We are experiencing an embarrassment of riches in this country . . . sort of. The rate of unemployment in 2018 was just 3.9%. To find a lower rate than that, you’d have to go all the way back to 1969 when it was 3.5%. Good for employees, but not so good for employers. Effectively, an unemployment rate this low means that everybody who wants a job has one or can get one. In fact, there are now millions more jobs that need to be filled than there are people to fill them. That’s bad news for employers who can’t be as productive as they should be simply because they don’t have enough people to get the work done. Even worse, out of fear that they won’t be able to find adequate replacements, employers are holding onto poor performers who otherwise should be shown the door. So employers are stuck in a situation where they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. For more on a solution to this dilemma, please continue reading below.
“Create a company that’s a great place to be from.” ~ Patty McCord (Part II)
In our previous posting, we talked about the fact that small companies probably can’t hold onto their best and brightest . . . at least, not all of them. Most of them are just passing through, but will stop at your place long enough to collect a few more lines on their resumes before continuing on to their next stop. The average tenure among the Millennials and Generation Z is about 2 ½ years, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to beat that average. Who knows? With a little effort, maybe you can keep them in harness for an additional six months or even a year. If you’re inclined to hold onto them as long as you reasonably can, here are some steps you can take to “Create a company that’s a great place to be from.”
- First and foremost, make your place “safe.” That is, make it a place where an honest mistake doesn’t get you fired, but instead, is treated as a learning experience. Make yours a place where people feel free to express their ideas and opinions without fear of being ostracized or marginalized.
- Keep everyone in your organization as well-informed as possible about where the company is going and how it intends to get there. Operate by the “Doctrine of No Surprises.” Sudden, unexplained changes in the company’s direction or operating procedures can be unsettling to your employees.
- People need continuous evidence that they are doing what’s expected of them and that they are valued members of your tribe. No one should feel isolated or lonely. When you pass someone in the hallway, make eye contact, smile, say “Good morning.” It doesn’t take much to give people a sense of belonging.
- Recognize discretionary effort. You and everyone in a leadership position should be alert for people going “above and beyond.” When you see such effort, recognize it and celebrate it. From time to time, we hear managers worry that this sort of recognition may embolden people to ask for a raise. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but one thing is for sure: an employee who feels that his or her contributions are unnoticed and unappreciated, already has one foot out the door.
- Offer constructive feedback . . . . not constructive criticism, constructive feedback. According to Employee Engagement expert Don Rheem, constructive feedback should be a regular, ongoing, supportive conversation between managers and their direct reports. “We could all do this more in our daily lives,” says Rheem. “When we hold people accountable, we should do it with less negativity. Anything overtly critical is a punch to the brain. In every relationship you have, it takes five positives to neutralize one negative.”
If you want to know what your culture is like at work, at home, or at any other gathering place that is a regular part of your life, Rheem advises asking one, simple question: “ How does this place make me feel?” Do I feel fearful, on guard, demotivated? Or do I feel I’m in my element, energized, and proud of my role? There’s no question that money is important. We all have to support ourselves in whatever lifestyle we have chosen. But according to Rheem, “The future of work will be defined by how it feels rather than how it pays.” We don’t think he’s wrong.
It’s instructive to remember the old axiom, “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.” Likewise, one negative person can spoil an otherwise positive, upbeat culture. We’ve all met people who have a victim mentality, who are always complaining, and whose glass is always half empty. Their negativity is toxic, it’s pervasive, it’s contagious, and it exhausts everyone around them. So be your company’s gatekeeper. No matter how important the job is or how desperate you are to fill it, be tough, be real stubborn, and refuse to fill it with anyone who will not be a good fit for your culture.
Be guided by the old admonishment to “hire slow and fire fast.” Despite our best efforts to the contrary, occasionally someone will slip into our tribe who doesn’t belong there. When that happens, there’s no choice. There’s no time to dilly dally and no time for a lot of hand wringing. A source of negativity in your midst can do more damage and do it more quickly than you might imagine. You’ve got to own up to the mistake, correct it as quickly and humanely as possible, and move on.
This may seem like a lot of work just to get a few people who are bound elsewhere to stick around for another few months, but the good news is, this also carries great benefit for the people who aren’t just passing through and who might be encouraged to stay with you for more than a few years.
Either way, if you “Create a company that’s a great place to be from,” it’s hard to imagine how that could turn out badly for you.