Corporate Leadership: How to keep your best employees

It seems like an oxymoron in these uncertain times that your best employees would be tempted to jump ship and go elsewhere. 

We have historical data in TEC that suggests otherwise. The reasons are unclear, but we think it has to do with the employees’ perception that life with their current employer during a downturn isn’t worth the effort.    

Diana Gallo, chief human resource officer for Vistage, Inc., offers some practical advice to keep the good employees from slipping away. Good companies probably do these things in their sleep. But when times get tough, it’s easy to put them aside.

Technology “upmanship”

In today’s small business world, much of this revolves around the PC or laptop. These suggestions might keep you one step ahead of your competition:

1. Allow work time for employees to dial-up podcasts or webinars to continue their professional development.

2. Provide inexpensive micro-cameras for their laptops so they can attend company meetings in the field or at home.

3. Consider installing “Skype,” a free service, for instant messaging in your workplace.

4. Encourage select employees to attend at least one technology conference a year, somewhere in our region.

Health and workplace well-being

None of us needs to be told that a healthy workplace, psychologically and physically, leads to higher productivity and job satisfaction for employees. Here are a few reminders:

1. Flex time and telecommuting these days is a must.

2. Free juices, fruit and nutritional snacks discourage people from eating fast food.

3. Offer low-light and quiet rooms to be used before work or during lunch or at breaks so employees can meditate, do yoga or just relax and get energized.

4. Encourage employees to participate in any sports league activities. A company team for sports like softball, soccer or bowling promotes team spirit

5. Discourage “saving” vacation time under any circumstance.

Human assets

Our employees include seniors from 63 to 83 years old, Baby Boomers 44 to 62, Gen Xers 28 to 43, and Gen Ys 27 and under. Gen X and Y represent half the employees. Baby Boomers account for 41 percent. The bottom line: from a motivational aspect, one size does and will not fit all. Here are some examples of different approaches:

1. Gen Ys appreciate strong recognition when they have earned it. It’s almost like a right of passage. Easy to do, and the results go a long way.

2. Gen Xs love independence and the opportunity to work remotely, or in places where disruptions and distractions are minimized.

3. Boomers like awards and tangible proof of their accomplishments including advancement to positions held by seniors.

4.  Seniors respond to the old traditional forms of motivation, including recognition, feelings of job security and appreciation.

I’ve always been opposed to stereotyping, so please don’t misinterpret these suggestions as that. For example, regardless of who you are, a little more money always helps! And the old adage, “give me the proper tools in a clean work environment, with good direction and leadership” is still a powerful motivator.

Stretching for “best employees”

Your best employees are not the easiest to please. In fact, typically, it’s the mediocre employees who are because they’re just happy to have a job. Here are some thoughts on doing the stretch:

1. Whatever your financial structure will permit, offer your best employees discretionary cash like bonuses and incentives.

2. Let your best employees work their own schedules, and place the emphasis on results, not on the number of hours they work.

3. During slow times, consider temporarily lifting vacation time limits.

4. Consider non-monetary discretionary perks like tickets to a play, movie or ballgame.

The role of the CEO or owner

Gallo makes a good point: “Employees don’t leave companies. They leave managers.” It’s incumbent upon the CEO to create the perception among employees that the CEO is the morale compass of the company and that, in rough or calm waters, is responsible for keeping it on course.

This is a grave responsibility to be sure. Over the years, TEC CEOs have advised that beyond leadership, it’s critical to train managers and employees in “soft skills” such as conflict resolution, problem-solving and decision-making, listening, negotiation, and data management and processing. This training is especially critical for your best employees.

That kind of an investment makes a strong statement that the CEO or owner believes in the quality and ongoing continuous education of employees. What more can be said?

Raising the performance bar

We need to constantly challenge even our best employees to raise their performance bar, to set higher personal goals, and to set even higher expectations for others they manage. A few suggestions:

1. Hold impromptu performance reviews and reset goals.

2. Hold team meetings, and challenge the relevancy of projects under way.

3. Have a two-day management retreat. Focus on a particular topic important to the company’s future.

4. Make your best employees formal mentors for employees who are struggling.

The bottom line here is that if it’s just business as usual, the same deal from day-to-day, then chances are your best employees will look for a higher mountain to climb, and your weaker employees will sit tight with business as usual. That would be a dreadful mistake at a time when you need the best from everyone.

“Culling” is an unpopular term in every business vocabulary. Unfortunately, it’s an absolute necessity when the chips are down and you need peak performance from everyone. Do that, as well as some of the other things I’m suggesting, and you will keep your best employees intact.

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