Retaining Your Best Employees

Retaining your best employees is always important, but during periods of low unemployment, it’s crucial. Qualified professionals are hardest to find when candidates are in demand. At Amtec, we speak with restless employees every day. What will breed loyalty in your top workers and make them want to stay?

The answer is more complex than just listing five tips for employee retention. Before you consider how to retain your top workers, it’s imperative that you, as a business leader in your organization, define your company culture, mission, and values. It’s helpful to ask yourself some questions:

What are you inviting your employees to be a part of?

Where are you taking them that they can be proud to be going with you?

Have you hired people so far who fit with your company goals and culture and are moving in the same direction as your leadership team?

Increasingly, survey results over the past few years show that people are motivated by more than wages and benefits packages—they want to belong to something they can contribute to and feel passionate about. It’s also necessary to realize that Millennials now make up more than 35% of the workforce, and by 2030 are projected to make up 75% of it. If you’re like many employers we talk to these days, you may feel that Millennials expect too much and then don’t stick around long enough to enjoy it. Yet BLS statistics show that job tenure for all workers has actually remained about the same over the past 19 years.

Could Millennials be getting a bad rap? Is possible that most young people over several generations have had shorter term first jobs because they’re not fully formed adults and are still finding the path that’s right for them? Think about the first job you held when you were younger. How long did you stay there? Did you know at the time what career path you wanted? Generally speaking, the older we get, the more self-aware we become and the better life choices we’re able to make. Plus, expectations for longevity at a company are altered by the current candidate-driven labor market.

With these statistics in mind, if you’re experiencing a heavy turnover in your company, it might not be the fault of those “entitled Millennials”…it could be that you haven’t discovered and incorporated the key elements that will make your employees of any generation become engaged and want to stay. Retaining your best employees requires that you intentionally create a trustworthy organization that gives them good reasons to stick around.

The Internet is full of retention tips that sound great for someone else’s bigger company, such as, “Hire a director of happiness to focus on employee engagement.” But here are some practical tips even a smaller company can incorporate, tips from experienced leaders who have proven that retaining your best employees is an attainable goal:

Create a values-driven company culture.

Remember reading earlier that you’ll need to define your company culture, mission, and values? John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, says, “The single most important requirement for the creation of higher levels of trust for any organization is to discover or rediscover the higher purpose of the organization. Why does the organization exist? What is it trying to accomplish? What core values will inspire the organization and create greater trust from all of its stakeholders?” He suggests that humans and organizations alike should aspire to the good, true, beautiful, and heroic as their highest purposes.

Research and experience are showing that people want to belong to something bigger than themselves–a truth we already instinctively knew. Snacknation, for instance, has a purpose its employees love to get behind–for every healthful snack box they sell, they donate 10 meals to families in need. If you define your company’s values and weave them into the way you do day-to-day business, you’ll develop a certain company personality or culture. As word spreads, this culture will attract like-minded people who are the right fit for your organization to further its goals.

Give your employees great people to work with.

In an extensive article on employee retention, Snacknation shares that Patty McCord, Netflix’s first Chief Talent Officer, started a new policy when she joined the company: Hire only A players by focusing on character as much as skills or experience in the hiring process. Netflix started looking for people who would place the success of the team and the company higher than their own. Increased retention rates proved McCord’s belief that hiring A players is the best perk you can give your employees! Recruiting top talent not only improves productivity and motivation, increasing your team’s discretionary effort–it also creates a better working environment for everyone.

Release employees who aren’t a good fit.

No matter how well-developed your hiring process is, not all hires turn out to be high performers. Hanging onto low-performing or toxic employees will only lower company morale. Releasing a poor fit will free that person to find a more suitable job–and make room in your organization for someone who can truly contribute. Some companies actually pay their new employees to leave if they are unhappy–Zappos within the first three months, and Amazon once a year–to ensure that those who stay really want to be there.

Even a good employee can become a liability when your organization’s needs change. “If we wanted only “A” players on our team,” says McCord in Harvard Business Review, “we had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been. Out of fairness to such people—and, frankly, to help us overcome our discomfort with discharging them—we learned to offer rich severance packages.”

Be a trustworthy leader and convey trust to your employees.

“High trust organizations and hypocritical leadership are mutually exclusive,” says Mackey. To be a trusted leader, you must live out the values you say you believe. Both Mackey and McCord believe that the management style of Command and Control has long passed. Such a management style conveys lack of trust and results in compliant employees rather than empowered ones. The wisest strategy for retaining your best employees is to treat them like adults and create policies that communicate you value and trust them to think and act on their own. Netflix, for instance, conveys this trust by instituting a policy of unlimited vacation and an expense policy that simply asks employees to act in the company’s best interest. Whole Foods builds multiple interlocking teams that participate in decision-making so everyone truly plays a part in the company’s direction.

Create more love and care in your organization.

Right about now, you might be saying, “I can’t afford to offer rich severance packages, unlimited vacation time, or undefined expense accounts.” There is one final thing that any employer can practice for retaining your best employees, says John Mackey, and it starts from the top. He challenges leaders to model genuine love and care for their employees and give permission to others to express it. When you consider whom to promote, encourages Mackey, look for the qualities of love and care as well as competence. Cultivate an environment of forgiveness and learning from one’s mistakes, and end weekly meetings with everyone voluntarily taking turns expressing appreciation for each other.

Rewards and recognition aren’t new ideas, but how much are you actually providing them? In an American Express blog post on the subject of retaining your best employees, journalist Geoff Williams also reminds employers to offer positive reinforcement. He shares this profound quote by Tyler Butler, owner of a consulting firm: “People crave positive reinforcement…By showcasing what people are doing right, you encourage the same type of behavior in others. You also empower a member of your staff to feel important and ultimately most people yearn for this feeling more than anything else you could do for them.”

Retaining your best employees starts with you.

Expensive perks, more vacation days, and directors of happiness might help in retaining your best employees. Or perhaps your employees need more challenge, or more structure. Every business has its own personality and therefore must be evaluated individually. But maybe one thing your organization really needs is a more personal touch. Might your employees be yearning for more love, care, and positive reinforcement to make them feel important? Are you ready to be a transparent leader who is willing to invite a few people on the purposeful journey of making a difference in the world? Hone your vision, define your values, shape your culture, then draw in like-minded team members. You might be surprised at how many people can’t wait to join your mission.

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