Holding On to Good Help
A back-to-basics approach can ensure your employees are satisfied with their careers
By Deborah Siday
Ask any manager in any industry what his or her biggest business challenge is today, and chances are the answer you will receive is, "Finding and keeping good employees." The challenges facing the charter airline industry are even more complex due to the competition from major airlines for the same workforce. Search the Internet, bookstores, and business publications and you will find thousands of articles and books purporting to have the magic solution to this pressing problem. The truth is that I have been to the top of the mountain, and I can tell you that there is no one answer to solve all your recruitment and retention problems. There is, however, a solution. It is a mix of creativity, hard work, knowing what people value, and, most importantly, good, basic management techniques.
What the numbers say
The recruitment environment has changed drastically since the early 1990s. Our economy is healthy, and unemployment nationwide is around 4 percent. There are currently 15 percent fewer employees entering the workforce. More jobs need to be filled with a decreasingly available workforce. Combine these statistics with the fact that 40 percent of employees vowed to find a better job as part of their New Year's resolution and it's enough to make the average manager think about giving up and going to the Caribbean to become a beachcomber. Anytime we turn on the TV, radio, or hook up to the Internet, we are bombarded with ads telling us it is time to find a new and better job. So how does the average employer compete?
Selling the sizzle
It all starts with your recruitment efforts. A successful recruitment program involves the use of good marketing techniques. It's about knowing how to sell your company and setting yourself apart from your competitors as an employer of choice. Look for new ways to position your ads. Find out what your employees do with their spare time and use that information to position your employment ads. Companies are placing ads in the sports pages, on popular radio stations, and on pop-up ads on Internet sites. Don't ignore your best source for recruitment: your own employees. Offer referral bonuses to your employees when they recruit their friends. Referral bonuses range from $50 to $3,000 - usually paid when the new employee completes training or 90 days of employment. Some companies use escalating bonuses, for example, $100 for the first referral, $200 for the second referral, and so on. Successful referral bonus programs incorporate payments that are quick and significant. When compared to traditional advertising, referral bonus programs cost less and the results are more effective.
Recruiting is a full-time job
A successful recruitment strategy plans for the future. Identify your company's staffing needs for the next two years. Develop a target profile and answer the questions, "Who are they?" and "Where will we find them?" Go to the source for the next generation of skilled employees. Form partnerships with trade and high schools. Perhaps you can work with the instructor to create a program to train aviation mechanics. Visit flight schools, offer to talk to the students about the industry and conduct tours of your facility. Visit your local high schools and talk to the students about opportunities in the airline industry for mechanics, aviation technicians and pilots. Participate in work-study programs at your local high school.
Don't settle for less
When recruiting new employees, don't settle for less than the position demands. When companies were asked how they were coping with the labor shortage, 63 percent said they had lowered their hiring standards to fill vacant positions. Hiring the wrong person has a high cost. Turnover creates a loss of productivity, time, training dollars, and customer satisfaction. It also negatively impacts employee morale. Even worse, tolerating a sub-standard performer punishes your best employees by forcing them to "pick up the slack" and may even cause them to leave. Make sure you hire the right person for your culture and the work. Relaxing your standards only creates an environment where work quality and employee morale decline.
The "80/20" rule
When interviewing potential employees, I suggest using specific skill sets and Behavioral Interviewing Techniques. Using targeted questions specific to the behaviors needed for the position, the candidate is asked for examples of past performance. Examples of past actions can help to predict future job performance. In the interview, always ask open-ended questions, for example, "How did you do that?" or "Tell me about a time that..." Always practice the 80/20-rule - listen 80 percent of the time, and talk only 20 percent of the time. Do not make the mistake of telling the candidate all about the position and its requirements at the start of the interview. Given this information, the candidate can "play back" exactly what you want to hear. Remember to base your selection on the job skills and behaviors necessary for the job. Even an excellent candidate will be unsuccessful if the personality and skills are not suited to the position.
Treat everyone the same
Asking the same or similar questions of all candidates gives us criteria to accurately compare and rank candidates. As with any interview process, all hiring decisions must be based on job-related criteria. Make sure that anyone involved in the interview process is familiar with employment laws and knows the questions that cannot be asked of a prospective employee. All employees that participate in the selection process should receive the proper training. Orientation strategy Now that you have selected that perfect candidate, how do you ensure that he or she will stay? During those first 30 days of employment, the employee will form his or her impression of your company and its culture. Assigning a "buddy" from among his or her coworkers will help the new employee get settled faster and with less hassle. The buddy system is an effective way to make a new employee feel at home. Introduce the new employee to other team members and to key people in the company. Personally welcome him or her to the team. If your company does not currently have a new employee orientation program, consider adding one.
Provide effective training for the new position. Develop a training checklist for each position and make sure that new employees have mastered all the items on the list before they are considered trained.
Designate your best employees as Team Trainers. This recognizes and values the expertise of your staff and provides the new employee with quality on-the-job training.
Companies that experience low turnover rates know that it is important to understand what their employees want and to provide a work environment that meets these needs. Many surveys have been conducted to determine what employees value and expect from their workplace. Consider conducting your own in-house survey. Results from current surveys show that employees value a workplace that provides:
• Interesting and exciting work
• Opportunity for advancement
• Immediate vs. future rewards
• Fair pay and good benefits
• Strong, visible leadership
• Work-life balance
The real reason employees leave
If you ask most managers why people leave, they will answer, "For better pay." However, when employees are surveyed, pay consistently comes up somewhere between No. 4 and No. 7 on the list of reasons for leaving a previous employer. The top five reasons for leaving a position are:
• Company culture or work environment
• Contributions are not valued
• Don't get the tools or support to do the job
• Lack of advancement opportunities
• Better compensation
If you study this list, you will see that the top three items are a direct reflection of the manager's ability to create an empowered work environment. An employee's perception of company culture is formed by his or her daily contact with the manager. People work for people more than they do for organizations. Good managers inspire loyalty and retain their employees. If you are like most companies, the majority of your front line managers are promoted from within.
New set of tools
Providing opportunities for career advancement is a hallmark of great companies and an excellent retention strategy. However, what we often fail to do is to train these new managers on the skills that they need to effectively manage people. Directing the work of others, coaching, motivating, and developing people demands a new skill set that requires training. There are many workshops put on by management training organizations or local colleges. If you have a larger management staff, you may want to consider having a consultant develop a training program that is customized to meet your business needs. Regardless of the method, a formalized training program for new managers is an important aspect of employee retention.
Back to basics
Many companies spend all their time chasing the "latest and greatest" new idea to attract and retain employees and lose sight of the fact that good, basic management is the first step to creating a work environment that attracts and retains the best people. A strong "back-to-basics" retention approach should include the basic management truths that we all know but sometimes forget to practice.
• Treat each employee with integrity and respect
• Recognize and reward success
• Provide information and share knowledge
• Offer opportunities
• Create clear expectations and hold people accountable
• Do not tolerate sub-standard performance
• Provide the resources employees need to do their job well
• Allow people the freedom to learn from their mistakes
• Create a high-energy, caring environment
• Allow people to have some say over how they do their job
• If a business challenge surfaces, give your employees the opportunity to be part of the solution
• Make a personal connection with your employees
Room for growth
Retaining good employees requires creating challenge and growth opportunities. Forward-thinking organizations create these opportunities. Remember that moving forward does not always mean moving up. Adding additional responsibilities and challenges can enrich an employee's job. This could include assignment of more demanding work, the addition of team leader responsibilities, or designation as a Team Trainer. An employee may be given the opportunity to apply his or her current experience to a new job and a new challenge by providing lateral moves. Some companies allow an employee to try out a short-term job assignment. If he or she does not like the new job, he or she can move back to the old job without a negative impact.
As the saying goes, "Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees." We jump through hoops trying to find qualified individuals outside the organization when those very individuals may already be in our organization. Talk to your employees and find out what their career goals are. It may be that you have a service employee who wants to be an aviation technician. Providing specialized training for this individual allows you to fill a future opening and provides you with a loyal, long-term employee. Skills training for existing employees is a part of an effective staffing strategy.
Offering low-cost or no-cost extras can have a high return with your employees. Employees have a positive perception of employers who offer amenities that say, "We care." Offering benefits that help employees balance work and home responsibilities are valued highly. Some examples are: credit union memberships; discounts on products from local merchants; membership in online service sites such as Perks at Work (perksatwork.com), which offers online shopping, information, and discounts to employees; direct deposit; and flexible spending accounts for dependent care and medical expenses.
Recognize and reward
Employee reward systems have a positive impact on productivity and provide public recognition. Spot awards of gift certificates for dinner, movie tickets or shopping cost little and provide instant recognition for a job well done. Years of Service awards recognize the value of long-term employees. Attendance bonuses, incentive pay, and profit sharing are ways to provide financial rewards to your employees. Employee of the Month programs with cash rewards, special parking places, and award certificates can have a positive impact. When instituting any reward program, it is important that you select criteria that are specific and measurable. If the selection is subjective, you run the danger of perceived favoritism that will have a negative impact on employee morale.
Employee retention is all about re-recruiting your own employees. Remind them about the unique benefits that make your company a great place to work. Make personal connections, recognize business and personal accomplishments, take an interest in them as individuals. Above all, remember to let your employees know they are valued and appreciated. Positive feedback has no cost and motivates good employees to even better performance.
Mind the door
If an employee makes the decision to leave your company, make sure to talk to them. Find out why he or she has made the decision to leave. Often you can provide the incentive that will make him or her stay. If not, find out what your competitors are offering that you do not. Most importantly, leave the door open for good employees to return. Often people move on to a new job and find out that it is not what they expected. He or she wishes that they could return to the old job, but pride prevents their return. If you have left the door open, you make it easy for a good employee that has made a poor employment decision to return to your company. Practice back to basics retention - hire the right people, survey your employees to find out what they want, provide opportunities for continuous development, make work fun and challenging, and build lasting relationships with employees. The bottom line is that every day your competitors are recruiting your best employees. Don't leave your future to chance - create a strategic approach to employee retention and practice good, basic management skills.