Corporate Leadership: Keep your key people

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

My thanks this month to Vistage/TEC (The Executive Committee) resource specialists Roger Herman and Malcolm Moore for their input on how top companies retain their employees.

It’s tragic to learn that a highly productive employee is unexpectedly seduced by another firm. I’m sure we would all agree that the cost of a search for a qualified candidate and the added cost of things such as orientation and training far exceed the cost of practicing solid hiring and retention practices in the first place.

Hiring right

Here are four recommendations on how to do it right the first time:

1. Hire patiently. It takes time to match a qualified candidate to the position that’s available. Multiple interviews with inside and outside sources and professional psychological assessments should be minimum requirements. These take time.

2. No less than an 8. That is, on a scale of 1 to 10, never accept less than an 8 for a key position.

3. Over-hired. If the position offered can’t meet the candidate’s long-term expectations and needs, best to take a pass on him or her.

4. Candidate track record. It remains a truism that if a candidate has been on a job merry-go-round, regardless of the reason, this practice will not likely end with you.

Retaining them

Here are nine recommendations to keep them at your company:

1. Longer orientations. Too many firms go through the motions of orienting a new employee. In many cases, it’s no more than a human resources paperwork exercise. Smart companies have developed orientation videos that detail company history, key personnel, mission statement and CEO vision, competitive position, key growth strategies and, most importantly, the key ingredients of the company’s corporate culture.

2. Living the values. Only the CEO can stand tall in the proverbial “pilot house” and live, transmit and reinforce key corporate values. These actions, which must be visible and frequently communicated to be effective, are extremely reassuring to employees. In short, the CEO sets the tone for employee retention.

3. Rewards and recognition. Finding creative and novel ways to recognize performance accomplishments and organizational achievements on a regular basis strengthens employee retention. A simple handshake, pat on the back or handwritten personal note is often enough.

4. Individualized personal growth plans. Too often, these plans lack the firepower and substance to have much meaning. It takes a lengthy one-on-one to develop an effective yearly plan, which will result in an employee who is highly motivated to make it happen. From a retention perspective, it’s well worth it.

5. Non-compete agreements. Yes, these agreements have historically had negative employee connotations. But the fact remains that employees who are privileged to sensitive, proprietary company information must be held accountable to protect this information if the employee decides to leave. Wisconsin courts will generally honor these agreements if they have realistic time frames. They can be a retention tool.

6. Recruiter-proofing. This is not totally possible, of course, but you can take several steps to make it more difficult for recruiters to seek out key employees:

• Don’t advertise your employees’ strengths and capabilities on your Web site.

• Do not allow any personal or work information about an employee to be divulged over the phone or in a non-authorized email or fax.

• Educate your employees to be careful about what they share in assumed innocent conversations with outsiders.

• Always conduct exit interviews and remind employees of their responsibility to protect sensitive company information.

7. Job facilitation. Surprisingly, in spite of today’s high-tech work environment, employees commonly complain how hard it is to get the information, supplies and equipment they need to conveniently get their work accomplished. Eliminating red tape goes a long way toward solving this problem.

8. Succession planning. Even in a perfect world, you will still lose some good people to recruiters. Middle managers and technical specialists are more susceptible than top-level managers. Unfortunately, too few firms have proactive training or mentoring programs to provide for employee succession if an employee leaves unexpectedly. This is an insurance policy and, again, the cost of having it in place is less than what it takes to start all over with the recruitment process.

9. Exit interviews. Mentioned earlier, these interviews should never be taken for granted. And at a minimum, the following information should be obtained:

• Is the resignation reversibleω What would it take to reverse itω

• Use open-ended questions to get at the real reason for the departure. Money is usually only part of the reason.

• If it really is about money, can you match the offer or exceed itω (This may be a bad idea if it will send the wrong message to other employees.)

• If it’s not about money, what can be changed in the employee’s work condition that would cause them to change their mindω

Top retention mistakes

Herman and Moore share this important advice:

1. Changing marketplace dynamics. Highly competent, naturally multi-tasking employees are still very much in demand. In spite of job cuts, the pendulum has swung in favor of these folks. Best not to lose them.

2. Enough money says it all. Yes, this can be a short-term solution but not a long-term cure-all to hold talented employees. They will always be seeking something else, which, hopefully, this article has dutifully noted.

3. No appreciation. Sad, but true. Employees who leave often remark that they simply were not appreciated. No one noticed when they went the extra mile for the company. So why hang aroundω Why be used and abused or otherwise taken for grantedω

Let’s make this a near perfect world when it comes to retaining our high-performing employees. Until next month, good retention to you.

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