Once you have recruited quality employees, keeping them on board means creating a “family” work environment.

It has been demonstrated over the years that employee recruitment and retention (ER&R) continues to be a major concern throughout North America. This was most recently brought to light in a survey of Wood & Wood Products readers. Last month I discussed the constraints to employee recruitment and presented some ideas on how to overcome them. To summarize the major point of that column: If the perception of your company by the labor pool is negative, you will have serious recruitment problems. It matters not if those perceptions are based on fact or fiction — the end result is the same, and that is you will not be an employer of choice in your area.



Solving recruitment issues will provide you with a pool of new employees. If their decision to join you was based on a good effort on your part, this labor pool will contain good men and women who will make excellent additions to your company. However, if you do not have an equally good strategy for retaining these new additions (as well as current members of your organization), your turnover rate will shoot sky-high — higher than it had been before you implemented a new recruitment initiative.



The reason for this is simple. Good people want to work where they are treated well and where they can use their skills to make a difference. You feel this way about your job, and you are no different than most in this regard. Thus, if new recruits find out that their initial positive perception of your company as a good place to work is wrong, they will soon leave, along with other employees. You will have a swinging door of new people coming in and quickly out because you had no effective retention policy. You would be better off with no recruitment effort if you have no serious ongoing effort in retention.



This month's column focuses on this very critical issue of employee retention. The suggestions on these pages also will work to change the perception of your company so that it becomes an employer of choice in your community.

Employee Retention Check List



Reduce your turnover, and as a bonus, transform your company into an employer of choice in your community. Here’s how:



Find out what your employees like and dislike about your company!



Develop an orientation of welcome, education, and training.



Genuinely care about each person and interact one-on-one.



Get to know them and their families — those they care about.



Get involved in the community through charities and activities.



Strut your stuff — let them see the positive side.

Empower your people to become great contributors for success!




Shape Up with Change

It's not difficult to see that change is needed if your company has turnover problems. The way to solve this challenge is to remove constraints to your profitability, quality and on-time delivery at the same time. New, untrained and unhappy woodworkers are prone to producing poor quality products at a very low rate of productivity. All of this is waste, and I have reminded readers often that removing waste is the process of becoming a lean wood products company. You can look at this exercise of making changes to reduce turnover as implementing a lean manufacturing principle.



The following is a list of practical change initiatives that your company should consider in order to overcome employee retention issues, as well as to enhance recruitment efforts. As you review them, I hope you will realize just how simple and practical they are and how important they can be to shape a culture and image in your company that will make good men and women become — and remain — a part of your organization.



1. Discover the Beefs

In the initial stages of making changes to improve employee retention, you need to find out what your employees are thinking and what their serious concerns are. This means conducting an anonymous survey for everyone in the company, which in itself can be very threatening to some employees, supervisors and managers. Nevertheless, this is an important beginning to find out what changes need to be made and how to go about it. It also allows you to identify those challenges that are important to your workforce that you have chosen to ignore in the past. Do not gloss over an issue because you think you can't do any thing about it.



As painful as it may be, obtaining this information is crucial. If you do not have someone trained in this type of analysis, I suggest you get a qualified human resource professional to help you discover the beefs in your company, and hopefully, those good things you are doing as well.



2. Roll Out the Welcome Wagon

Have you ever left new employees sitting in the lobby or the break room their first hour at work because someone was “too busy” to welcome them and show them around? I have seen new hires wait for what must have seemed an eternity just to have the foreman come and take them to a workstation and then leave them there for a more experienced operator to begin “training.” How would you feel if no one took the time to give you a good explanation as to what your company was about or did not give you a good show-and-tell tour of the manufacturing facilities?



If you have had new hires leave after only a day or two, then frankly, your orientation must stink. If you want them to stay, you need to roll out the welcome wagon and genuinely make them feel you are excited about them joining your team. If you mean it, you will treat them accordingly.



3. Really Care

This leads to the question of the integrity of you and your company. If you want your company to be a place where others want to spend 30 percent of their time and to enjoy it — you have got to really care about them. What I am talking about is caring about them as your peers — human beings of value — before you think about them as valuable employees. If you can't walk around your kitchen cabinet plant, or millwork plant or furniture plant and see equals in everyone — get a job pushing paper in a cubicle somewhere, because you are in the wrong business.



I've seen too many companies with managers, supervisors or team leaders who treat people like they are dumb, lazy and a constant source of frustration. If I worked for you and thought you felt that way about me, I would get out of there pronto — and many do.



4. Create Togetherness

Now that you have a great attitude about your peers, your company needs to create a feeling of togetherness, of family. You know the feeling. You look forward to going to work because it is a fun place to be with friends and you actually call the company your family-away-from-home.



If your company does not already do so, have several gatherings each year that are opportunities to build community (family) among your employees. Have a company-wide picnic at the park each year where everyone who works in your company can come together and play ball, pitch horseshoes, fish or do whatever they enjoy. Have a dinner and entertainment just before you break for holidays.

As I write this, I can hear some of you thinking — “Tom, we can't do that, it will cost too much money.” My question to you is: how much is employee turnover costing you now?



5. Get Involved in the Community

No matter what the size of your company, you should be actively interested in the community for at least two reasons. First, you should care about the town where your employees live and raise their families. Second, you should want the community to know that you care about its welfare. You must want to do your part to make your town a good place to live.



Encourage your managers to get involved in local charities. It will be good for them, the community and the company if they are on the board of the Boys & Girls Club, or the YMCA, or the homeless shelter, or if they help with the annual fundraising drive. Community involvement really is not an option; it is an obligation of every citizen and every business.



People will notice that Joyce, Bill, Carlos, Randy, Elizabeth and Clyde are active in the community and that they work at your company. Sponsor a little league baseball team — they put your name on the back of the uniforms you buy for them. How could this not create a positive image of your company in the minds of the moms and dads who work there — or who might consider working there?



6. Strut Your Stuff

There is nothing wrong with promoting your company. Let the community know when something newsworthy happens at your plant. When you receive a safety award, write a press release and send it to the newspaper. Let it be known to local service clubs, like the Rotary Club, that you have a person ready to step in on short notice and give a presentation about your company and how you are competing with imports.



One of the most powerful things you can do for employee retention is to let your employees and their families know what is going on in your company. I am a profound proponent of having a monthly company newsletter that contains company news such as: birthdays, births, recognitions, accomplishments, goals, customer comments, quality, activities, manager's message and other things that will let all employees know what is going on. Mail it to your employees' homes — do not hand it out at the plant. This way, the whole family will see it, especially the employee's spouse. If you give it to the employee at work, it will end up under the seat of the pick-up truck.

Here again, you are creating an image of your company being a good place to work.



7. Empower Others

Empower your employees to work together in a culture of continuous improvement. Make them a part of shaping your company's future. Every human wants to feel they make a difference, and they will seek a company where they can contribute to the best of their ability. Make accommodations for all of them. Let them know their ideas and actions can contribute to positive change in your company.

Now What?

A world-class company has employees who care about the company and its future, and they do what it takes to make it succeed. Does this describe those who work with you? If not, it's time to make the changes mentioned above to create that culture within your workforce.



If you want to recruit the best individuals you can, you must give them your best to keep them — it's really that simple. Employee retention starts with expecting the best from those who work for you, but leads to a responsibility on your part to make their life experience at Your Woodworking Company Inc. one that they will truly enjoy to the core of their being.



You will get the best from the best (your employees) if you follow the suggestions above, and you will become an employer of choice in the process.



Tom Dossenbach is the managing partner of Dossenbach Associates LLC, a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail tfd@dossenbach.com. Visit his Web site at www.dossenbach.com.

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