Peter Martin: Engage and Leverage Your Team

As a finance and growth consultant with K•Coe Isom, Peter Martin helps businesses identify opportunities, source capital and manage expansion challenges. ( Farm Journal Media )

The most powerful weapon you have for weathering tough times walked into your office, barn or field today. He or she fed your livestock, tended your crops, tapped on a computer keyboard or got that piece of machinery running.

Your employees are the foundation of your business. They make it possible for you to accomplish your business goals and give you an edge over your competitors. Whether it’s for a paycheck or a long-term relationship, your employees have a stake in your success. We’ve found K•Coe’s best clients are those who understand the value of their workforce and are greatest at leveraging their teams.

Engaging employees when times are tough is essential, according to Danielle McCormick, a K•Coe principal and leader of our K•Coe People consultancy team, which helps our clients manage the human aspect of their businesses.

“We encourage leaders to be more transparent with their employees during these difficult times,” McCormick says. “You don’t have to share every detail but communicating the challenges as well as optimism for the future is what a great leader does.”

McCormick suggests these best practices for team management:

  • Talk about the progress being made. Great leaders share stories of previous hard times and how they were able to persevere. They can point to the steps that were taken back then and even the actions they’re taking to weather the current storm. Sometimes that can involve sticky conversations. K•Coe recently had a client who, because of a difficult loan renewal, anticipated trouble making payroll. The client invited his employees and their spouses to dinner, where he explained the situation. He also shared his plan to get the business back on track. The employees appreciated being recognized as part of an indispensable team. More importantly, they saw first-hand they were working for a real human being rather than an impersonal business. As a result, the client did not lose any employees despite being unable to make payroll.
  • Follow the 10-minute check-in. Take a few minutes daily or weekly with each employee. Ask how they’re doing, how things are going with their work and other employees, and what you can do to help. Ask about their families, their hobbies and their day-off activities. This not only keeps you in tune with the workings of your business but builds greater employee loyalty.
  • Communicate hope for tomorrow. “When there’s a ‘sky is falling’ mood, it’s difficult to look ahead to next year,” McCormick says. “But people want to feel secure about keeping their jobs. Convey to them that there is opportunity ahead.”
  • Recognize them. Financial compensation helps, and you can use creative options. Some employers establish a financial level of, say, $5,000 for each employee. Whenever that employee is late, calls in sick or makes a significant work error, their fund is docked. Most end up with about half of the original amount by year’s end. It’s a tangible way to tie performance to profitability. That approach is not for everyone, but you can come up with something that works for your team. You could give employees gift cards to a favorite restaurant or time off to attend family, school or sporting events.

In tough times, employers strive for strong employee engagement. Investing in people relationships is the secret weapon that will help you turn the corner and survive. 

This column is not a substitute for financial advice.