5 Essentials to Running a People-First Organization

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Episode 30 with Kim White, CEO of River City Company.

You want your small business, startup, or nonprofit to stand out in the community and attract top talent. How can you be more intentional about interacting with people and building a strong network?

There are five areas we’ll look at:

  • How can you make connections when you’re new to a city?
  • Where do you find the right team members to hire?
  • How can you develop your business through connections?
  • How do you set up your employees to succeed without you?
  • How can you inspire your team to also get out from behind their desk and make connections?

We’ll help you answer these questions, so you can develop and put your people skills to work.

1. How can you make connections when you’re new to a city?

Introducing yourself and your new business to a community takes time—especially when you’re focused on putting out the fires that come with running a business.

How can you balance networking while increasing your bottom line metrics?

Start by reaching out to other business leaders who are doing cool things in your community and letting them know you’re interested in collaborating with them. Focus on who is doing things you want to be a part of and how can you help them to build your reputation.

There’s no need to take time out of your busy schedule to plan an event or participate in a pricey conference. Instead, you can start by lending a helping hand to those around you, whether that be by:

  • Brainstorming over coffee
  • Recommending tools and software that have helped you
  • Offering your skills, expertise, and time to contribute to a project
  • Sending helpful content that educates and inspires

The goal is to a) establish yourself as an active member of the community who wants to help, and b) learn what other locals are doing to make an impact.

Talking to people can help you connect those two dots.

It's not who you know, it's who knows you. Who can you prove your skills and value to?

2. Where do you find the right people to hire?

Great things happen when you put great people together. But where do you find these people and how can you be certain they’re a good culture fit?

Your best opportunities for vetting talent and recruiting happen when you aren't actively looking to hire. So instead of doing a search, keep a list of capable contacts you’ve met through networking.

Think of it as less about finding the exact fit for a certain job description, and more about having the right person naturally turn up through networking and create the role with their soft skills.

You know you’ll have a good candidate for a position when:

  • They’re excited about what you’re doing
  • Their work ethic matches your own
  • You have the same core values

You can train a person with a good work ethic to do anything, if they have these competencies. The best hires will be self starters with integrity and a positive mind-set. This person should want to learn and be capable of adapting, and they've got to be someone you can really see yourself working with.

Especially when you have a small team, people grow people into jobs as opportunities open up. So instead of focusing on structure, find employees who will be good at adapting to that change.

Your business will stay relevant when you have a team that is capable of always adapting. You’ll be able to stay on the lookout for gaps and how you can fill them, when your team consists of generalists who are willing to tackle any role vs. specialists who only have one interest.

Continually build your contact list. These contacts don’t even have to be just good fits for you, they can also be good fits for other local companies. Referring them will only build your reputation in the community and continue to put you in contact with more capable people.

3. How can you develop your business through connections?

You’ll only make connections when you’re intentional about being present and having conversations. That means getting out from behind your desk and making room for networking in your schedule.

But that’s easier said than done, right?

Only if you don’t know what works for you.

For instance, if you’re not already tracking your day and documenting when you get the most tasks done, it will be difficult to decide where you can slip networking in.

Maybe you’re a morning person who needs to get all your big tasks done first to be the most productive, or maybe you're an evening person who doesn’t really hit your stride until mid-afternoon. Knowing this can help you determine where to chunk your time to be most effective and leave openings for getting out into the community.

Keep a physical or digital planner to note what’s working for you as you begin networking more. It may be that you have to adjust as you discover how things actually line up, and looking back at the planner can help you track which daily schedules work better for you than others.

For example, it may be that Mondays work best for morning coffee at your local Chamber event, because you need Thursday and Friday mornings to finish a major weekly task.

You can even set goals for networking to help you prioritize your time. For example, maybe you want to attend one networking event per week, or meet three new people.

What if you’re still really pressed for time to network?

One group you always have easy access to is your customers. You should be regularly talking with them anyways to learn where your business can improve.

This can be done through case study interviews and surveys, or even just checking in to see how they're doing.

Aside from just getting feedback, regularly talking to customers can also be a way for you to discover opportunities for partnerships or new products that can add value and contribute to your company’s development.

4. How do you set up your employees to succeed without you?

It’s better to have a team that is capable of decision-making without you, than you be the single wheel that keeps things moving forward.

How can you make sure your company is sustainable without you?

You need to slowly hand off your task so everything is not on your shoulders—but that can be difficult if you’re someone who enjoys having your hands in multiple projects.

Start with small, maintenance things that aren’t as important or high-level compared to your other tasks, then move up from there. Ask yourself which tasks need to be done that you don’t necessarily have to be the one to do it?

Ideally, you should have a three or even five year plan on when these tasks are passed off. The timing has to be right, because you can’t just leave and expect things to go smoothly on their own.

A solid onboarding program that introduces new hires to the roles you and other senior leaders are passing on to them can help with this.

Employees need regular feedback on whether or not they’re successfully taking over your tasks and if there’s room for improvement. That’s why the best onboarding processes usually last for six months, or longer, to make sure new employees consistently get appropriate feedback as they grow into their roles.

Related: [Podcast] 4 Ways to Use Onboarding to Create Company Advocates

5. How can you inspire your team to also get out from behind their desk and make connections?

Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially if they’re an introvert. But the more someone puts themselves out there, the better they’ll get at it.

This is important if your team is going to make the biggest impact in your community. The more see your team interacting at events and meetups, the more your brand will begin to stick in their head. Your employees will also create connections they can draw insight from and grow their skills with. 

So how can you create opportunities for your more introverted employees to get practice at networking events?

It always helps if you intentionally leave time in their schedules for networking events. Afterall, they can’t practice networking if they don’t have time to do it, right?

You can also invite employees to join you whenever you head out for networking events, so they have someone they know with them and can watch how you start conversations.

Aside from just you leading by example, introverted employees can also take a digital approach to networking when they:

  • Interact with event hashtags
  • Start conversations virtually, so they can carry them over into the real world
  • Comment on other local businesses’ social media posts to open a dialogue

Remember to let them go at their own pace and that mastering their current tasks should always remain their top priority. They should never fall behind in day to day work at the cost of networking more.

Become a professional matchmaker.

It’s not about how much time you spend at your desk, it’s about interacting and being visible. No one looks at how many hours you’re working, they look at how you put your passionion for the community to work!

You can accomplish so much when you’re just doing a little networking at a time for a long period of time. The more connections you make, the more dots you can connect when someone needs advice or has a role to fill.

The goal is to essentially become a professional matchmaker that brings people and ideas together.

Related: [Podcast] 4 Steps to Creating Your Own Professional Community