Loyalty has always been incredibly important to me. I’m an empathetic, authentic person, and I invest my whole self in my relationships. In return, I expect the same from friends, partners and colleagues. However, as a small business owner, my definition of what loyalty means has evolved from how people treat me to also include how people treat my company.
Being an entrepreneur, my business is more than a company to me. It’s practically my third child — an extension of myself with all of the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into building and keeping it running both efficiently and innovatively. This means that when something happens to my business — good or bad — it’s almost impossible for me to not take it personally. Making peace with this reality, and using it as an opportunity to strengthen my business, has actually been one of the biggest, most powerful lessons for me over the past year, particularly when it comes to building a loyal, dedicated and bought-in team.
When your team is small, changes in personnel are widely felt. Even though it’s typical for a startup of my size to have people come and go, the first time I parted ways with an employee was difficult. It was easy to feel like the universe wasn’t on my side and I had been dealt an unfair hand, and nothing I had done as a business owner could have contributed to the situation. But I knew I couldn’t stay in that headspace. While I didn’t and wouldn’t ever have all the answers to the inner workings of this employee’s mind — or anyone’s for that matter — I had to use the situation to understand how my standards for loyalty could transform to be clearer and more attainable. And that’s exactly what I did.
I dove deep into how exactly I measured loyalty, and why it struck such a chord with me. I realized that I had never really looked at loyalty as something others did for me, but rather as something I did for others. Throughout my career, I have always been the most loyal employee. I worked late, got in early and was always chasing the next promotion. I kept my eye on the prize and did whatever I could, for any company I worked for — for myself.
I am an overachiever by nature, and I realized that what manifested in loyalty to the supervisors and companies I worked for was really loyalty to myself and my desire to put forth the best work possible. But that didn’t mean that the places I worked for didn’t have a role in sparking that passion. Their culture nurtured my drive, and I knew I needed to do the same at my own agency.
For an employee to be a company’s cheerleader and advocate, they need to care about the work and support the leadership, but there needs to be a higher cause that holds them together. This is where clear, defined company values can be important. If we can all agree on the way we want to live our lives and show up in the world, we can be more supportive of one another and share a bond over how we choose to do our work. If someone doesn’t feel that same spark, then out of loyalty to themselves, and really to the company, they should feel free to go and do what’s right for them.
Over the past few months, I’ve worked on communicating this better. When you’re wearing 25 different hats to keep your business afloat, it’s easy to let the HR hat slip off. I’ve made a more conscious effort to spend one-on-one time with my team and cultivate a culture of authenticity and transparency. There is unparalleled power in spending quality time with your people. Just as you would spend hours familiarizing yourself with a client, finding out how to best support them, you have to do the same for your employees. Listen to and honor what they have to say. Especially in a field as fast-paced as PR, building in-person, highly present relationships is essential to building a culture that people are loyal to.
As I’ve embarked on this, I’ve learned to look at loyalty not as someone never leaving my company, but rather as someone honoring the relationships I’ve built with them as a team member, and holding that space to be open and honest with me about their future steps and goals. With this refreshed mindset, it’s been easier for me to see loyalty and a lack thereof in the people around me. I’m tuned into red flags, like people who have hopped from job to job, as well as green flags, like members asking to speak candidly about next steps for the agency or even a recommendation for a position at a different company. With this visibility, I’ve been working to make loyalty further accessible in my agency, looking at how people are offboarded to ensure that both the company and members have time to adjust to changes. It’s a learning and growing process, but one that has ultimately shown me the power of growing with rather than against my team and business.
At the end of the day, true loyalty is in fostering open, honest relationships. Sure, this might lead to getting hurt — both in business and in life — but it’s how we must operate, knowing it’s the right move in the long run.