Photo of a small business owner talking to her employees in a warehouse.

Business outlook: 5 ways to lead with purpose and lean into 2022

Picture of Amy Friedrich.

Amy Friedrich is president of U.S. Insurance Solutions at Principal® and a loyal advocate for the small and midsize business community. She originally wrote this as a member of Forbes Business Council.

I see a growing consensus across the business community: More than two years into this pandemic, it’s time to embrace permanent shifts and focus on practical progress and new ways to succeed.

Entrepreneurs are busy blazing trails. They aren’t waiting for the world to calm down and return to normal. Last year there were more Google searches for “how to start a business” than “how to get a job.”

The latest business data and conversations have helped inspire these five ideas for how all of us might forge ahead:

1. Listen intently to your employees. Upskill them. Support them.

If you own or help lead a small business, don’t take your managerial superpower for granted. Leadership starts with being a good listener, and small businesses have a real opportunity to listen well to every single employee.

This is only more important at a time when half of small businesses say they’re unable to fill certain jobs. Many employers plan to increase training and education benefits and upskill talent already on staff, or offer more support in a specific key area such as childcare. Whichever path is right for your business, start by listening.

2. Help employees see real value in your business culture.

Remember your primary tools to retain employees: After the basics of pay and compensation, employee benefits can help nurture a supportive workplace.

A less tangible but no less important tool: Lead with purpose to help your employees connect the details of their daily work to how your business contributes to a better world. As an insurance executive, I remind my team we’re not just doing business; we sometimes change lives. Your company culture should deliver the “why” of work.

3. Individualize how you boost employee morale.

More than half of employees who leave their jobs don ’t feel valued or lack a sense of belonging. As business leaders we can be more mindful and creative in how we encourage human connection and account for our employees’ unique personalities.

Sometimes a formal initiative such as an employee mentorship program helps boost morale. But more often it’s our dozens of interactions throughout the day. Don’t overlook the small moments—a smile, a nod of support, a sincere note of thanks—that help build a solid foundation of trust between you and your employees. Remember that every interaction gives you a chance to influence morale.

4. Think ‘hybrid 2.0’—beyond the basics of flexibility and remote work.

A “hybrid 2.0” mindset means thinking bigger—beyond software for virtual collaboration or allowing more flexible workdays. Set aside your fear and ask yourself what fundamental changes you’d make to help you and your employees cope and succeed in the long term. One owner I know for the first time temporarily shut down her small business with extra paid time off to help her entire staff recover from a rush of clients. Productivity has remained steady in the pandemic. We can trust our employees to keep doing their best work outside of old routines.

5. Rebuild, recalibrate, and move forward with conviction.

Businesses of all kinds have been rocked by some type of pandemic volatility. Three-fourths of small businesses made significant changes in 2021, and one-fourth revamped their entire business model. Lean into change. Never underestimate your creativity and resilience as a small business owner. You’ve reinvented yourself before and will do so again—and again, and again.

What's next

Want more ideas about how to help grow and manage your business? Consult your financial professional, or we can help you find one in your area.

This communication is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation. 

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Company®. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., member SIPC and/or independent broker/dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.