes, I’d suggest we move over to the twin sofas that sat across from each other, where we could have a longer, more detailed conversations in comfort. Both those gestures told the visitor that they mattered to me.
- Shake up your hierarchical world the next time you are doing any company or community events. Instead of having those efforts led by your senior leadership team, choose someone else in the company, someone who is passionate about that cause…and let them run with it. That means YOU following their lead. I recall the many times my team participated in Habitat for Humanity Builds and Hands On Nashville projects, where one of the employees gave me assignments. The change in roles was AWESOME!
- Invite them to your home. No matter if you are having them over for a work discussion or for a social event, being invited to your home, no matter how humble, is considered an honor and a barrier-remover. Do it.
- Break bread with them. Read my book Lunch with Lucy for details.
- Get to know their significant other. This is fact: You will see your employee in a whole new light when you see them interact with a partner. You’ll have a new appreciation for them and you’ll get a holistic view of them as a PERSON, not as an “FTE.” Interestingly, in most cases, I liked the employee more, had new respect for them when I met the person they chose to be with. In every situation though, it made me more empathetic and kind-hearted about them. Closer to them.
- There’s always just a few people that are expected to bring coffee to others…with a certain group of people (you know who you are) that are always on the receiving end. If you are that person, the one who is always waited on instead of serving others, break that chain now. YOU take the coffee orders and deliver to the others. It’s a small but powerful gesture.
Whether you are interacting with your employees now on a virtual basis, or you are one of the few that is back up and running, albeit in whatever new distancing protocols are mandated for us, today is the day to start creating a new normal, one where all humans are treated with kindness and dignity.
A world where we all matter to one another. Yeah, I can get behind that new normal.