Love Them or LOSE THEM

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Love Them or LOSE THEMSeven strategies to retain employees

By Robert B. Tucker

Finding good employees has never been more challenging than it is in today's tight market, and retaining them is even tougher. Companies now face the most competitive job market in decades, and losing employees can ravage your bottom line. Consider the productivity and replacement costs involved when an employee walks out the door. Research indicates losing one employee costs a company an average of $50,000. So how do you retain employees? Here are seven strategies that will help:

1. Create a Great Environment

Build a supportive and challenging workplace where communication is encouraged, initiative is rewarded and development is provided. A good work environment offers employees interesting work, growth opportunities, ongoing training and a chance to be heard. This environment needs to be supported by a strong, well-defined culture, and maintained by managers who take an interest in their employees. Create the kind of place employees want to return to, not run from.

2. Support Your Employees

Talk with your employees. Make sure they know their jobs and your expectations. Provide employees with clear goals and the information resources necessary to work toward them. Include two-way conversations that allow employees to be heard. Value employees' input and include them in the decision-making process. Provide opportunities for making meaningful contributions. Good employee-management relationships are essential. The Gallup Organization's study of 80,000 managers in 400 companies found an employee's relationship with his direct boss is more important for employee retention than pay and perks.

3. Provide Ongoing Training and Development

This is key to keeping employees--and keeping them enthusiastic. Involve your people in the discovery of new opportunities and innovations. Develop them through mentoring programs. Provide learning opportunities at every level of the organization in the form of seminars, educational opportunities or training programs. Armed with new skills and motivated by the learning process, employees will gladly assume new responsibilities and meet challenges with greater initiative. As long as workers are learning and stretching, they will keep adding value in the form of tangible end results, and will stick around.

4. Re-Recruit

Take the time to find out how your people are doing. Find out what their needs are and whether those needs are being met. Find out how the company can support its employees. Make it a priority to have the conversation now. Take time to ask them, "What are the kinds of things that will keep you? What kinds of opportunities, growth, etc., do you want?" Make it easy to move and grow within the company and employees will be less likely to look outside. Never assume they can't be lured away.

5. Rev Up Recognition

Respect and appreciation earn respect and appreciation. Employees often say they never hear the words "thank you" from their bosses. Genuine appreciation costs nothing, but can yield significant benefits. You need to let employees know how much you appreciate them--regularly. Recognize even the little accomplishments. Give employees "brag" time to acknowledge their successes. Companies are recognizing their people more by acknowledging work, birthdays and milestones at meetings.

6. Make Work Fun

How can you make work more of an adventure? How can you get your people to want to come to work? When was the last time you celebrated some victory in your company, some milestone that everybody can get excited about? Find ways within your company to make your employees want to work and succeed. Create an atmosphere that celebrates success. One company has instigated a plan called "corporate cookies" to build employee camaraderie. One afternoon a week, cookies are delivered and everyone sits around the office talking about "what is going right." Simple things like this can have a big effect.

7. Walk Your Talk

Employees are looking to the workplace--and to you as the leader--for authenticity. It is one of the most critical criteria in retention. Southwest Airlines, a company that has shown steady profits year after year, receives fewer customer complaints and maintains greater retention of employees than any other U.S. airline. According to Fortune magazine, Southwest is also one of the most desirable companies to work for in America. What is Herb Kellaher, the company's CEO, doing right? He is making work fun, but he is also walking his talk. There is an authenticity about management that puts out company values and lives by them. Kellaher said recently, "Figure out what your values are, because once you figure out what your values are, the rest falls into place."

Robert B. Tucker, president of The Innovation Resource in Santa Barbara, Calif., provides customized keynotes and seminars on the topic of "Managing the Future: Age Waves in the Workforce." For more information, call 805.682.1012 or e-mail info@innovationresource.com.

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