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Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 5                                        June 2005

THE RETENTION GAME
How to Keep Quality People in Your Organization
by Marcia Lindquist

Losing talented, quality employees is always difficult for an organization. Not only does it mean finding and training replacements, but also losing all the knowledge and understanding of the corporate culture those people take with them. While it is true that no organization can realistically believe they will keep an employee for 20 or 30 years, in today’s environment, companies can reasonably expect people to stay for four to six years. 

Essentially, you need to keep your people as long as they fit within what your company is trying to accomplish, and as long as they add value. You want to maximize the relationship as long as employment is productive for both sides. And you certainly don’t want people leaving because they become disenchanted with the job. 

Many employers believe that people get seduced away by the allure of larger companies, greater benefits, more pay or a desk with a window. But those factors are rarely the reason people choose to leave. What really causes people to change jobs is that they don’t understand where they fit and how their role impacts the organization’s overall goals. 

They may feel like they do busy work that doesn’t affect the company’s success, or they don’t develop mutually respectful and open relationships with their bosses and managers. When employees start feeling this way, then they start shopping around for other jobs. Unfortunately, many times people are seduced away by another organization that promises all these things, but doesn’t actually deliver them. Then the process begins again.

So how can you keep your quality employees for as long as possible? You must make their impact on the organization’s success clear by building a corporate culture around the right mindset. Use the following process to refocus your organization so your employees don’t feel compelled to change jobs so frequently:

Lay the Foundation
The mindset you create in your organization will permeate everything you do. It will impact your strategies, the type of customers you go after and the kind of people you hire. For example, many leaders focus frantically on fire drill types of tasks, or the things that need to get done immediately. In the process, they allow the tasks that need to be planned and prepared for to go unattended and uncompleted. When the leaders operate in this rush, rather than in a cool-headed manner, they spread it through the entire organization.

Your actions and mannerisms reveal the mindset you maintain from day one. Even when you interview people, you communicate the corporate culture to them. So set your intrinsic values right away to avoid bringing in people with a work-here-a-year-and-leave mindset. Rather than just covering benefits, rules and vacation time, the most important part of your orientation process needs to focus on your culture, how you work with one another, how you cooperate with one another and what kind of customers you pursue. Spend less time on the rules and more on the way of thinking.

The foundation of every organization is the attitude of the people within it. Therefore, the senior managers and leaders of your company must create the right mindset for the entire staff. They must determine how the organization’s goals are established and communicated, the importance of those goals and the way the employees work with each other.

Strengthen the Structure
A strong organizational structure stems from strong focus. To strengthen your focus, set goals and objectives and then communicate them clearly throughout the organization. Limit your list to two or three realistic goals, rather than a laundry list of items. This focuses your employees on the most important things, rather than a cadre of different things. Then hire people who are open to changes, can focus on these goals and can adhere to the culture you maintain. Many times people hire the skill set first and the attitude second, but it needs to be the other way around. You can teach skills, not attitude. 

What about the people who have been in your organization for a few years and are already with the program but seem to be veering off course? If you’re trying to change the organization’s culture or make an impact on it because you’re headed in a downward direction, then you need to communicate and work with everyone to show how things are changing. 

Most important, communicate to your employees how they contribute to the new goals. What do the employees need to do to continue to grow with the company? What skills do they need? What attitude do they need to adopt? What personal investment do they need to make? How will the organization support that? While most organizations only cover these issues once a year, you should communicate this at least twice every year to maximize effectiveness without it becoming a burden. 

Add the Finishing Touch
Once you’ve created a mindset and strengthened the focus of your organization, you must maintain these elements by staying involved with your employees. The employees need to trust that honest conversations can occur. Talk to them about what you see for them in the future and ask how they want to accomplish that, not, “This is what you need to do; now go do it.” 

Also, go beyond business and the bottom line. Take an interest in what they do to be happy and healthy outside of work. Many organizations see that healthy, happy people have the right attitude at work. 

Staying involved should filter down through all levels, from the executives, to the senior managers, to the department directors, to management. It shouldn’t be a huge load for one single person. When you do this, you also instill responsibility to the lower supervisory levels, which helps them become better managers. Trusting the lower levels to become involved also builds the mindset. 

Keeping Your Employees through the Years
Even though you may be able to hire an equally skilled replacement for less money, the knowledge your organization loses when an employee leaves is extremely difficult to replace. While few employees stay with the same company for their entire career anymore, you can expect to keep employees for a number of years. But you need to make them clear on how their job and responsibilities impact the company’s success.

Start by creating a mindset in your organization, and then develop goals upon which everyone can focus. Let your employees know how they contribute to those goals and the organization’s success. Finally, stay involved with your employees and allow them to have open conversations with you to build relationships. When you follow these steps, you will create a corporate culture that inspires your employees to stay with your organization long into the future. 

Marsha Lindquist is a successful business strategist, author and professional speaker. As CEO of The Management Link Inc., Marsha has over 20 years experience as a business consultant.

Manufacturers and Distributors Give Retention Advice
by Samantha Carpenter

Manufacturers and distributors in the millwork industry know first hand how important it is to retain good employees. But what exactly is a good employee?

“A good employee is someone who comes to work with a good attitude every day, promotes the company by his actions and words, does not make the same mistake twice, gets the assigned job done in a timely manner, and takes on extra tasks willingly for company improvements as they are identified,” Bob Green, vice president of stair components manufacturer Crown Heritage of North Wilkesboro, N.C., said.

“When we hire people we ask them to do two things: to do the best they can while they are here and to work regularly. We get most of our better employees from referrals of employees who already work here—that’s our best source of new employees,” Buddy Minshew, human resource manager for distributor Robert Bowden of Marietta, Ga., said. 

Manufacturers and distributors had varied responses on how to keep good employees.
Joe Klink, marketing projects coordinator for Precision Entry & Sugarcreek Industries of Sugarcreek, Ohio, gave a number of ways his company retains good employees.

“Several years ago, Precision implemented the Character First Program. This is a program which brings all the employees together once a month to discuss a particular character trait that we should be working on (i.e., compassion, gratefulness, forgiveness, etc.). Each employee is recognized by his/her supervisor for a trait that they have observed in that person over the past year. This has really boosted morale and the quality of everyone’s lives ... at work and at home,” Klink said.

Klink also said, “Our management team members are very vocal about their commitment to God, employees and our customers (in that order!). When I was hired four years ago, I came from a company that often required me to work 50-60 hours a week.  Precision told me that if they see me working that much, they would tell me to go home because family is much more important than the job.”

“The secret in keeping good employees is reasonably simple. People ARE the business and choosing and rewarding people is the foundation of a quality enterprise. Treat people (employees) as you would treat a good friend—with honesty, generosity and compassion,” Jeff Wilson, chief executive officer of A-1 Door and Building Solutions of North Highlands, Calif., said.

“I feel like for the size company we have—we have a Cadillac of a benefits program. Disability insurance (both long- and short-term), life insurance, 401K, and most importantly, we are an ESOP company,” Minshew said.

New employees at Robert Bowden go through an orientation class. 

Bailey explained that the orientation is pretty extensive. 

“We go over the policies, procedures, benefits, and we have a Best program—a profit-sharing plan—so we really have to go over an ESOP, so they understand the basics of it, and then the Best program, which is an incentive profit-sharing program.

And most employees are a part of those,” she said.

Green has some advice for managers.

“I believe to keep good employees the manager must have an approachable personality, come to work with a good attitude every day, believe the company is a good place to work, have pride in working for the company, be wide open to discuss difficult issues, keep employees in the loop as far as anything that may affect their jobs, anticipate and be sensitive to when employees may need to talk about an issue.”


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