Growing Pains

The owner of a small business finds that a bad economy doesn’t motivate employees to stay, much less perform to high standards. Catholic consultant Dave Durand offers pointers.

I’m a fairly new entrepreneur. Despite the terrible job market, I’m losing employees faster than I can replace them. I think they quit because my standards are high and their work ethic is lousy. How can I get people to care about quality without driving them away?

Your question reads like my own (unwritten) biography. Of course, I can’t be certain about all your particulars, but my 20-plus years of working with entrepreneurs tells me that you have fallen into a very common trap for young entrepreneurs.

The trap is that you assume everyone is like you. But you, like most business owners, think and act differently than most employees. Notice I said “differently,” not “better.”

New business owners are so committed to their work, so driven toward growth and success, they can’t imagine why everyone around them doesn’t feel the same way about their business. Your job is to help your employees “fall in love” with the business. As their leader, you need to continually court them into greater commitment.

Obviously, you want productive people from the start. But your expectations need to be realistic. Allow individuals to grow into their roles. As their commitment grows, so will their productivity. I know a lot of people who went into jobs halfheartedly but ended up throwing themselves into their work and becoming the best of the best.

There are some concrete steps you can take to turn mediocre clock punchers into self-motivated, top-caliber performers. The first is building trust. Your people need to know that you believe in them and you will stay loyal to them, even if they’re on a steep learning curve. Once they begin performing well, they’ll remember your commitment and support. This will provide a sturdy foundation of trust to build on.

There is, of course, a time and place to replace some low performers. But, if a person has the raw “stuff” to make the job work for them, hang in there. Here are three things you can do to get over the hump with your new hires.

First, make them feel secure. Often, new bosses use fear and intimidation to get results. This is a big mistake because, even if they get short-term results, they will never build people of character, much less managers and leaders. When people feel insecure, their behavior reflects their lack of confidence. Simple words of encouragement and recognition go a long way.

Second, whenever possible, set standards for new employees that are customized to their particular experience and talent level. If you are in an encouraging environment, you will be able to set high expectations without a problem. Your new hires will see the standards as a challenge to take on, not a threat to run from. They will be more open-minded and less reluctant to ask for, and apply, your advice.

The final thing I recommend is spiritual. Pray for your business and each of the employees by name. Take time for a “working” Holy Hour, and ask the Lord to help you with your work. Jesus wants us to come to him with all our needs and, since you probably spend a great deal of your time at work, it makes sense to direct a great deal of prayer time to that cause.

Come to think of it, the Psalmist could have been an entrepreneur: “Unless the Lord builds the house, he labors in vain who builds at all!”

Catholic business consultant Dave Durand is online at

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