By April Halliburton, HR Consultant and Certified Volunteer Mentor

My expertise and passion in human resources led me to spend the last 10 years providing HR counsel, advice and support, specifically for small businesses. As a Certified Volunteer Mentor with the Southeast Michigan chapter of SCORE, I work with local businesses to identify HR challenges and provide tools and resources to help business owners reach their goals. Right now, the particular challenge most are facing is reopening and/or adjusting to a new service model, and it’s important to recognize how internal culture, growth and development can influence your outcome and success. I’d like to share with you, two small business etiquette themes that can make a difference for your business:

  1. Practicing compassionate communication
  2. Engaging your employees on multiple levels

Small businesses are resilient and know how to persevere – we take risks and push through regardless of the challenges. Whether calculated or not, business owners could not have predicted the reality of the Coronavirus and its impact on business. However, in these times of uncertainty it’s important to focus on what we can control – that is our business, employees and relationships with our customers. These two practices, appropriate communication and engagement, will help propel small businesses toward success.

Communicate Openly and Use Compassion

One of the most important small business etiquette rules seems simple, and it is, but it’s effective with both employees and customers – be kind to one another. Putting your best foot forward and embracing every situation with compassionate communication is the best way to set yourself and your business apart from the rest. Here are some easy rules and expectations you can establish that will help you succeed:

  • Respect others and their personal space (i.e. social distancing.)
    • Anything that makes a person uncomfortable, uneasy or afraid is not allowed.
  • Employees must be aware of what they say and how it may affect others' feelings.
    • Avoid negative confrontation and conversations regarding politics in the workplace.
    • During this time, there is more tension and uneasiness than ever. We must understand and empathize with others, as we all face various challenges.
  • When communicating via email, begin asking about family, if you are communicating with someone on a personal level. 
  • If you are beginning an email in the workplace, do not begin with “How are you?”
    • Begin, by saying something like, “I hope this email finds you well . . .”
    • It’s important to send positive energy to the person on the other end of the communication.   
  • When closing/ending a face-to-face conversation, close with a nod. For health and safety reasons, personal contact should be avoided.
  • When hosting or attending a virtual event, be mindful of your backgrounds, lighting and dress codes. While you may work remotely, you must always remain professional.
    • If you are interrupted by your children, be honest and resolve the issue as soon as possible and get back to the meeting.

Your Employees are an Extension of You

According to Small Business Trends, only 19% of people feel engaged at their jobs. When employees are not engaged, they won’t stay around long. Employee engagement is now a key factor in long-term retention as well as recruiting new hires.

Small business owners must have a good team that is on board with their mission and eager to carry it forward. These few tips will help cultivate a culture of growth and learning in your business:

  • Resources should be dedicated to the development of the team – this doesn’t always have to be a monetary investment.
    • Effective, welcoming and straight-forward onboarding procedures
    • Performance reward programs to demonstrate opportunity for growth within the company.
    • Proper training and development to ensure the growth of your staff – this way employees can give their best to your clients every day.
  • Ensure all employees, both new and seasoned, are trained effectively on an ongoing basis to give employees the best chance of remaining with the company.

Keeping your team engaged also means keeping them safe and valuing their work, especially during a pandemic. Monitor their health and provide appropriate shifts and protective gear that aligns with your business model and their comfortability. Their wellbeing is crucial to the life and culture of your business now and in the near future.

On this flip side, employers should be mindful of unengaged employees. Make an extra effort, whether employees are working remote or onsite, to keep employees engaged and be mindful of unhappy employees. Signs may include taking too many breaks, poor performance, lack of interest in learning and being silent in group conversations’. These individuals can create a toxic environment and reduce productivity, which can quickly spread. If an unengaged/unhappy employee is identified, communicate with them immediately and resolve their issues.

Overall, it is critical that small business owners create and utilize a human resources strategy in their businesses. This is a business's overall plan and goals for managing its workforce, so it has to align with your day-to-day operations. The strategy sets the direction for all the key areas of HR, including hiring, performance appraisal, development and compensation.

As small business owners confront current challenges by communicating properly, keeping employees engaged and executing the appropriate HR strategies, they will be able to propel their organization into a better position on the other side of this pandemic. It is critical to find the silver lining and make the best of the circumstances. Remember, you as a mighty small business owner are still standing!

About the Author

April D. Halliburton, MBA, BA is a Certified Volunteer Mentor with the Southeast Michigan chapter of SCORE and Founder/President of All-4-HR & Business Solutions LLC. Skilled in career development, HR consulting, coaching, conflict resolution, and team building, she prides herself on providing the best virtual human resource management/consulting services to the unique needs of small businesses across the United States.

The Human Resources Secrets Your Small Business Needs