Posted by: doug308 | December 22, 2010

How To Keep The Good Ones

Employee retention is one of those things that people write books and give seminars on and to be sure this is an important issue. Because while recruiting the right talent in the first place is critical to building the team, if you can’t keep them your successes will be short lived. A game of musical chairs with your staff will eliminate continuity in the work flow. Your customers will soon get tired of having a new face and personality to deal with all of the time. And last but not least once the word on the street is that you have a revolving door on the place you will find it twice as hard to recruit equally talented replacements.

So, what’s the answer? Well, I won’t pretend to know everything on the subject. But I can certainly offer some real world feedback based on 20 years of listening to the way candidates describe this issue. And it seems to me that before talking about answers we need to know what the problems are. To that end let me offer some of the most common things I hear from people that have decided to leave their current positions (discounting situations where the company is in trouble, they have to move for family reasons, lay offs and such);

“I’m bored. They treat me okay, but the work is just not challenging” – Bear in mind that the best and the brightest do not want to be on an assembly line. They need to keep themselves excited about what they do. Shuffling papers and doing the same types of projects all of the time is just not their bag.
“The company really has no respect for us.” – I recently recruited 4 people from the same company and placed them with a direct competitor. And all four of them told me nearly the same thing. “My manager always comes to me at 4PM and tells me that I have to work until 8PM. Then the next day I am told to take long lunches the rest of the week so they don’t have to pay me overtime.” How hard do you think it was for me to attract them to something else?
“I have hit a ceiling and there’s no room for advancement.”– This is a variant on not being challenged. Talented people are not going to be satisfied without the opportunity to expand their experiences and grow professionally. So, for them it is much as they say in the military, “It’s up or out”.
“There’s no clear leadership. One day we are told to ‘do this’. The next ‘do that’. It doesn’t seem like the company knows where it’s going”– Inspired leadership will get the most out of people. A lack thereof will leave them wondering why they are working there.

I could run this list on for a few more bullet points but these are probably the big four in my experience. And in case you haven’t noticed not getting paid enough money was not on the list. In fact unless someone is being grossly underpaid by market standards it never is for people who are serious about changing assignments. I think everyone would agree that these are fairly solid and not insignificant reasons for making a move and apparently their employers either didn’t realize these things were happening or failed to do anything about it if they did. If they didn’t know, the reason is pretty obvious they didn’t ask or didn’t listen. If they did know and did nothing about it…. Well, then there may be some corporate cultural issues that need to be addressed that I am not going be able to handle in this brief primer. But I can offer a couple of thoughts for the former.

The first thing I can offer is to ask your employees on a regular basis what they think of their jobs and why. Conduct surveys and offer the option of responding anonymously to make sure you are getting honest responses. Do exit interviews with folks that leave the company. Then, and this is the hard part, do something with that information. Don’t be afraid to face the music. Everyone makes mistakes and gets into bad habits once in a while. The real screw up is having the information you need to make improvements and ignoring it.

Next be conscious of the fact that your staff has a life outside of work and that they are people just like you. Given half a chance most people will go out of their way to help the team. But there’s a difference between asking and ordering, explaining and telling, and expecting and assuming. In short what goes around comes around. If you treat people with thoughtfulness and respect you’ll get a lot of loyalty. If not, you’ll get a short timer.

Don’t hire a racehorse to pull a plow. What I mean is that if you have a down in the trenches job to be done that will change little over time don’t hire some hotshot expert on something to do it. They will quickly become stagnated and be looking for something else. The signs of this happening are a fall off in productivity, increased absenteeism, and even a little irritability. But the point is to be aware of what you are looking for before you look for it. You can head off a lot of trouble before it starts by just putting the right person in the right job.

Don’t waste potential. If you have someone who is showing exceptional prowess don’t let them go unappreciated. Promote them if you can to make better use of their skills. Or perhaps you can allow them to use their talents to train others to a higher level. And hellooo, don’t let them go unrecognized for this extra effort. If promoted give them a decent raise. If you can’t promote them and can’t give them a raise you would be surprised how far pointing them out in front of the rest of the company for their efforts can go. Even things as simple as taking them and their spouse out to their favorite restaurant, paying for a weekend getaway and get this, just saying “thank you” can make the difference in someone’s decision to look or not look.

As far as the point about lack of direction all I can say is don’t pass the buck. Do things the right way no matter what your co worker or immediate supervisor does. Treat your reports the right way and lead by example. And guess what? If nothing changes and the management above you doesn’t seem to get it, you might need to consider making a change yourself.

In closing, bear in mind that your employees are not machines or a commodity and you need to be aware of how they feel. As the economy heats back up good people will be in demand and both companies and headhunters are going to be looking for them. And believe me we will find them. The only questions is “Have you given them a reason to stay or a reason to leave?”

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