Maintaining a Stellar Staff

How to hold onto your star employees and keep them happy.

Many years ago, while I was in graduate school (no, I’m not disclosing how many years), one of our professors asked us to identify the most valuable asset to a business. The range of answers from the students was predictable – cash, current assets, equipment, buildings, etc. He then surprised us by saying we were all wrong. The most valuable assets you will find in your place of business are not even on the company balance sheet – they’re the employees.

I’ve recalled that statement many times over the years, and the more experience I have in business, the more truthful it becomes. When our business has struggled, there has often been a direct correlation to a higher-than-average employee turnover. Conversely, when we’ve managed to keep a consistent workforce, we’ve typically enjoyed higher levels of success. So, what are some ways you can create an environment that will minimize employee turnover for your business?

Open Communication
It would be naïve to think that you can avoid employee departure altogether. Every business will inevitably experience some turnover, regardless of the situation. The real goal is to figure out how to retain your top employees. The simple answer is that you must create a positive, dynamic, and enriching workplace where your employees feel safe, are challenged, receive fair compensation, and can experience personal growth. So, how do you develop such an environment?

Creating a safe place for an employee really means fostering a workplace where open communication is a regular part of the business. Your employees should never feel reluctant – or worse, threatened – by sharing open, honest communication with anyone on your management team. Great employees want to make a difference in your business. In order to do that, they must be able to share their thoughts and ideas on a regular basis – even if those ideas could be critical of you or of the business and may be difficult for you to hear. As a manager or owner of a business, if you’re interested in consistent improvement, you must establish a system of honest communication. Only then will you experience positive growth with your business while simultaneously establishing an environment where your employees are consistently contributing to its growth.

From time to time, every company will have elements of drama. It’s unavoidable. The question is how much drama you will allow. With the exception of those causing it, most of your best employees don’t like drama and, in fact, will often leave an organization to avoid it when it becomes pervasive. One of the most effective ways to prevent excess drama from polluting your workplace is to establish open, safe communication. When employees know they can discuss sensitive matters and that they will be handled in a professional manner, drama that can be damaging to your workplace can almost always be avoided.

Premium Pay
Bright employees look for jobs that challenge them. If you have star employees who are bored with their job and feel unchallenged, they’ll likely begin searching for a more inspiring position outside of your organization. On the other hand, a mediocre or poor employee won’t care. They’ll hang around, bored, without any problem and will be happy doing the minimum amount of work for their pay. But even a lower-performing employee, when challenged with higher responsibilities, will often perform more effectively and will become a more valuable asset to your business.

One of the biggest mistakes an employer can make is assuming that money will buy your employees’ happiness. Of the thousands of employee job satisfaction surveys available, virtually every one ranks salary and wage somewhere around the fourth or fifth in terms of importance. That being said, it’s extremely important that your top employees feel like they’re being compensated fairly. We often see the biggest stars in professional sports demanding the most money. But most high-performing employees aren’t like that. They’ll be satisfied knowing their compensation is consistent with other similar jobs in the marketplace. They simply want to know they’re being paid fairly.

One word of caution: Make certain your top employees are being paid at least some premium for their performance. They know they’re performing at a high level and will, accordingly, expect some measure of financial reward for a job well done. Avoid falling into the trap of trying to keep the peace by paying all personnel at a given job position the same. You should always feel comfortable paying your top performers a higher wage or salary.

Promoting from Within
Great employees often begin their employment with very challenging responsibilities. Then, they become very proficient at their job, and as a result, provide higher value to your business. It’s the scenario we all hope for with a new hire. However, if your top employees feel like they’re stagnant in their positions, even though they’re performing at a high level and are providing value to the business, they may feel stifled in their careers. As a manager, you need to provide opportunities for your stars to progress in their jobs.

One important way to help in this process is to make sure your staff members have the opportunity to apply for all positions in the company as they open up, even if you think that position will be better filled by hiring outside of your company. Post all open positions both internally and externally so your employees will feel like they have the opportunity to grow within the business. If internal applicants have the chance to interview for an open position, they’ll be much more understanding and accepting of someone from the outside getting the position than if they had no chance at all.

Likewise, if you have a position open and you have already identified someone within your organization to fill it, you should still open up the application process to all employees. Perhaps that means there may be no need to search outside of your business. But by all means, allow anyone who may be interested to apply. At our company, there have been many times employees have applied for positions that they may not have been qualified for. Almost without exception, they will openly admit that and indicate that someone else (often the same person you are planning on promoting) is more qualified. But more than anything, they want you, as their manager, to know they’re interested in future opportunities that may present themselves. Establishing this type of open culture will help you hang onto many more of your star employees who are looking for personal growth.

Whether or not you agree with my college professor who said your employees are your most valuable assets, we can all agree that our companies will only succeed with outstanding staff. Invest in the necessary time and resources to provide an environment where they will flourish, and you will undoubtedly find they will continue to be an integral part of your future success. Average employees will become good, good employees will become great, and great employees will ensure that your business remains successful for many years to come.

Read more from our January/February "Ideas" issue or check out other Expert Blogs from Marty McGhie.

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