Wrestling with employee retention

Observing the Wisconsin state wrestling tournament this year, I noticed a consistency to the competitors who were winning: They weren’t flashy. They stuck to the fundamentals, and did them well.

Guys would have a good takedown, pinning combinations, escape on the bottom and ride their opponent (the four key components of wrestling). To use wrestling terminology, they were “grinding out their wins.” Nothing fancy there.

Wrestling has been like that as long as I can remember. The best wrestlers focus on the fundamentals.

Employee retention is the same way. Organizations that are successful do the fundamentals very well. What do they do?

* They communicate with their employees. They keep them informed and involved in the business. They communicate a vision and big picture of the organization to employees. They make employees aware of how they fit into this big picture every day. This builds a sense of commitment and purpose, which is very important to the new generation of workers. Employees are more skeptical than ever – communication is essential to show that you are open and honest with them.

* They provide opportunities for growth, whether in the employees’ jobs or their careers. They offer variety, to challenge workers to do better and take on tasks they never imagined. This growth keeps them engaged, as well. Part of a growth philosophy is making employees understand they must be life-long learners to remain a viable part of the organization. The days of learning “your job,” and working it for years, are over. This is a new concept to many people – unless an organization emphasizes this point, employees tend to become static in their learning.

* They care about the people who work for them. At any given time, 20 percent of the employee population has issues affecting their ability to do their jobs. Successful organizations support people when they have issues. They listen – and act on what they’ve heard.

* They are visible and accessible to employees. Employees want to see their boss. It provides them an opportunity to express concerns, and get help when needed. If you are not accessible, employees will not wait – and you will have missed a golden opportunity to play a key role in their work life. Visibility creates a sense of dependability which, in turn, develops trust and strengthens an employee’s loyalty to the organization.

* Most of all, they have solid leadership. Because a leader is the most important part of any job (and the one thing that an employee can’t avoid), solid leadership keeps people happy and productive – in addition to not driving them both crazy and away from the organization. Solid leadership supports employees and helps them with their challenges.

This stuff isn’t fancy! It’s about doing the fundamentals well, day after day, week after week. It’s a “grinding” process for which only a few possess the perseverance and discipline.

Perhaps this is why very few organizations even have a strategic retention process for employees. Many do one thing, then stop. They try another thing, then stop. What kind of results do you think they get?

If you want to drive employee retention in your organization, you must adopt a mindset that it’s going to be a “grind.” Once you do, though, you will be on your way to having a world-class employee retention process – and winning the all-important tournament for talent.

Jeff Kortes, a Franklin resident and former wrestler and wrestling coach, is a nationally-known speaker, writer and consultant on employee retention and engagement. He has published two books, “Welcome to Dodge: Tales From the Frontiers of Business” and “Employee Retention Fundamentals: No Nonsense Strategies to Retain Your Best People.” More information is available at www.jeffkortes.com.

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