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Nine proven ways to attain and retain great employees.

The cold hard truth.

I’m a type-A motivator personality. I am one of those annoying people who gets out of bed in the morning and goes to work feeling like Matthew Mcconaughey accepting an Academy Award. I pretty much play the Rocky theme song in my head as I drive. However, once I get to work, HR is one of those management tasks that can quickly kill my self-inflicted, non-caffeinated buzz.

The quantity of HR that I have to do each day is actually not what I expected when I first started this company. I didn’t wake up one morning and say to myself “Hey, I’m done with this design career, I think I’d love to be in HR.”

But here I am now, with staff. And most of you, like me, probably had no training, education or mentorship about how to attain and retain the people who are now going to be the lifeblood of your business. 

I can officially tell you this. It’s a thankless job. Some days I’d rather poke my eye out with a stick then deal with one more office drama, employee problem, interview or resignation letter. And other days, when I’ve done something just right, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that today, even for one brief moment, my team is running like a well-oiled machine and going in the same direction together.

If you own or run a company of any size, you are going to have to face the cold hard truth. You, my fellow entrepreneur, must either learn how to obtain and retain staff in order to scale your business or, sit alone with your cat and run your empire of one, alone (don’t think this hasn’t crossed my mind). 

The cost of not learning how to hire and attain staff is high. 

Research shows that the average cost to onboard each new staff member is $4000. And other studies have determined that the average economic cost to a company of turning over a highly skilled job is 213% of the cost of one year’s compensation for that role. Like, holy shit. With so much on the line for your company, honing those HR skills could really pay off.   

Another hard reality to face is that job hopping is the new norm. 

Despite your very best effort to retain that excellent copywriter with the brown flowy hair, in Canada, 51% of employees will leave within two years. And according to Stats Canada, the overall average job tenure is 8.6 years, with business service, food and construction industries having some of the lowest tenure rates. That means not only do you have to get really good at retaining staff, but you find ways to attain new ones. 

As business owners, we often get wrapped up in the operations of our company. How to make things more efficient, how to keep costs down, how to get and keep better customers, how to make more of that enticing moula. In many cases, the outcome of those efforts will be because of the staff you have.

As difficult or as frustrating as it can be on some days, the amount of effort you invest in your people will be directly related to the success of your business.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can implement to get and keep good staff. Here are nine things you can do to improve your success. 

1. Employment ads suck.

If you think putting an ad on the latest employment site then sitting back to wait for a dream applicant is the answer, think again. The downside to this approach is that really great employees are probably, well, already employed. Unless someone is unhappy with their current job they don’t just read employment ads for fun. You need to get out there and find them.

You could of course, hire a recruitment agency. And if you have the budget to do so, this can be a good option. But if you aren’t quite at the stage where this is feasible, you can do it yourself by reaching out to ask for referrals or searching through your LinkedIn contacts. Having a strong social media presence will also help you get the word out to potential employees already interested in your company.

One way to be proactive in sourcing new employees is to ensure you have a dedicated careers page on your website with a form prompting people to sign up for future announcements. On that careers page, always keep an active listing. Even if you aren’t currently hiring you never know when someone just perfect for your company might come your way. 

2. Do you look like somewhere people would want to work?

When potential employees visit your website, what is their first impression? Go look right now. What do you think? Does your company look modern, cutting edge, smart, fun or attractive? Would it compel someone to apply? 

Job seekers will most definitely scour your website and social media to see if you are resume-worthy. And if you don’t look like you are, you are losing out on not just customers, but potential great employees, too. The moral of the story—update your website and get a brand that shows some sex appeal (I mean that figuratively, not literally. No one wants to see your half-naked party photos when searching for your company).

3. Core values are important.

Once those illusive great employees get to your website, are they able to see what you stand for? Have you outlined the values of your company? Have you been clear with the type of company you are? You want to build a team that shares your drive and goals, and if you aren’t sharing what they are, then how will an employee (or you) know if they fit in? 

Employees who share values similar to you are more likely to want to work for you, and more likely to stay. This is a topic I am quite passionate about, as anyone who works for me will tell you. Our core values are on our website, and I’ve written a blog around this specific topic.

4. Become invested in people’s lives.

This one was hard for me to accept. I used to stay at arm’s length with employees.  I felt that getting close to someone would make it too difficult to reprimand, or worse, fire them. I also felt that if they quit, they’d be betraying our working friendship. In the end, I was wrong.

I now embrace the people around me. I know things about my employees I never knew before, like when they are having a bad hair day, the crappy Christmas gifts they got, even stupid things about their in-laws from the latest family get-together.

I practice a total open door policy. Everyone knows they can come in my office at any time, for any issue. This has allowed me to develop long-term connections with people who work here, even after they have moved to other companies.

Knowing and caring about people and giving them your time is crucial to having healthy, mutually respectful relationships. And when that happens, people feel happier to be on this entrepreneurial voyage with you. They want to be invested in the total success of the company, not just their own.

5. Offer personal growth.

When you are busy with your head down, doing your job, it’s really, really hard to also be looking up. But when you look up, you see opportunities and new ideas that could benefit yourself, and those around you. 

Allowing your employees to have the option to grow and learn is important. This isn’t always sending them to an expensive conference. Other ways to enhance their personal growth is to buy new books to share, send them to networking events, give them time to do online webinars, even encouraging them to take vacations and do new things. In our office we share articles and blogs, encourage ‘Lunch and Learns’ and do quarterly goal setting.

In addition to learning, giving your employees different career path options within your company can also act as a huge motivator for personal growth. This is extremely challenging for small business owners who lose a lot of people to larger companies.

However, there are small steps you can take. If your company doesn’t yet have any upwards mobility path for them, you can allow employees to grow by giving them more responsibilities and asking them to bring new initiatives forward. 

6. Just step back.

Ah, micromanagement. The swear word of the 21st century. For good reason. This is probably the worst thing you can do to an ambitious employee, and the hardest thing to stop doing if you happen to be a type-A perfectionist who hums Rocky songs in their head as they drive to work. But you need to learn to let go of your control for two reasons.

First, if you can’t trust that an employee can do as good a job as you, or that they will do a job correctly, they are probably not a very good fit for that role. Sit back and let them lead, after all, you should be hiring the best people you can find, preferably ones that are even better at something than you are (if you aren’t, take note). 

Second (and more important), is that being micromanaged will kill a good employee. It is demoralizing, de-motivational, and breeds ineptness within your company. There is a fine line between expecting great quality from your staff, and dictating how that great quality should be happening. 

You do not need to know every email, or check every moment of their work. If you have a system in place that allows you to macro-manage, that is, check the overall finished product and ensure that customers are happy, then leave the details to them. Give your employees the freedom to do their job without scrutinizing and dictating every single step. 

My favourite author, Simon Sinek sums it up perfectly in this 59 second video.

7. Offer good benefits. And that’s not just a dental plan.

As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to adapt our benefits to include more robust medical and dental coverage. This is an extremely important perk, but it isn’t the only thing that will attract or motivate an employee to stay. 

Small benefits matter too. What makes your team happy? If you have plant workers, maybe an annual work boot fund would be appreciated. Having a well-stocked snack cupboard, or a comfortable lounge to sit on their breaks. Letting them choose their dress code, offering flexible work hours, team lunches, even something as small as encouraging thank you’s and accolades are benefits will make your company a more desirable place to work. Creating a place where people feel valued is important. 

Try to think outside the box for benefits that are uniquely you. In our company, where we are hunched over computers eight hours a day, we hold quarterly team outings to get out of the office. No matter what you choose for your company, remember that benefits don’t have to cost a lot to make a big impact to your employees.

8. Hold no prisoners.

Okay—this one might be unorthodox, but it’s something I believe. Your company is not a prison, and your employees have zero ties to you. Don’t take it personally. It’s just that they may want to move on with their lives in a way that isn’t being fulfilled with you. They might want to move to another city, or get better benefits and pay. They might want to acquire more experience or pursue a different career path. 

If you have done all of the other things above, this is the wild card. They are people, with different needs, goals and paths than you. If they simply don’t want to be part of your company anymore, then they are free to go. In fact, it’s better if they go. 

Nothing is more poisonous to your company than an employee who has mentally checked out and is no longer contributing to the team or caring about the direction of the company. No amount of pay or incentives will change that. In fact, every January I give a speech, telling my employees that if they feel this is no longer the place for them, that their resignations will be warmly received. Don’t try to hold people in a position that isn’t where they want to be. Release the prisoners.

9. Be graceful.

Dealing with people is emotional, not logical. If it’s time for someone to go, do it with grace and respect, on both sides. After all, you shared a part of your life with each other, try to end it in friendship, or at the very least as business acquaintances who can call on each other. 

If any employee quits a company in a storm of anger, or is an unethical asshole, or, if you fire someone in a disrespectful manner without having open conversations beforehand, prepare for that to come back to you one day. Karma’s a bitch.

The moral of the story: Get on the HR wagon.

After writing this article, note to self: Doing HR should not be a life sucker. If it is, change your perception. HR is a crucial element within your company that can not be ignored or put on the back burner. Keep on yelling out ‘Alright. Alright. Alright’ like a lunatic as you leap out of bed every morning. If you can become better at this role, your company is going to grow, your customers are going to be happier, your staff is going to be more committed and open. Embrace it.

Sherry Jacobi