As a small business owner, you might think you know everything there is to know about your business. From the way you should promote your products through to the service you offer, it’s your small business and somewhat understandably, you think you’ve got the best grip on how to manage it.
And when you’re only just starting up and there’s only you involved with the business, you don’t actually have much choice – you have to listen to your own knowledge and experience, acting upon what you believe is right.
But when you’ve got a number of employees working with you, as tempting as it can be to want to keep full control over everything, only making decisions based on your own thoughts, the truth is if you’re at the stage where you’ve got several employees, you can no longer have a grasp over everything fully. It’s just not practical for any development or forward movements to be made based on your own thoughts anymore – and it’s here when you have to start listening to your employees.
A lot of the time, however, your employees won’t tell you what their thoughts are. They may not know how to tell you, whether that’s because you’re not often available to speak to or they aren’t certain how to approach you. In a worse case scenario, they may not feel comfortable telling you their thoughts and particularly if this is the case, you need to quickly change your approach to employee engagement and develop a much more effective internal communications process.
Listening must always come before speaking
How you do this will vary from organisation to organisation, as there are numerous factors to consider, but one of the most basic principles of an effective internal communications process is to first and foremost listen.
This might sound obvious in theory, but there are far too many small business owners out there who truly listen to what their staff are saying. Whatever capacity the comments may be made in, you might physically be listening to them, but there’s a huge difference in sitting in front of someone and have them tell you what they’re thinking and actually actively listening to their comments, taking on board exactly what it is that they’re telling you.
Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that because what their staff are telling them is irrelevant or not suitable to use as a development point, they can essentially ignore them, deciding not to listen properly. But what’s important isn’t necessarily the content of the communication from your staff, but it’s the fact that they feel able to engage with you.
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Make your staff feel comfortable enough to talk to you
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in a business-employee relationship is finding a channel that you can both communicate on in a way that makes you both feel comfortable.
Most employees have thoughts or opinions on business processes. It might be something small or it could be something that would completely revolutionise the way in which you approach business, but you’ll never hear the comments if your employees don’t feel comfortable being able to pass them on to you.
A lot of the time, when small business owners understand this importance, they often decide to sit down regularly with every employee and find out exactly what it is that they’re thinking.
And although there’s no doubt this could work in some situations, it’s by no means a blanket process that fits every small business.
The reason behind this is some employees simply don’t feel comfortable making comments in a face-to-face situation. Or perhaps more accurately, they don’t feel comfortable making completely honest and truthful comments in a face-to-face situation.
Only you will know your employees and it’s important that if you want their most truthful comments, you give them a number of internal communication options. Face-to-face should definitely be one of them, but you shouldn’t neglect e-mail, phone or even hand-written notes – they might seem old and outdated, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable in some scenarios.
Having an effective internal communications process is paramount to the success of any business. Small or multi-national, the most successful businesses are the ones who not only listen to what their customers are saying, but what their staff are telling them, as only then can they develop based on intelligence that is truly insightful and beneficial.