September 5, 2008

How do they do it?

Is your organization challenged by employee turnover? Perhaps struggling to get find qualified, interested, motivated applicants? Just looking for ideas on how to shore up your employee retention platform? In the 2008 Forbe's Top 100 Companies to Work For report, you'll find plenty of clues on what other companies are doing right. A space on this annual report is coveted by the select companies that make the list, recruiters looking to identify 'the best' talent sources on the market, and candidates wanting to make career moves to find greener pasture.

Savvy executive leaders know the well-documented links between employee engagement, operational performance and shareholder value/profitability.

But, take a look at the list... and maybe you'll see something that I contiually do. Absent from the list (as they have been for MANY years) are the 'big boys' of Wall Street - no IBM, no GE, no 3M.

Instead, we see.... retailers, lots of them. Surprising still, no Saks, Target or other 'world-class' operations. When I look at the list of retailers I see companies like Wegmans who has long provided one of the best GROCERY shopping experiences you could have - like my fond childhood memory of being a part of the Cookie Monster Club. (As an adult, one my required stops when I go home to visit my family includes a stop of Wegmans simply to bask in the presence.) What do they do to inspire loyalty of customers and employees alike?

Let's face it, retail is NOT glamorous. In my high school and college years, I performed my stint of retailing. Had I been part of team for a company like a Wegman's or Starbucks, I probably would have had a much better perception of the retail opportunity as a career. Instead, I got out of retailing as quickly as I could for my own greener pasture.

What do these retailers do that other companies can replicate? They don't pay huge salaries (Wegmans ranks #82 in pay), they don't offer massage treatments, they don't offer fancy cars or free cell phones. Simply put, they have followed the fundamental rule so easy to forget in business and at home - KISS! Or rather, I mean Keep It Simple, Stupid!
  • Offer flexible schedules's. My hometown favorite, Wegmans, is a bastion of opportunity for students, mom's, and people seeking second jobs - in addition to providing high-longevity career paths for employees looking for career options.

  • Offer health and welfare benefits. I know, benefits are expensive. But, companies that get the COST of absenteeism, and poor employee health understand the return on this investment. And, Maslov's theory requires our basic needs to be fulfilled before allowing us to reach higher levels of 'actualization' - if you don't have good employee health, you won't have good employee performance. Some industry leaders (like the List's 12th place mention, Nugget, another supermarket) offer 100% paid benefits.

  • Respect, respect, respect, respect. Rember the addage, people quit managers not companies? Look at the home builder David Weekly (#17). They don't offer many perks of employment compared to most on the list. But, according to the writers at Forbes "when the homebuilding industry slowed, the privately held firm canceled its annual reward trip and tripled severance pay for laid-off employees." Huh.

  • Career Pathing. How do you start out as a high-school student bagging groceries, and end up managing a department or a retail store? Wegmans has this figured out; with great success.

  • Support Continued Education and Personal Growth. Let's talk Paid Sabbaticals (#31 Alston & Bird). Or, how about robust tuition reimbursement programs (#42 Mitre)?

So, does any of this sound unreasonable? Many organizations balk at flexible scheduling, citing fears that scheduling needs won't be met, mass chaos will ensue, and that western civilization will fall. Ok, it is more work to schedule a dynamic staffing plan (and there is very little more challenging than staffing a 24/7 retail operation). But how productive is a staff that is distracted by being at work when outside obligations are calling them? Not very.

The take away from all of this is simple, each of these companies has found a message that was important to their business (retailers looking to reduce churn, consultancy looking to retain thought leaders) and created programs (great medical benefits, incredible work-life balance options) to stand shore up business need AND human need.

These companies identified issues that mattered to the bottom-line, connected it the issues of their employees all to find a win-win solution. Look into your own organization, find one employee issue and I'll bet you can find a solution that yields bottom-line success.