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How to Get More Value from Your Employees

How to Get More Value from Your Employees

Running IntelligenceOriginally Published in Running Intelligence


Every business owner and executive knows that their employees could be contributing more to the business and its success. I once attended a business seminar where the speaker asked each person in the audience to raise his or her hand in the air as high as it would go. Everyone raised their hands. “Now,” the speaker said, “I want you to raise your hand a little higher.” Every hand in the room went up at least two to three more inches.

Why hadn’t each of us stretched our hand as high as it would go the first time he asked? Maybe we didn’t think he was serious. Maybe we weren’t paying attention. Maybe we didn’t want to appear foolish in front of our peers. Whatever our reasons, the speaker’s point was simple: even if you have already asked people to reach as high as possible, everyone is capable of reaching a little higher.

This is true for your business, for your employees, and for you personally. Here are some steps you can take to get your money’s worth from your staff by getting everyone to reach a little higher.

1. Stop acting like a little kids’ soccer team

I have four little kids, two of whom play soccer. They are on teams in name only. Really, when they play they look like an amoeba. The entire group runs after the ball wherever it may go, and occasionally the ball squirts out from the mass. If by chance the ball squirts toward the goal, the team scores.

Small businesses often act in the same way. Everyone reacts to every problem, and everyone shares some portion of responsibility for every function of the business. When you are first starting out, this is called “doing whatever it takes.” In my experience, as a running specialty store grows beyond $500,000 in revenue, this approach starts to break down. If your store is already near or beyond $1MM in revenue and you are still managing this way, the wheels are getting ready to fall of your proverbial bus.

This principle has a particular application to businesses where there are two or more actively-involved owners. Without an organizational chart and clearly defined responsibilities, both partners end up involved in making every decision. While it is important to have consensus between partners on big decisions, there has to be a clear division of responsibilities between the owners if things are to run smoothly.

Next Action: Create an organizational chart for your business. Clearly define the role of each person. Get people to take ownership of specific functions and let them focus their non-floor time on those specific priorities. In so doing, you move from being a little kids’ soccer team to a team of talented individuals who understand the importance of playing their positions.

2. Divide to Conquer

Early in its history, Dell Computer almost became a victim of its own success. Michael Dell called in consultants from Bain to help him keep the company afloat. One step the consultants took was to divide jobs into smaller, more defined roles. Even Michael Dell’s job became more focused as responsibilities were taken from him and given to other people.

This “divide to conquer” strategy does not mean that you have to add headcount. It does mean that you need to continually work to keep your best people in front of customers by delegating administrative and support responsibilities to others. 20% of your people create 80% of the value in your business. Don’t let those employees get bogged down in non-essential tasks.

Next Action: Take low-priority responsibilities away from your best people and assign them to others on your team. And, if you have employees to whom you don’t feel comfortable delegating even second-tier activities, you probably should not be employing them.

3. Never Leave a Meeting Without Determining Next Actions

I use the phrase “Next Action” throughout this article. By Next Action, I mean the next step someone will take to achieve a goal. I picked this up from David Allen whose book “Getting Things Done” I highly recommend. He emphasizes that people often don’t make progress on projects because they don’t know where or how to get started.

Next Action: Insist that employees write down Next Actions along with a to-be-completed date before they leave a planning meeting with you. You will help them turn their ideas into action.

4. Provide ongoing accountability.

Your employees will not “reach a little higher” if you don’t provide them with a structure of accountability that helps them to get better results. This does not mean you have to spend your life in meetings. It does mean that people need follow up in order to turn their good intentions into measurable results.

Next Action: Schedule regular meetings with your team and use these meetings to review store results, discuss what each member has achieved since the last meeting, and what each member will achieve by the next meeting. Schedule similar meetings with individual staff members as needed. This meeting structure provides the accountability structure that employees need and makes people accountable to one another as well as to you.

5. Stay Personally Customer Focused

When the owners of a running specialty store tell me they are spending the majority of their time in the backroom, a red flag goes up in my mind. You are too valuable to your business to be squirreled away matching invoices and shipping receipts all day. You have to get out into the community and on the retail floor. Not only will you build relationships with new and current customers, you will also be more in touch with how your employees are treating your customers.

Next Action: Take a look at your own calendar for the past several weeks and calculate how much time you spent with potential or current customers vs. backroom responsibilities. If that ratio is out of wack, take a serious look at how you are delegating responsibilities within your store.

6. Deal with Poor Performance Now

During good times, employers often keep employees around who really should be finding other jobs. If that is the case at your store, now is the time to make changes. No one ever says, “I fired that person too soon.” By making the changes you need to make, you not only reduce payroll but also improve the morale of your team. Yes, I said improve. If the owners and managers of businesses don’t deal with poor performance, it is the strong performers who suffer.

Next Action: Confront poor performance and make the cuts you need to make.


You can get more from your current staff. If you are willing to invest the time to put them into action, you will get a payoff as your employees succeed in reaching a little higher to serve customers and create value for your business.


What do you think? Leave a comment!