A Culture to Retain Employees
Remember the "good 'ole days" when employees would stay with a company for their whole working life? Those times are long gone for sure. Today, most employees are looking for more than just working at the same place as Mom or Dad. They want a rich, exciting, rewarding experience and career path. Let's look at some of the ways employees can be retained, adding value to the company and to their own lives.
First, Pick the Right Ones
The most important step in creating a culture where people will want to stay is to pick the best employees in the first place. When employees stay with a company, there is a rhythm that sets expectation with new employees that this is a great place to work. Of course that rhythm has to start somewhere.
It is vital that the applicant is a good "fit" for the company, both short and long term. Look for a proven track record that demonstrates the right skills, knowledge and attitude. If the applicant is fresh out of school, look for related work in part time jobs or social organizations. If the applicant is applying for a customer service role, does he have any experience serving customers? If the applicant has had customer contact experience, ask what she liked about the position and listen for genuine thoughts and feelings about working with customers. Sometimes you will be surprised about what is said and, what is not said.
Often, applicants who have spent all their education on a subject, such as C++ programming, are looking for a stepping-stone into the company. That may be part of your strategic plan, just be sure that the applicant won't do a lousy job with your customers and then hope you will send him to the Development department. After all, what kind of message is that for the rest of the staff who are working hard to do a great job in support? Mess up and get promoted?
The applicant's attitude and aptitude is most important. An employee who gives all is more valuable, in the long run, than the "brainiac" who is serving her own needs. Look for someone who wants to serve and demonstrates the ability and desire to develop skills and gain knowledge. Sometimes it's easier to teach 'Newbies' your culture instead of having to break bad habits learned at a previous company. Is the applicant going to contribute to or take from the company? Does the applicant have special skills and knowledge that can be shared with fellow employees? Does the applicant value sharing their expertise to help others succeed? Allow applicants to spend hours with your staff and then get his feedback and observations. Ask the staff for their opinion as to the "fit" of the applicant and factor in their feedback.
Next, determine if the long-term goals of the employee fit with the needs of the business. Many people start out in support and then migrate to other parts of the company. Will the applicant's aspirations be fulfilled in other parts of the company? Will her career track opportunities be at the right speed for her? Is there a long term fit?
To make sure you are off to a great start, set clear expectations up front. Does the applicant have career goals and are they realistic? Make sure the applicant knows what kind of career paths are available, time in positions or department requirements, and what it takes to "move up." Often a position in Development or Marketing requires a 4-year degree, or more. If the applicant does not meet the requirements, there should be a discussion regarding additional educational required. The applicant should know what the steps are to move within the company. Some companies have rules about internal transfers to keep certain departments from being the incubator for all other departments. Rapid movement through Support is hard on the customers, peers, managers, and training.
To help employees develop and progress, a career development program is helpful. This should be simply time set aside for coaching an employee through his or her career. Remember, only guide, and don't force career paths. The employee's self-motivation should be the driving force. Some employees are not looking for an ever-ascending career and are very happy doing what they are already doing. Employees taking that approach add stability and wealth to the department and should be appreciated.
Leaders who provide career guidance need to know what is available within the company and would most likely need help and support from Human Resources. There are many questions about job pre-requisites, salary ranges, job responsibilities, and the like.
A Company's Best Investment
When employees are being continuously developed they feel valued. Especially in the high tech arena, lack of training rapidly devalues an employee's worth. Training is the very best investment any company can make in its employees.
Here's a familiar question: "What if I train them and they leave?"
There are two answers: "What if you don't train them? They will leave." Or worse, "What if you don't train them? And they stay?"
In fact, not only do employees love training, many love to train others. There is a great deal of satisfaction in being the subject matter expert and having the responsibility of sharing expertise. Along these lines, if an employee is weak in a certain area, ask the employee to learn the product or subject and then teach it to others. This approach can be very effective since the employee does not want to look foolish in front of peers and will overachieve.
To illustrate how much training you are providing, create a public display, Bulletin Board or web page, showing a matrix of all the products and subjects that require training and who have been trained on each. In addition, show who is qualified to teach each subject. There's nothing like visualization to show how much training you are providing.
Demonstrate that Employees are Valued
Employees who are allowed to have meaningful input into the organization feel attached and valued. They can have input regarding departmental work rules, social events, recognition programs and work flow processes. The more they are involved, the more they take ownership and contribute with emotion, passion, commitment, and conviction.
It is commonly believed that a leader's primary role is to develop people. Ideally, the more development that occurs, the more each individual will be able to work and contribute independently. Good leaders must support, coach, mentor and train there employees. When the employee is new to a task, he needs direction and support. When he is skilled in a task, leave him/her alone and get out of the way. An effective leader provides direction and support depending on the development level of the employee. One size does not fit all. And, a leader who uses one style, for everyone, is providing a disservice to most of his or her employees.
The Heart of the Matter
We learned from Frederick Herzberg, 50 years ago, that humans are motivated and de-motivated by basically the same conditions. Herzberg says that the primary motivator is Self Achievement. This is the sense of being valued by co-workers, family and friends. When people feel valued, they will behave in extraordinary ways. The second strongest motivator is Recognition. Recognition is vital as it reinforces the feeling of being valued. Have you ever heard of anyone saying they have a "thankless" job? You know that person is very unhappy. The third motivator is the Work Itself. Considering that most of us spend almost triple the time at work as we do with our family, the work content is extremely important and is an integral part of the career. A discussion of pay comes later.
So, based on what we know from Herzberg's research, the work content and recognition are particularly important to the employee. Thus the leader must ensure the employee is performing meaningful work and receives the proper recognition for performing at or above standards. The leader must realize that the employee who does not feel she is performing meaningful work or does not get recognition for her work will soon look for an environment where she can get what she is seeking. Or worse, stay, gripe and damage morale. It is not likely that you can 'force fit' anyone into a position and he remain in the job long. This is why it is so important to make the correct applicant selection in the first place. Once they are onboard, you won't be able to re-mold them.
Review work content. It must provide an environment to learn and grow. It must allow for the opportunity to utilize developed skills and knowledge. The work must be a building block to the employee's long-term goals and objectives.
Look at recognition. Each employee needs to feel valued by peers, customers, and management. Each employee wants recognition that meets their individual's needs. Some like a lot of fanfare and public display and some like less public, subdued recognition. A good leader learns each employee's needs for recognition and applies gratitude appropriately. Never…one size fits all.
An element of recognition is how employees are measured. It is important that they believe performance measurements are fair and equitable. If they do not believe they are being fairly measured, they will not appreciate recognition or criticism. Having employees involved in the performance measurement processes will help obtain buy-in and enthusiasm. It is also a great way to set expectations for everyone.
Make Work Fun
Since distress can dramatically reduce productivity, creating a fun, relaxed environment will help reduce work related stressors. You probably already have employees who know how to create exciting games and events. Some folks are naturals at creating fun; use their creativity. Allow employees to vent their frustrations in an environment that will allow them to purge yet offer constructive advice on how to handle problems. Employee group sessions work well when everyone knows the ground rules and can offer each other suggestions. Some companies allow employees to share the goofiest or most frustrating situations and give a reward (stress relief ball?) for the best story.
Celebrate achievements. There are usually many projects and operational objectives going on at any time. Ensure that there is a positive, rewarding celebration when milestones and goals are reached. It is vital to reinforce desired behaviors in an obvious and substantial way. Rewards can be food (ice cream?), outings, bonuses (for really big events), time off, or ceremony (President presentation).
Work Hard, Play Hard
When employees play together, they form different bonds than just when working together. They get a chance to see co-workers in a different way and often find that they have more in common than previously realized. Stronger bonds create a natural teamwork that is not achievable in team building exercises. Outside team events can be activities like softball, picnics, bowling, river rafting, Dave & Busters, etc. These events can be quarterly or when goals are achieved.
When different groups or departments seem to be having too much conflict, put them together in outside playful activities. Get input from team members on the activities they like. Have them plan within your department's budget allowances. You can create fun awards and take pictures for the bulletin board to reinforce the event. Get them to laugh; it is the best medicine available.
Salary vs. Job Satisfaction
Going back to Herzberg's studies, he found that salary was far less influential than Self Achievement, Recognition, and Work Content. This seems to be more relevant to those who are well into their career and less relevant to those just starting a career. Looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we find that shelter, food, and security are primary motivating factors. When employees are entering the work force, they struggle to meet these basic needs with entry-level salaries. Often they will jump jobs for a 10% salary improvement. In these cases, money becomes more important than job content. Companies who offer rock bottom starting salaries often train new employees and then lose them quite quickly.
There is a financial decision that weighs turnover with the cost of higher salaries. Turnover offers many hidden costs such as employee recruiting costs, decreased productivity during learning curve, training time, impact on other team and company employees, increased supervision activities, and poorer customer service. Companies who understand turnover costs can easily justify improved salaries since in the long run, it is cheaper to keep great employees instead of continuously searching for new ones. It is the same philosophy as keeping customers versus getting new ones, over and over. Remember that old oil commercial, "Pay me now, or pay me later."
How many employees do you want to train for your competition?
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
One of the most destructive elements in any company is rumor. Leaders who communicate on a regular and ad hoc basis with the employees reduce rumors. Sharing plans and company/department status allows employees to feel valued and respected. Employees who know the bigger picture feel more involved and part of the company. It is easy to be dedicated to something you believe in. In order to develop loyalty, employees must feel the company wants and needs them and they are valued. The company must express satisfaction with the employee's contributions and demonstrate gratitude. Employees must never be taken for granted or viewed as non-human assets.
Effective communications can be obtained through staff meetings, ad-hoc employee meetings, brown bag lunches, newsletters (or intranet site), or small group roundtables. Often leaders find such communications very time consuming, but spend their time cleaning up misunderstandings due to insufficient communication. "Pay me now, or pay me later."
Nurture, train, develop, compensate, communicate, care for, and value your employees. If you picked the right ones in the first place, they will stay long enough to: contribute, connect with other employees and customers and enhance the value of your organization and company.