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How to Keep Top Talent: A Fortune 500 Business Case Study

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Here is one Fortune 500 company's five keys to employee retention.

The other day I was golfing with a close friend and fellow entrepreneur who I look up to and he asked me a question that he’s asked me several times before. It’s a six-word conundrum that possesses only one clear answer even though I might feel inclined to respond in a variety of ways depending on my problem du jour. The question is, “What’s the worst part about business?”

Now when he asks the way he asks, it’s impossible to put aside his simple matter-of-factness and rhetorical tenor. I never know whether I am supposed to answer, as though I’ve never heard the question before, or simply pause and let him make his point. Nonetheless he carries on, “If we could just replicate ourselves and never have to have any employees, business would be so easy.” He’s got a bit of a point there, but we’d also have to put up with all of our own crap too. It’s a double-edged sword I guess.

When it comes to employees, I say you can either embrace them or displace them. If you abide by beloved author Michael Gerber and the crux of his self-employed gospel, The E-Myth, good luck achieving the entrepreneurial dream without committed and talented employees. In other words, try making more money and working less hours while wearing every hat in your company all by yourself. Indeed not all employees have the special ability to leave us with that warm and fuzzy feeling we yearn for, however some do have a special way of making it all seem worthwhile.

Over the past year I have written several articles covering how to find employees, successfully hire employees, lead employees, and so on. Last month I published a case study I performed on the company my father worked for (a successful mid-sized operation). That case study stemmed from my curiosity as to how the owner of his company was able to keep my dad and several other employees working together for the better part of 30 years. But in this article I will share secrets I learned about how some of the larger companies (Fortune 500 in fact) successfully retain talented workers.

During the process of networking within the industry I met a pretty amazing person named Michael Smith. He was part of an auto industry-consulting group that helps single and multi-location shop owners grow, which I happen to be on the board of. Michael spent 20 years with Deloitte and ultimately wound up spearheading their Human Capital division. Think of it as a dedicated arm within the company solely focused on employee satisfaction and retention. If you know anything about Deloitte, these are strong credentials to say the least. Most recently Michael has been exercising his knowledge by helping small-to-medium sized businesses build culture and implement leadership development. I asked Michael if he would share his top keys to employee retention and he gladly consented:

 

Five Employee Retention Levers

Experts have observed that the auto repair industry generally lags many other industries in the application of the following employee retention levers. The auto repair companies that get these right will build a definitive, ever-increasing competitive advantage over their more traditional competitors.

1. Legacy – Purpose, vision, mission. Whichever perspective you choose, casting the existence of your company in a meaningful light will draw both employees and customers towards you. The ones that resonate with your meaning will come. And the longer you walk your talk in this area, the greater the legacy you will build. Truly living according to your purpose—consistently, sustainably, across the organization—will create the baseline for your enduring legacy. This should be important to us all. And it turns out to be a strong foundation upon which to build a top-producing company. Win-win. And it helps to keep the best talent; the ones that value more in your professional relationship than just their paycheck.

2. Culture – Grounded in your core values and operating principles, your culture can make or break your strategic initiatives. Experts have identified three primary culture-types, and only one of them is desirable. Unfortunately I know too many companies in our industry that have one or both of the undesirable other two. The good news is that even though a broken culture gets stronger over time, every culture can be proactively modified and improved. A healthy culture is a strong key in retaining top industry talent, especially with so many broken competitor-cultures surrounding us.

3. Leadership – Much has been written about the difference between Management and Leadership. Most of us are good managers, not as many are truly good leaders. Strong, constructive leadership is a retention tool. Don’t mistake the destructive capacity of a poor leader, not only demotivating your best employees, but also literally chasing them away from your company. I know wading through the long list of unimpressive leadership development programs can be onerous and confusing but a strong leadership development program will revolutionize your results, including increasing employee retention.

4. Growth – We are all wired for growth. Whether or not one recognizes this fact, it remains a fact. The best employees want to grow, develop, and contribute more. They relish opportunities to take on more responsibility, to achieve in those greater tasks, and to then take on more again. Give your employees a chance to advance their personal and professional strengths, and you will help retain the very best employees.

5. Recognition – Last but not least, simple recognition. You can do more walking around and finding positive things to honestly recognize than increasing paychecks will do​​​​​​​—the science proves this. Tell your employees how you feel about them, how grateful you are that they are with you, that you’re proud of their work. Increased employee retention will follow.

 

I expect that some of you will be experiencing new revelation as you process this simple data. Others might be perplexed by how simple these five retention levers are. One thing you can take away is that large, 9-figure plus revenue companies are not really all that dissimilar from us smaller companies. They just find ways to magnify the scope of their processes and resources but ultimately we can find much common ground.

Which of these areas need the most work in your organization? If you feel like you’re crushing it then begin to start analyzing how your key leaders are doing. In a successful franchise model or, as I like to call it, discipleship model, the top leader(s) in the company masters the processes and then they teach others to do the same. Then each person begins passing it on and teaching others and when it works right it is a real thing of beauty. This is how you grow; you create a synergistic group of folks going in the same direction with the same foundational principles and with the same conviction. It is a force that cannot be stopped.

We are currently in the process of acquiring our third shop and nothing seems to hold us back or propel us forward in reaching our goals like having loyal, top-performing team members. Just like with great professional sports teams, typically the ones that have played together longer are more successful. It is not uncommon to find teams in which the highest paid players will take a pay cut to stay on board because they believe in the vision of the coaches and they love the teammates they play with. There is no replacement for a kind of culture where people are highly capable AND they desire to work with one another. So remember, your employees may cause you to waver and doubt where you’re going but you need them and they need you. Let your talking start to walk and let your presence in your shops bleed your core convictions. Instill in your people the things that matter most, honor their successes and watch your business reach new heights you never imagined were possible!

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