Retaining Key Employees

Apr 18, 2016

Over the course of our company’s 30-year history, Kimmel & Associates has worked hard to offer our clients’ faithful service, honest communication and valuable information about industry trends. Each placement requires straightforward discussion with candidates about their professional lives and goals for the future. The nature of our relationship requires honesty.

Every company struggles with the question of how to retain the best employees. The truth is, you will inevitably lose some good people. Retaining people is an art, not a science. There is no such thing as a magic pill that will increase employee retention rates. But we’ve seen employers use strategies that have successfully limited loss and built long-term loyalty among employees. To serve your own company’s efforts, I offer our perspective on retaining employees and some tools you can use to increase employee satisfaction.

The Big Misconception About Employee Retention

The biggest misconception about retention is that money is the secret to keeping employees. Of course money is important. You must remain competitive but retention does not depend on money. Money may convince people to stay on with the company longer but it is a shortsighted strategy, both for the employer and the employee.

The unhappiest people we speak with are those people who made a change based only on money, adjusted their lifestyle to their new income level and now feel stuck. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness.” Paying an employee at the fair market value for their position is a necessity. But pay raises will only produce long-term retention success when you are motivating them to stay in other ways too.

So if it is not money, what is the secret to keeping the best employees? The true path to retention success is doing everything you can to make your employees feel special. We’ve identified 7 keys to retention success that will help your company do just that.

7 Motivators for Retaining Key Employees

1. Communication

People want to know what is happening. It does not have to be good news, or bad news, just news. What we have learned is that uncertainty always leads to speculation and speculation is always bad. When people hear rumors and the company is not communicating, they will always pick up the phone when an executive search representative calls. Even when the company is going through a time of transition, employees are more likely to remain on board when they know which direction their ship is sailing.

2. Opportunity

People want to grow over the course of their careers. Opportunity affords someone the ability to get comfortable. When employees understand that their employer offers them opportunities for professional development, they feel more secure. They more comfortably put down roots in the community because they plan to stay and grow.

Give regular performance reviews and always be consistent, honest and thorough. During reviews ask employees what their 3, 5 and 10 year goals are. If they express a goal of advancement and there is no position available for them to grow into, consider creating a position that suits the strengths of those individuals, or help their superior with succession training.

By creating growth opportunities for employees, companies can benefit in many ways, including: keeping a valuable employee they would have otherwise lost, and creating innovative new programs that might enhance their business growth in the process.

3. Family

Recognize the importance of family in your employees’ lives. By showing respect for your employees’ responsibilities at home and the people they love, the whole family can develop admiration and support for the company. When someone is making a career change, their spouse makes 51% of the decision. If the spouse is against the change, the employee will not take a new position.

The children have a voice in the decision as well. I once offered a man his dream job. He talked it over with his family, and on that Monday morning he told me he could not take it. When I asked him why, he told me that his family loved his current employer so much that he felt like he could not leave the job if he wanted to. “My kids would kill me,” he said. We advocate against moving high school kids; we’ve seen difficulties ensue, as a result.

4. Culture of Fellowship

It is hard to leave your friends. When you encourage a culture of fellowship at the office, employees are more likely to develop friendships. One woman told me she would never consider leaving her company because her co-workers supported her during her divorce. Another man told me he would never consider leaving his company because his first week of work the president came out during a torrential rainstorm to help him change a flat tire on the side of the expressway. Even though 10 years had passed, he was still telling that story as the reason why he would never leave.

5. Challenging Work

Employees need to earn a sense of accomplishment by rising to challenges. The best companies challenge their employees. Give people a high bar to jump over. When they reach it, raise it again.

If you don’t challenge employees, they are likely to become bored. Bored employees can demoralize other workers by saying things like:

“I feel like I’m just punching a clock.”
“I can do my job in 3 hours per day.”

Or worst of all, as one man said, “I’m just dying. My soul is rotting. Get me out of here.” He finally told his boss the exact same thing he told me. In response, his company developed a challenging new project for him. The next time I talked to him, he was happy and excited. He simply needed a challenge. At the bare minimum, a challenged employee will often be an excited employee, and that excitement can be contagious. This is a chance to energize a whole department.

6. Appreciation, Recognition, Value

This is one of the greatest opportunities for improvement in most companies. Employers can’t take employees for granted. Remember that people need to feel appreciated, recognized, and valued. Salary, benefits and other perks are no substitute for directly telling your employees thank you. Regularly express to every member of your staff that you recognize their achievements and the value they bring to the company. Employees may think paychecks and benefits are enough, but really it is the perceived, unspoken value that is more important.

7. Trust and Integrity

It is critical for people to trust their employer. Workers want to feel that they work for people who have integrity. A breach of confidence is the number one people why people leave. When someone says, “My boss lied to me” we know they are fully committed to leaving.

Once I was just about to place a candidate in a position that was ideal for him. Before he accepted the job he went to dinner with the owner of the company. During their conversation that night the owner bragged about winning a particular archery competition. Afterwards the candidate called me to say he could not take the position after all. When I asked him why, he said that he happened to be a judge at that archery competition and knew for a fact the man had not competed in, much less won the competition. “If he is going to lie about that, what else is he going to lie about?” he said. Once there is a breach of character, it is almost impossible to keep someone on board.

Tools to Improve

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” - Warren Buffett

The value of a good professional can range from the thousands to the millions. The price to keep those employees can be virtually nothing. It can take little more than the time and effort it takes to make your employees feel special. You can add millions of dollars to the value of your company by using some of the suggestions and tools that I offer here. They work. We know because companies and candidates have told us they work.

1. Create Fellowship

Have fun together. As I said before, people do not want to leave their friends. Encourage friendships among staff by establishing organized group events and clubs that do fun things together outside of the office. Suggestions include:

  • Company picnics
  • Running clubs and sports teams
  • Book clubs
  • Hiking or skiing trips

Anytime you can get the entire company together to have fun, you are going to start creating fellowship. Invite employees’ families to participate in these events as often as possible. Give employees reasons to say, “I love it here.”

2. Engage the Family

Winning over the family can be accomplished by the simplest of gestures. Include spouses at all company events. Celebrate births, weddings, graduations and other milestones. Send birthday cards and presents to your employees and to their spouses and children. Send flowers in times of illness. One man told me he would never leave his company because his company sent flowers to his mother when she was in the hospital.

3. Track Commitments and Keep Them

Remember that a breach of character is the worst thing you can do. Breaking promises damages relationships. I heard a story of a CEO of a company who promised a review to an employee and never gave it. The employee left, not because he did not give the review but because he made a commitment to do it and never made good on the promise.

Be careful to not make promises lightly. You may not remember a small promise, but you can be sure that your employees will. Keep a list of any promises you make to employees. Follow through on those promises.

4. Develop Career Plans

We recommend creating 3, 5 and 10-year career plans with employees. Make regular (at least annual) appointments to discuss those plans. This should be part of your internal review process. That signals to valued employees that your company is committed to helping them achieve their long-term goals.

During reviews ask employees where they want to be in the future. Write their answers down. This is valuable for two reasons. For one, they feel that you are more committed to them by acknowledging you want them to be there 10 years from now. They will feel more committed to your company in return. Secondly, you can be proactive. You will gain the time you need to develop new programs or positions for valued employees to grow into.

5. Harness the Power of Appreciation

You can gain so much, for no money, by appreciating people. A while back, a co-worker got a raise and a promotion, but when he was being told about this good news, he was distracted. He said he had just encountered the CEO in the elevator.

“He knew my name. He knew my kid’s name. He knew my kid was in college. He knew what division I work in. He said, ‘I think you’re going to be the most successful consultant we’ve ever had at this company.’ And he said thank you.”

This person had just received more money and all the material things we think people desire most, but all he could think about was that 45 seconds of appreciation he had just gotten in the elevator.

6. Employee Recognition

Your company has a maintenance schedule for your equipment. Consider developing a maintenance program for your most valuable assets, your people. Employee recognition efforts help to maintain good relationships you’re your employees and provide them with a much-needed level of appreciation. Put a system in place for the upper level management of your company, the higher the better, to personally express appreciation to 3 people a week. Make a spreadsheet to track this if necessary. Look employees in the eye and say, “I appreciate you.” This will mean more than you know. Put it on their schedule. Schedule it so that everyone in the company will receive authentic appreciation on a regular basis.

On the value-to-price scale, there is no greater investment you can make than incorporating some of these six tools into your retention strategies. The real secret to employee retention success is that there is no secret. It boils down to this: people want to feel special. Don’t take our word for it. Try one or two of these suggestions in your own company. Start today. I truly believe that it will make a positive difference and lead you to greater success than you have ever seen before.

About the Author

Charlie Kimmel

As President and CEO, Charlie has dedicated his 25+ year career to executive search at Kimmel & Associates. Charlie joined Kimmel & Associates in 1990 as a Recruiter. In 1993, he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he received a BA in History.

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