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Taking a fact-based, data-driven approach to building effective employee retention programs

You post ads, put up “We’re Hiring” signs, offer sign-on bonuses and spend time interviewing, all in the name of hiring employees. Then they join your company and leave within the first 30 days, or even sooner.

You scratch your head and wonder why but continue the hiring cycle without addressing the root causes. Retaining a motivated and engaged workforce is crucial to the success of Wisconsin manufacturers of all sizes, but many are struggling with where to start in addressing employee retention – if addressing it at all – and continue to throw resources and dollars into the hiring process, perpetuating the vicious cycle.

Employee turnover is estimated to cost companies from one half to one and a half times the annual salary of the employee who departs, depending on their level within the organization.

The recently released Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s 2017 Manufacturing Industry Organizational Priorities Survey identified employee retention as one of the top issues facing Wisconsin manufacturers.

Determining the root causes why employees leave jobs is crucial. The general rule of thumb is that an employee has already made his or her decision to leave an organization within the first 30 to 60 days of employment, but many manufacturers tell me that timeframe has accelerated to the first 30 to 60 hours!

Some manufacturers have indicated that they are beginning to get into the “hearts and minds” of employees by gathering input from them either through exit interviews or surveys, rather than simply guessing. To capture that data and build plans for addressing gaps based on best practices, the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership teams up with clients by using a tool and service offering called the Retention Value Analysis (RVA). The RVA process uses a customized survey diagnostic tool that profiles the organization, identifies gaps and makes recommendations across key employee retention factors, including: company vision, values and culture; leadership and management; communication; recruitment and selection; career opportunities/training; compensation, benefits and rewards; and work environment.

Some key themes that came out of a recent manufacturing roundtable discussion as well as from the WMEP Retention Value Analysis data include:


Pay used to be the silver bullet when trying to retain employees, but that’s no longer the case. The recent generation of employees are looking at other factors that impact their decision to stay with a company, including future career growth opportunity within the company; relationships with their boss and peers; the employer’s brand; and their overall work experience from the day they start. There are many sources of compensation data available to companies looking to evaluate their pay competitiveness, including the Wisconsin WORKnet.


Many supervisors have been elevated to their roles because they were effective performers on their assigned jobs. That does not mean that they are effective leaders of people. Training supervisors on supervisory, coaching, mentoring, and leadership skills is often overlooked but is a critical component impacting employee retention.

The WMEP offers Training Within Industry that assists in building supervisory skills; improving communication, teamwork and morale; and forming a strong basis of a learning organization. As a result, quality, safety, productivity, cost and, ultimately, employee retention improve.


Perhaps the biggest opportunity for increasing employee retention is establishing a formal and structured onboarding program. It is absolutely critical that employees feel engaged and a part of the company on their very first day (arguably, even before that), particularly given the tight labor market.

The WMEP offers a comprehensive and strategic onboarding and retention framework development service that addresses the employee experience from the time prior to an employee joining the company through their first 90 days on the job, and beyond. It partners with clients in building out a comprehensive and customized model.

It is critical to have a fact-based, data-driven baseline of what motivates your workforce to stay–before jumping to any solutions. Each workforce is different. Companies can spend a lot of money and resources chasing solutions based on “gut checks” only to find that they have had minimal impact on the overall goal of improving employee retention and engagement.

For more information on the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s employee retention and human capital offerings and other services, please visit

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Thomas E. O’Rourke is President and Chief Executive Officer of Connolly Clarke, LLC, a human capital advisory firm that provides services for clients of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.  

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