You started young. You were still growing when you started your first business. You felt the thrill of making something out of nothing. Or maybe you needed a taste of the real world and you got a job after college. Either way, here you are now.
You’ve got a business.
You worked through the tough times. You had credit card debt and you put it all on the line because you knew there was something there. Now your relentless entrepreneurial commitment has, at the very least, led to putting food on the table. Or even better, perhaps you’re killing it, driving a Tesla to your hip office with brick walls and an industrial ceiling.
The only problem … one of your key employees left this week. It wasn’t about the money. It was "about the future … the opportunity ahead. It’s not you. It's me".
You’ve got other key players in your business that you need to stick around to make it tick. What are you going to do to make sure you don’t lose another?
I was the one that went to college, got my MBA, and stepped on the first few rungs of the ladder. I worked for some huge software companies and consultancies. I was told by my manager one day that I "lacked a sense of urgency.” He offered some advice … when I walk down the hall, I should “walk faster and smile less, because perception is reality.”
I was fired.
I started my own software business on the antithesis of his advice, and sold to private equity 14 years later. I built a culture that attracted some of the best talent and kept them around for the long haul.
Through the years, I learned three strategies that you can begin to implement today to ensure you keep your key employees around not only through thick and thin but, as Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, says, “coming to work on the balls of their feet climbing the stairs two at a time.”
3 Strategies to Increase Employee Retention
1) Motivate from the inside.
Look at the organizations around the world that drive their followers to do unbelievable things. Look at SpaceX, Google, HubSpot, and the tens of thousands of charitable entities driving people to do amazing things.
What do they all have in common? They have followers and employees that believe in a vision and mission so much so that it’s aligned with their personal values or even becomes their own mission. These are the people that are passionate and committed. They are not leaving that organization any time soon. So what can you do to motivate and therefore retain your key employees?
Try it out: Start the dialog around why you’re doing what you’re doing. Bring your employees into the conversation. Spend weeks on this, if not months. Don’t rush it, but be deliberate about it.
Identify a purpose. The why… Watch Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” TED talk. With purpose comes dedication. With a purpose comes the person that goes well beyond the job description. With a purpose you have an employee who is by your side faithfully.
It’s not the salary. It’s not the bonus. Those are nice, and the money is necessary, but it’s not what really drives people and keeps them around. You may even find a couple other little things like a vision and values come out of this little exercise, as well.
2) Trust your employees like they’re family.
I don’t mean trust that they’ll pay you back for the $20 you let them borrow at the casino 3 months ago. And I’m not talking about the trust it takes to open up and spill your soul. I’m talking about the trust it takes to give them something important to figure out, knowing that it’s going to be ok.
Giving them a project without necessarily weighing in on it, uninvited. Give them a little dang breathing room. If failure is too common, figure out why, but have some faith that you hired the right people for the job. Because, here’s what happens: The employee starts to own it. I mean really, really own it. They begin to take pride in it. And nothing drives someone as much as pride, except maybe autonomy and mastery… Yep. That’s Dan Pink.
Try it out: The next time you give someone a project or something to figure out, let them own it. Give them the desired outcome and ask them to report in on regular milestones.
Here’s the one rule: You need to let them own it and intervention can only happen if it’s going to hurt the business. That’s it. Mmmmm. Try it. Hey, try it at home with your kids too. But don’t hold me responsible for that one.
3) Create a cadence that form good habits.
So think about all those nasty habits you have. Ok, you don’t have any, but others do … like your grandmother who smokes a pack a day and she’s almost 90. And your college friend that hasn’t grown up yet still drinks too much because cool kids drink, right? Why is it that we don’t do good things as habitually?
Well, we do actually. You have a morning routine. I’ll bet you work out, brush your teeth, and clean yourself. Let’s open that up to the office now. Every business has a cadence -- your team meetings, your company meetings, your financial reporting, Taco Tuesday, etc … There are other things, however, that you can start to make routine that will help drive employee engagement and therefore retention and loyalty.
Sustainability is all about the habit forming cadence. Recognition and feedback often lack consistency. Cadence. Career and professional development often lack consistency. Cadence. Attention to strategy often falls on the way-side. Cadence.
Try it out: Identify a few things in your company that are hard to keep top of mind. For example, employee recognition. This is something we tell ourselves we need to do better. I’ve even talked to some entrepreneurs that set calendar reminders to give props to their employees. It can be easier.
Get your employees helping you out. Establish a peer to peer recognition program and set it up with a cadence that creates a habit. It might be a weekly or monthly routine. Or find something else you need to do better. Turn it into a cadence. Turn it into a habit.
At one point, while building my business, we ran into a difficult period. We were losing money. We needed to either let some people go or reduce compensation across the board. I reached out to my key employees and told them the scenario. I needed to ensure they were behind me on this. All of them confirmed they were on board. I made the difficult announcement and over the six month recovery, we didn’t lose a single employee.
We had built a strong culture and money was not the key motivator. There was trust and autonomy. And our best habits were driven by a cadence.
Put These Strategies Into Practice
If you’re successful at embracing these three strategies, you will never ever lose another key employee, even in the tough times -- or at least it reduces the likelihood.
In fact, you’ll have their friends hitting you up for jobs. You’ll have customers and clients asking to work for you. And you’ll see your employees walking in the door with smiles on their faces. They’ll arrive to work in the morning “on the balls of their feet climbing the stairs two at a time.”