In the business world, there’s a well-known piece of advice that reminds us to pay attention to current clients even while we’re busy pursuing new ones. It’s often posed as a warning — “Don’t ignore your existing customers by focusing all your resources on attracting new ones.”
The point is this: Strengthening your relationships with current clients is as important as (and perhaps even more important than) trying to win new ones. It’s a relevant, timeless message, and it’s something we keep in mind every day as we balance our new business efforts with serving our existing clients.
Our new business team has been going gangbusters lately, and that has caused me to reflect on the adage about nurturing our longtime relationships. At the same time, we’ve been busy recruiting, interviewing and hiring new team members. And it occurred to me that the same caveat could be applied to longtime team members.
That is, we must make sure we continue to show appreciation for our current team members even while actively pursuing new talent. It reminds me of the lyrics to a song we sang in Girl Scouts: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”
At all costs, we want our current clients and current team members to know they are gold. We want them to continue to feel a strong sense of belonging even while we’re focused on onboarding new clients and team members. But employees may feel a little insecure if they feel you’re making changes because you want “fresh thinking” and “new blood.” Whether you’re hiring because of increased workload or because you want to shake it up and present new faces to your clients, it can scare your current team members.
So what can we do to make sure our current team members continue to feel valued and know we appreciate their work, notice their efforts and are better off because of them? Here are some tips to keep in mind and practice every day.
Look back before you go forward
Here’s another famous business adage: No one is irreplaceable. We all know it and frankly it would be a burden to think otherwise —and a liability, as well. But that doesn’t mean people don’t offer unique skills and talents. So be sure to let team members know they add something special to your company.
One way to do this is by starting your conversations with a validating phrase that recognizes the team member’s specific talents and contributions: “You did such a great job coming up with concepts last time and this new project requires your kind of big thinking. You’re perfect for it.” “You knocked my socks off with your attention to detail in that last report. That’s why I think you’re the best one for this new detail-oriented project.”
Dare to trust
OK, so not every assignment can be a high-profile, super-creative “plum” job. And no matter the role, there are probably some responsibilities that feel like drudgery. That’s reality. So try to balance the less exciting tasks with more challenging, creative opportunities. It sends a powerful message: “I believe in you and trust you will do a great job.”
If there aren’t any of these challenging opportunities on the horizon, create some. Assign an internal company marketing project or process audit, or even the chance to mentor a new hire. This shows you value your team member’s skills and work ethic so much, you want others to emulate them.
Give singular shout-outs
Yes, we win and we lose as a team and encourage our people to be team players, but don’t be afraid to single out individuals from time to time to show you really do value their unique contributions.
For example, if a team member has done a phenomenal job for one of your clients, perhaps send them to a conference or tradeshow in the client’s industry. Or if they’ve shown an interest in or knack for a new process or program, offer to register them for an off-site training session. Or if they’ve been going above and beyond, maybe give them a gift certificate to a spa or restaurant. By doing so, you’re letting them know you’re grateful for their talents and that their contributions make a difference to you and the company.
Catch them off guard
When you give a team member an unexpected gift, it has a greater impact than a reward they may expect to get after a job well done. With the surprise, they end up feeling delighted and excited, and this feeling lasts. It can be as simple as a happy Monday or TGIF gift, or remembering their birthday, that they love sunflowers or that their child is graduating that day. Or you could thank them for showing up every day with a smile by giving them an extra day off, lunch or dinner delivery, or a gift certificate for a weekend getaway.
Be supportive of doing good
If you know a team member is involved with a community group or has a passion for a nonprofit cause, offer to support or team up with them on a fundraising or volunteer effort. It could be helping raise money or donating a portion of your profits, hosting a collection or drive on-site at your location, volunteering at or attending an event or working alongside them in the community. By joining your team member to support a cause, you show them you recognize and care about what’s important to them.
Show up and show your face
Wander around your office, stop by people’s desks, have coffee in the break room and while there, initiate individual conversations. If you know of small groups or departments that routinely have lunch or drinks together, invite yourself along once in a while if you think it would be welcome. And if a team member invites you to a personal event — whether a wedding or a child’s performance — make every effort to attend. Several of our team members perform in local bands, and Mike and I love to go out and hear them play live. It’s fun and inspiring to support their talents, and I think it means a lot to them to know we care about their passions.
Ask and listen, one-on-one
Schedule and keep regular one-on-one meetings with each team member. (I emphasize the word keep because I’ve had team members tell me their former employers routinely canceled one-on-ones, which sends a really bad message.) During these meetings, proactively ask questions about how the team member is doing and feeling, and what they think about their job and your business. Try to create an open, safe space so they will feel comfortable sharing and being honest with you. And then pay attention, listen and respond to their feedback. Take it to heart. Be sure to share your thoughts and feelings, too, because it helps build trust and deepen connections.
Make gratitude a way of life
Show your thanks and appreciation to individual team members all day long. Make a visible, audible, unmistakable expression of gratitude every time you ask someone to do something and every time they do something for you. It can be as simple as a heartfelt, face-to-face “thank you” or a handwritten thank-you note or a plain old email. Maintaining strong relationships takes time, but it’s worth it.
Foster a sense of belonging
When new team members join the company, longtime ones can feel left out. And when people feel excluded, they may start to wonder if they’re still valued or whether they still “belong.” So while you may be excited about welcoming new talent, please pay attention to your current team members. Keep an eye out for anyone who acts as if they may feel slighted or overlooked, or simply don’t seem to be fitting in anymore. Actively find ways to invite them in and encourage the entire team to continue to embrace and include each other. And continue to celebrate each other’s unique contributions, special skills and, sure, even silly quirks. You won’t regret it, I promise. Scout’s honor.
Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm in upstate New York, which has been honored as a best place to work.