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'Engage' Your Employees

THE SECRET TO CREATING AN OFFICE filled with innovative collaborative and creative employees is to make each one feel as if he or she is an "owner' of the business.And Michael Houlihan, co-author with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardships, Hustle, and Heart Built America's #1 Brand shows you how to do it.

The pair, who founded Barefoot Cellars, a hip wine business, suggests these tactics:
First, ask yourself: Would I work for me? Before you can make much progress in increasing employee engagement, you need an accurate understanding of what it's like to work at your company right now. 

Houlihan recommendsasking yourself the following questions and answering honestly-even if it's uncomfortable:

Do I treat my employees' labor as a commodity? Do I try to figure out how little they will work for? Or do I see my people as an asset, rewarding them for performance and acknowledging their achievements? 

Do I acknowledge producers publicly, or am I afraid they will ask for a raise? 



• Do I see medical and retirement benefits as a cost or as an investment in long-term stability?

Here are some tips from this team: 

Hire smart. Some job seekers are looking for just that: a job. A way to fill their days and pay their bills. Others are looking for something more: a career. Career seekers don't just desire a paycheck; they're looking for purpose, fulfillment, education, and advancement within your company. For that reason, they are much more likely to engage with your company (and stay engaged) as long as you provide them proper incentive.

Go overboard with orientation. After bringing new employees on board, don't stop with job-specific orientation training and a quick tour of the office. Make sure that each person understands how the money gets into their paycheck, which the customer is, and the process by which those customers are provided with goods and services. Show employees how your various divisions of labor provide the specialties necessary to your company and how each person fits into the big picture.

Share the wealth (as long as people are helping create it, that is). No worker is going to turn down a generous paycheck. And yes, a higher-than-average salary will often prevent employees from jumping ship and going over to the competition. But employees who stay with you solely for the sake of money are merely mercenaries, points out Harvey. To create true engagement, she says, you must tie money, employees' personal success, and the future of your company inextricably together.

Give more days off. For obvious reasons, employees feel very positively toward an employer who says, "Hey, you know what? Why don't you take a day off? You deserve it. And it won't come out of your vacation or sick days." Not so obvious, but equally true, is that these unworked hours won't mean a loss of productivity and revenue.

Be a mentoring matchmaker. King Arthur had Merlin. Harry Potter had Professor Dumbledore. And Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. While your business operates in the real world instead of in the fictional realm, you can still learn a valuable lesson from these famous pairs: Mentoring works. When a new employee comes on board, try to match him up with a more experienced worker (preferably in the same department or division) who can advise, teach, challenge, and encourage him.

Always say "thank you".

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