Six Employment Engagement Tips to Give Your Small Business a Competitive Edge 


It’s been 10 years since acclaimed author and CEO Chip Conley’s best-seller PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, compelled a generation of leaders to increase employee performance and engagement by creating a culture of purpose.  Yet today, when 66% of employees and 68% of executives surveyed agree that businesses don’t do enough to instill a sense of purpose, his message seems more relevant than ever.

Conley first achieved CEO superstar status at age 26 for his high-profile turnaround as founder and former CEO of hotel chain Joie de Vivre.  Driven by his mission to “create joy” he turned a company that USA Today called “the most delightfully schizophrenic collection of hotels in America” into a viable business during an economic downturn.

During his nearly 24 years as CEO, Conley grew Joie de Vivre to become the second largest boutique hotel company in America. How did he do it?  By focusing on the people, both his guests and his employees, and learning how to effectively engage them.

Conley knew that in order to create the joy he needed to fulfill his mission, he would have to recognize and meet people’s most fundamental needs.   Not much of a revelation for a hospitality business at first glance, but Conley extended his fierce commitment to meeting the needs of his employees with equal fervor.   Employee engagement is critical to business success as we know, the big takeaway here is that financial compensation isn’t the primary driver. People are motivated by more basic needs, as Conley uncovered; needs like recognition, connection and a sense of purpose.

Conley’s theory is based upon psychologist Abraham Maslow’s iconic Hierarchy of Needs, the widely accepted theory of psychology stating that basic, fundamental human needs must be met in order for a person to be able to progress to more evolved states of emotional growth.   Conley famously adapted the Service-Profit Chain model, developed by researchers at the Harvard School of Business, which shows a direct correlation between a great company culture and profitability, to fuel his methodology.

To reiterate a key point, employee engagement is critical to business success.  According to a 2013 Gallup Survey 70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are less likely to be productive. Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. How can you apply the principles of engagement to your small business when your resources are already stretched to the limit?

Consider these simple strategies you can apply in-house to basic needs, like recognition, connection and a sense of purpose and in the process improve employee engagement, productivity and performance.

1. Studies show an increase in job satisfaction directly correlates with an increased sense of autonomy.
In fact 90% of employees reporting high levels of job satisfaction cited job decision latitude as a key factor, vs. 50% of those who reported low degrees of autonomy.

Where can your managers implement this important concept without dismantling your entire core structure in an attempt to replicate Zappos?  Some ideas:

  • Allow employees to prioritize tasks, exercise some creative control and within clear guidelines, make decisions that directly affect their work, such setting up their office space, choosing vendors or selecting supplies.
  • Introduce flex time. If varying hours either remotely or on-site is an option, test it out on a limited basis to see what works for you.  There are numerous ways to do this depending on your particular circumstances, but offering remote days or limited flex time is a good way to start.  Initially this does require some strategizing and possibly restructuring, but remember the 90% findings and review your options with that in mind.

2. Build a sense of purpose into your everyday culture.
Chip Conley attributes his legendary success to helping employees to appreciate the impact that each person has towards that company purpose. This really ties back to your mission statement; the trick is to shape both internal and external communications to highlight the importance of each individual in carrying forth that mission.

Taking the time to regularly remind individuals of the importance of their specific contributions to the health of the whole is invaluable.

3. Regularly recognize efforts and achievements, publicly if possible.
Take the time to acknowledge extra effort, met goals or wins at every available opportunity. This highly motivating strategy encourages people to embrace their success, and to inspire others as well.

4. Provide ongoing relationship-building opportunities.
Employee engagement increases in direct proportion to positive relationships with colleagues and managers.  Often at work, people become myopic, failing to see how their project fits into the bigger picture and how inter-team collaboration benefits the organization as a whole.

It’s important to provide ongoing and inclusive opportunities to connect with and relate to colleagues, including engagement programs, group activities and company sponsored teams.  Promote, encourage and even incentivize participation to improve culture company-wide.

5. Offer personal, in addition to professional growth and development options.
While most employers recognize the value of providing their personnel with professional training and development opportunities, the personal side is often neglected.  A 2012 job satisfaction study found that respondents who have attended wellness program were significantly more satisfied with their work. The findings also showed that respondents who have attended training and development programs had lower levels of perceived stress and lower rates of absenteeism than those who didn’t participate.

6. Provide opportunities for employees to submit feedback, and respond to their suggestions.
When people feel heard, even if the situation can’t immediately be addressed, it creates a sense of value and validation.

Take a tip from Chip Conley’s Peak, and use these 6 strategies to inspire a sense of purpose in your small business, while improving employee engagement, productivity and performance along the way.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *