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VROOM: Small Business Growth and Employee Retention


It’s the sound your car makes when it goes places—when you make it move.

Victor Vroom.

He is a business school professor at the Yale School of Management that developed the expectancy theory of motivation.

This blog is about small businesses going vroom and Vroom. The sound and the scholar may sound unrelated but here’s the breakdown. Businesses, big or small, are always looking for ways to grow. Growing means moving their business forward. Moving their business forward, feeding the growth engine, means vroom. And Vroom.

Growth has a sound, a vroom. It’s not a sound that we’d naturally know. Growth makes a sound akin to a thunderbolt or a drum—it’s loud, low, and can shake the coffee mugs on our desks. When a business grows, employees can recognize the changes. The work schedule becomes a little busier. The forecasts become wider, more ambitious. The atmosphere changes. Sometimes for better. Sometimes for worse.

Growing a business—getting your business to vroom—can be a bit more complicated than getting a plant to grow. Plants tend to need three things at minimum: sunlight, soil, and a bit of water. Businesses require a lot more. But let’s focus down on one particular among the many needs businesses have. Employees. A business needs people to function. As a business grows, it needs more people. It needs to hire more people. Train more people. Retain as many people as possible.

Here’s where Vroom, the guy, comes into our story. Vroom came up with a theory of motivation in part to explain the problem of employee retention and performance. We’re not going to pick the theory apart, because that’s an easy way to turn an informative blog into a classroom. According to Vroom, an individual needs to feel that their effort will have a real effect on their performance, that their performance will lead to organizational rewards, and that these organizations rewards will promote their individual goals.

Makes sense, right? The problem is ingraining a motivational process like this into the job descriptions themselves. To retain good employees, a business needs to design jobs that:

1.      Removing some controls while retaining accountability

2.     Increasing the accountability of individuals for their own work

3.     Giving a person a complete natural unit of work

4.     Granting additional authority to an employee in one’s activity; job freedom

5.     Making periodic reports directly available to the worker directly rather than to the supervisor

6.     Introducing new and more difficult tasks not previously handled

7.      Assigning individuals specific or specialized tasks, enabling them to become experts

It’s easy to talk about job design in theory but difficult to do it in practice. This is because, particularly in small businesses, giving people a “natural unit of work” can be impossible because employees tend to have their hands in all the different parts of the operations. Let’s understand that these scholarly reports often have large corporations in mind, not small businesses. What we can take from people like Vroom, as small business owners and small business owner allies, is that:

1.      The best managers tend to trust their employees.

2.     The best managers tend to delegate responsibilities, not tasks.

3.     The best managers tend to motivate their employees, not drive them.

Now that’s a bite-sized sandwich you can swallow!

Remember: in order for your business to vroom you need a little Vroom. That is. You need to motivate and manage your employees in order to create a scalable organization that will grow and thrive all on its own.

Until next time,

Golden Benchwarmer

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