How to engage and retain top talent
First impressions are lasting. Hourly employees are not. Before they’ve been on the job just six months, more than 50 percent are usually gone. Some were probably not a good fit for the job in the first place, but some productive, dependable, hard-to-replace employees jump ship, too. Contrary to what they may tell you, they didn’t really leave for more money.
“More money” is just a polite way of saying they were unhappy and went elsewhere for what we all want from our jobs — a sense of accomplishment, some personal recognition and the “can do” teamwork environment that makes us look forward to getting out of bed in the morning.
What happens, then, between the new hire’s enthusiastic acceptance of a job offer and the day they leave? The norm in the equipment rental industry is that the employee’s manager spends the bulk of each day fighting fires and dealing with the problems underperforming employees create. This leaves the dependable, self-directed people to fend for themselves because they are able to do just that. It’s the “squeaky wheel” syndrome and there’s only so much “oil” to go around. When you’re doing a good job and yet get minimal attention, encouragement or recognition, what’s the incentive to stick around?
This wasn’t much of a concern years ago when hourly employees were considered replaceable cogs in a perpetual wheel, but employee retention at every level has become crucial to customer satisfaction and your store’s bottom-line results.
The good news is that keeping good people on board doesn’t require a lot of time. All it really takes are small doses of quality time that make the most of a new hire’s first impressions:
- The first hour on the job. Use the first hour to make the best first impression possible. This is not the time for completing boring paperwork or going over safety rules. This is the time to make introductions and to make the person feel welcome and comfortable. It’s the time to explain why the job is important and how job performance will affect customers and co-workers alike. This is the time to encourage your new hires to ask questions and for you to give them the answers they need to feel they’ll fit in. Also ask if they have any particular concerns or worries. Take the time to share a little of your company’s history and your own personal work history so the new person feels like “part of the family.”
- End of the first day. Your new employee is reeling from a day filled with the unfamiliar — a new environment, new people, new policies and procedures, and new responsibilities. This is the reason to spend the last 15 minutes of that first day debriefing, answering questions and ensuring the new hire leaves with a positive impression. Once home, the employee will inevitably be asked, “How was your day?” Your goal is for the answer to be, “Great! It seems like a great place to work.” If the employee raises any questions, concerns or confusions, address them on the spot so your new hire still leaves feeling good about taking the job and coming back again tomorrow.
- End of the first week. At the end of the first week, it’s time to get with the new employee to find out how things are going. Ask for suggestions as to how orientation and training might be improved and about the new hire’s favorite and least favorite parts of the job. Ask for suggestions as to how things might be done faster, better, quicker or cheaper. This meeting also is an opportune time to find out why they left their last job and why they took the job with your organization. This informal market research not only helps you focus future recruiting efforts, but also helps reinforce in their minds that they made the right “buying decision.” Also ask for new employee referrals by saying: “There must have been some other great people over at the company you just left." Of everyone you worked with over there, who would you like to see working here?” Find out why they think that person would be good and what they think it would take to get them to change jobs.
- First paycheck. Even though you may use a direct deposit payroll system, try to arrange to present the first paycheck to the new employee in person. Whether you hand them the actual check or the deposit slip, do it in one of these two ways. If the new employee has been doing great, this is the time to tell him or her what a pleasure it has been to have them on board. Be specific about what they have accomplished and tell them they have really earned their check. Thank you doesn’t cut it. Be specific. If the person has not lived up to expectations, now is the time to tell them that you wanted to personally hand them their first paycheck, but you feel they have only earned 75 percent of it and the specific reasons why. This is an easy conversation the first pay period, but if you put it off, it will only get more difficult the longer they are with you. Do it up front and save yourself some grief. Based on your candid feedback, the employee will either self-correct or prove to be unsuited to the job.
- End of the first month. Waiting six months to a year to give a new hire a performance review is an exercise in futility. If you only tell your people how they’re doing when the performance review system forces you to, your chances of building a winning team are slim and none. Behavior — good and bad — needs to be recognized on the spot. People need to be praised on the spot, corrected on the spot, offered more training on the spot or warned on the spot. Not only are performance reviews an ineffective way to commend or correct performance, they force managers into the unhappy position of being judge and jury, and make very few employees happy either. Rather than using performance reviews to rehash a past that nothing can really be done about, sit down and do a performance expectations plan (PEP) once the new hire has been on board about a month and is settled in. In brief, in this more positive approach, the manager first outlines his or her goals and expectations for him or herself, the department and the employee for the next quarter, six months or year. Based on this document, the employee then writes their own PEP detailing how they will support the manager’s plan with the addition of their own, personal goals. Then the two get together to compare documents and agree to priorities. A PEP, with its focus on the future will solidify the employees relationship with the manager, the company, the department and the job. It will engender more enthusiasm, foster better teamwork, and make goals, objectives and priorities exciting challenges to meet.
- Don’t stop there. Besides these crucial first impressions, another key to keeping great employees is to create times of fun and camaraderie throughout the year. Look for reasons to celebrate. One of the obvious reasons to celebrate is an employment anniversary. Some employers have one celebration each month that includes birthdays and employment anniversaries. In others, both anniversaries and birthdays are acknowledged by a card and small gift, such as a gift certificate, an afternoon off or movie passes. It’s not so important what specifically is done, it’s the acknowledgement and encouragement that count.
First impressions really are lasting, but too many employers still put new hires through boring, paperwork-filled lecture sessions and then throw them in to sink or swim. How can that be good for the organization? Get out in front of the curve and take these five first opportunities to impress every new hourly employee with the respect, acknowledgement, and appreciation that will keep them motivated and contributing to your team.
Mel Kleiman is a consultant, author and Certified Speaking Professional. He is president of Humetrics, a developer of systems, training processes and tools for recruiting, selecting and retaining the best employees. A detailed guide to The Five Firsts program outlined in this article can be found in Kleiman’s latest book, “The Five Firsts: A Simple System to On-board, Engage, and Retain Top Talent” at www.the5firsts.com. Kleiman can be reached at 713-771-4401 or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.humetrics.com.www.kleimanhr.com.