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How to Keep Top Talent: A Medium-Sized Business Case Study

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How to Retain Top Talent
Brian Sump on how to create a workplace environment that retains top employees for life.

My father worked for the same company for the past 30 years and that blows my mind. Forever, I thought the reason was because dad was just exceptionally loyal. I mean it’s logical because he is loyal and anyone who has ever met him would agree. But what about the fact that my dad was from a small farm town in Iowa where simple, blue-collar people understood the value of effort and worked hard just to meet the basic needs of their families? Perhaps a lack of a post-secondary education and an ultra-refined skill set precluded him from having the myriad of options that today’s computer science or finance grads possess.

These points do have merit and they most likely factored somewhat into the equation. But what really piqued my attention was what I discovered while assessing the tenure of the team around my father. He wasn’t the exception in his workplace; the same core team, comprised of both blue- and white-collar teammates, worked together over that same 25-30 year span to produce a multi-million dollar enterprise. So I dug further into other factors like the leadership qualities of the owners, culture, benefits and pay and I compared the results against my own businesses and other companies I am familiar with. Let’s just say there are definitely some common denominators to achieving long employee tenure no matter how big or small you are. Not wanting to subject my findings to coincidence or subjective interpretation, I reached out directly to my dad’s boss, who happens to be a mentor of mine, and asked his opinion as to why he thought his team stayed together for so long. The answers may or may not surprise you but considering his comments as you evaluate employee tenure in your own organization could certainly improve your odds of success.

Before I share the response that helped build a first-class business with an eight-figure top line, I want to give the following disclaimers:

  1. I (we) have certainly not perfected the art of employee retention in our businesses. Just when we think we have it figured out there’s another disgruntled team member knocking at my door with a resignation letter. The key is to constantly evaluate and improve.
  2. There is no single magic formula. I suggest you study and employ what makes the most sense to you. There’s power in results!

Now, on we go:

I believe in creating "GOOD" jobs by creating a workplace that respects and serves each employee. GOOD is an acronym I follow and it stands for:

  • Generous
  • Oneness
  • Opportunity
  • Dignity

A “GOOD” job is the best way to fight poverty and create wealth and financial security.  If an employee is struggling financially, that puts tremendous stress on his or her life and relationships. Creating financial security for your team is vital and leads to retention.

I believe my employees are my top customers. If they are happy then my customers and vendors are happy. The effects of this culture flow directly to the bottom line, which gives me more money to be generous with and creates even more loyalty. Loyalty begets retention and retention, in turn, saves you and makes you more money. It is a beautiful catch-22 that cultivates profits and allows me to be even more generous. (Note, no one really knows exactly how much turn over costs him or her, but it is a huge expense both monetarily and emotionally for everyone.)

These principles are biblical and I learned that bringing faith into my market space by openly loving God and others as myself creates an environment of Love that transforms all of us.  I have also learned that is better to give than to receive. I have been intentional about hiring marginalized folks as well and that caused real transformation to take place in the hearts of my non-marginalized employees. They saw more purpose in what we were doing as a company and that bred extreme loyalty. Again, loyalty begets retention and retention begets profit.

- Wes Gardner, Prime Trailer

When I was younger I thought I knew it all. Didn’t you at some point in life? As I matured I began to encounter more and more business owners who also projected a high level of confidence or, dare I say, arrogance about their success. But when I became privy to their organization’s sales, profits and reputation, the data rarely divulged metrics that ought to breed such a boastful attitude. In fact, the most accomplished ones were commonly the most humble. Ultimately, we need to study real stories of success if we want to be successful and I personally don’t know very many privately owned auto repair organizations boasting $10M+ revenues.

How "GOOD" are you at retaining your employees? Better yet, are you growing and retaining talented team members simultaneously? If you’re not pushing the envelope and holding your staff to higher standards each year then you’re probably going backwards. While many employees in America state that stagnation causes them to look for other jobs there are still plenty of workers out there who are creatures of habit and bathe themselves in mediocrity. What kind of workers do you interact with each day?

Serve your community, create opportunity and work with generosity, love and purpose and perhaps you, too will begin to see rewards commensurate with the risks you face running your own business.

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