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Want to Grow Your Small Business? It's All About the Work Environment

04/09/2015 05:40 EDT | Updated 06/09/2015 05:59 EDT
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Close up of a coworkers working together

Running a small business is difficult, but growing one is even more challenging. You can't do it alone; you need the help of talented employees who are invested in the long-term success of your business.

A recent survey revealed that half of Canada's small business owners trust their employees to run their business when they're unavailable -- and more than half believe their business is better because of their employees.

To attract and keep talented people, you need to provide a great working environment. At Intuit, we're committed to creating a place where the Canada's brightest are challenged to grow both personally and professionally. Intuit Canada was recently named one of the top 10 Best Workplaces in Canada for the fifth year in a row, and we've been able to accomplish this by exercising five essential best practices:

1. Communication is key

Proactive, honest, and frequent communication is key to building and maintaining relationships with your employees.

Employee expectations and opportunities for development should be clearly defined and communicated. You also need to let your employees know what to expect from you as a leader. If you're unsure, ask your employees what they want and need from your leadership and support, and encourage them to hold you accountable.

Be open to new ideas and suggestions, create different ways for employees to voice their thoughts and concerns, and encourage employees to share them. Knowing that you're interested in taking action based on their input increases trust in your leadership.

Embrace a culture where employees have regular opportunities to ask you questions and get straight, no-nonsense answers, and use a variety of traditional and social channels to create dialogue and share information with your teams.

2. Never underestimate the power of saying "thank you"

Helping employees feel appreciated and respected isn't just good business, it's the right thing to do. Whether it's a simple heartfelt "thank you" or an all-expenses paid trip, tailor individual rewards to each of your employees so they mean something.

Employees whose accomplishments are recognized are more engaged and motivated toward achieving great things at work. Reward behaviours that drive your company forward, take the time to thank employees for the awesome work they do, recognize outstanding performance, and show appreciation for your employees' extra efforts.

We thank our employees often, generously, and thoughtfully -- and we frequently highlight their achievements. We regularly thank people for going above and beyond with spotlight awards: digital thank you cards that can be redeemed for gift certificates from hundreds of merchants, or a favorite charity. The versatility of these awards makes them ideal for recognizing achievements both large and small.

3. Investment is a two-way street

Communicate how your employees' work contributes to the success of your company, and include them in business decisions so they see there's a place and a role for them at your company in the future.

Invest time and resources in programs that promote your employees' career development. When you provide opportunities for employee growth, they will be able to learn -- and master -- new skills on an ongoing basis. Invest in employee training, and provide employees with the flexibility and time to try new things.

Every employee should have the opportunity to discover and expand their personal and professional horizons. We encourage our employees to devote a portion of their time (we call it unstructured time) to chase their dreams. Whether it's the free time to work on a new product, solve new customer problems, or develop their professional skills, we empower employees to step out of their day jobs, explore uncharted paths, and ultimately find new ways to thrive.

4. Give back to the community in which you live and work

As stewards of the future, we all must do our part to make the world a better place -- so get together with your employees to do something that makes a difference in your community.

One way we encourage volunteerism is by giving employees hours to go and contribute to their communities. We also provide grants to charities where employees volunteer, which increases their impact.

If your company is large enough, form a committee that ensures employees have regular, diverse volunteer opportunities -- and challenge employees to find new ways to give back. Some of our employees created We Care Wednesdays, during which teams of employees contribute to charities and social programs within walking distance of their office.

5. Encourage employee feedback -- and use it

You need to take risks to get the insights required to improve your business. Our employees can provide feedback anytime, anywhere, for any reason. If you don't already have one, develop a mechanism for employees to provide anonymous feedback about their day-to-day work experience and your leadership. If your company is large enough, consider sending out an annual or semi-annual survey for employees to complete anonymously.

It's also important to ask employees for constructive criticism when they decide to move on. Last year, we made the bold decision to hear from four of our former employees. They participated in a panel discussion where they explained their reasons for moving on, which we broadcasted live to all current employees. The panelists were tough but fair -- and some criticisms were difficult to hear -- but the feedback we received is priceless.

Lastly, information is pointless if you don't use it. Make a real difference in the lives of your employees by listening, organizing, and acting on their feedback. Communicate the changes that will be made based on your employees' input, and be clear on the timing and nature of those changes.

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