Want More Referrals? Make Your Employees Happy

May 29, 2015

Years ago I was told that my parents' only hope for me was for me to be happy. I thought they would have said their dream for me was to be successful or to accomplish something great. I have come to learn that being happy is more important than success or greatness. The same is true for companies. If you want to grow your company make your employees happy.

You might ask me, "What's the point Eric? People work to make money. Happiness isn't something that helps the bottom line." I'd reply, "You couldn't be more wrong." I have never been more productive as an employee as when I was happy. Happiness isn't a derivative solely of entertainment. I believe happiness comes from opportunities and purpose as well as fun.

Dan Pink, the author of Drive, said that to motivate highly skilled workers you need autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I believe these three elements lead to happiness at work. I believe that balance and fun also contribute to happiness, but opportunities to experiment, learn, and grow lead to lasting happiness. For me, accomplishment is more rewarding than anything else I do at work.

Does your company work to make you happy?

Working with so many companies of different industries you learn a few things about the success of their referral programs. There are companies that get referrals and then there are companies that knock it out of the park and are drowning in referrals. What's the difference? I think it's happy employees.

How do I help my employees be more happy and productive?

Start simple. Don't try to fix everything at once. Pick one way that you can improve the opportunities for your employees and don't move on until you've nailed it.

Here's my approach:

1. Take a sampling of your employees and ask each the following questions:

  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • What would you personally like to accomplish if you could do anything while working here?
  • What do you think I could do to help you eventually reach your goal?

2. Take the results and try to identify the obstacles keeping your employees from growing.

  • Lack of training. Whether a person works in sales, marketing, engineering, or customer success, I think that every employee can and wants be better at what they do. Training helps build good habits in new talent as well as correct bad habits in the seasoned veteran.
  • No growth opportunities. Are some of your positions a dead-end job? Are their ways to help groom employes for more responsibilities? Sure there will be some employees who are happy staying where they are (they could however make great referrals and grow your organization), but others are anxiouly looking for an opportunity to grow professionally.
  • Lack of autonomy. Hire great people, pay them well, and then get out of their way. I think good autonomy requires accountability. You need to follow-up and see if there are challenges that you as a manager can help with. But give the employee a chance to experiment, perhaps fail if they must, and most importantly grow. They will value you for your trust and the autonomy you give them. Most importantly, support the employee as they try to figure out how to accomplish the task you have given them. I've seen this backfire disasterously when a manager decides to not support the efforts of their employees. Resentment builds and finally the employee leaves. Supporting them, regardless of the outcome, helps to communicate the trust you have in them and keeps the employee dedicated to a cause they feel they are helping to build, namely your company.

These are just a few examples of obstacles that might be prohibiting growth in your employees. Pick an obstacle that you can work to improve.

3. Pick an obstacle that is manageable for you today

Don't focus soley on the obstacles with the most frequent complaints. Consider tackling an obstacle that will give you success the quickest. I say this not to ignore the larger issues, but because getting starting with change is the hardest part and I want you to have immediate success. If you have a common complaint that will take you months to correct and a small issue that you can fix in one day, focus on that smaller issue and let people see that you care about their concerns and are working to help them grow and succeed.

For an example I'll pick training. Training can be a beast in any organization, so find a way to simplify it. Rather than spending money on consultants start small by letting teams train each other. Let people opt in to train their colleagues over a company sponsored lunch. Small teams will help everyone get a chance to train as well as reduce pressure on anyone feeling intimidated to ask questions in large group settings. This works really well for development and engineering teams.

Sales teams might value from one on one coaching. A veteran salesperson can have a junior salesperson listen in on his/her calls. After the call the experienced salesperson can ask the juinor salesperson what they noticed about the call that went well or not so well. Have them switch roles and have the new salesperson practice the techniques that went well for the experienced salesperson. This one on one coaching is cost effective. Later you can do role playing and more.

You don't have to do things my way, but start small and do something that you can test to see if it's making a difference in your organization.

4. Repeat

Once you feel like you've made some progress scale up your efforts or move to a new obstacle. Your goal is to help employees be productive and happy. You'll find that you'll be building a great culture along the way.

The companies that I see daily with a great culture and happy employees outperform everyone when it comes to referrals. Why wouldn't they? Wouldn't you tell a friend to work at a company where you grew so much or loved the work environment? If you don't have a company that people are raving about don't worry, you'll get there. Just take it one step at a time.

Why make employees happy? Because happy employees are more productive, they stay longer, and they invite their friends to join your team. Referrals are the cheapest source of hire, they also stay longer than non-referral employees, and they are usually happier and more productive.

[stepping down from my soap box.]