We all know, or have heard, that a company’s most important asset are its employees. In my opinion, it is rare to come across entrepreneurs who truly stand by this statement.   Too often, a small business owner treats his or her employees like a disposable item. 


On the other hand, there are employers who understand the importance of this statement. These are the folks who walk the talk; the small business owners who give their employees autonomy, respect, great work environments, good salary, and extra benefits, among other things.




How do you compare? Let’s see:


Not long ago, I came across a list compiled by The Great Place to Work Institute (GPWI). The list consisted of a variety of factors that both employees and managers consider the most important in making a business a great place to work.


The list was interesting for all sorts of reasons. The  list is very similar to the traits you see when you look at Fortune Magazine’s annual rankings of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. According to Fortune, what they look at are four areas: credibility (communication to employees), respect (opportunities and benefits), fairness (compensation, diversity), and pride/camaraderie (philanthropy, celebrations). In 2014, Google topped the Fortune list.


GPWI also creates an annual list of the best places to work, but their list focuses on small and medium-sized companies. In 2014, the top small company to work for in the country was Granite Properties in Texas. And it’s not hard to understand why:


“Staff rave about the real estate investment company’s family-like atmosphere as much as they praise managers’ leadership skills. Granite [makes sure] employees have a say in business decisions, and the CEO gathers employees for regular informal brown bag lunches at all of the company’s locations where he learns — and remembers — people’s names. Employees say they are paid fairly and have great benefits. Staff work together to improve the community too, thanks in part to 40 hours of paid volunteer time.”


What is it that makes a small business a great place to work? It’s trust. According to GPWI, great workplaces are built through the day-to-day relationships that employees experience — not a checklist of programs and benefits. The key factor in common in these relationships is trust. From the employee’s perspective, a great workplace is one where they trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.


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Looking over the whole list of these great employers, a few consistent traits emerged:


Friendly Communication: Great workplaces are places where communication occurs regularly, easily, and informally. 


Great Benefits: Great small business employers do more than what is required, they do what is desired. It might be a great party, financial planning seminars, an on-site gym, a wellness program or an extra holiday off. Whatever the case, going above and beyond for its employees is what makes an employer great. And of course, grateful employees usually reciprocate many times over.


Work Together as a Team: According to GPWI, great workplaces achieve organizational goals by inspiring, speaking and listening. They have employees who give their personal best because they are appreciated, thanked, and are cared for. And they work together as a team/ family by hiring, celebrating and sharing.


Values: In the excellent book Built to Last, author Jim Collins explains that great businesses are built on values first and profits second. The same holds true for these great small business employers. They have values that everyone buys into, and these values are reinforced in all they do.


So the recipe is clear: Be fair. Be flexible. Treat employees like adults. Pay well. Have core values. Have fun.

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.


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