December 5, 2018

Help retain your biggest asset by investing time and resources on the employee experience

By Nancy Appelquist, Director of Operations

Read also The Conundrums of Finding Great Talent

You’ve assembled a team full of great talent. Congratulations! 

Next comes the even bigger challenge: Keeping your dream team intact.

It’s hard to believe but these days if companies retain an employee longer than four years they are beating the odds, according to data from the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. That’s an alarming reality given the high costs associated with turnover—the interruptions to workflows and productivity, the impact on morale, hiccups in customer service and product quality, plus the fact that starting over can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars—and it all adds up to dollars and cents off the bottom line.

Retaining key talent is especially critical for companies going through major change, which is happening in every sector of agriculture, and continuity is critical to surviving transitions. So how do you overcome the job-hopping tendencies of today’s workforce and keep your team intact?

Companies are very intentional about creating a positive and engaging customer experience because they know it strengthens relationships and builds loyalty. Imagine what improving the experience inside your company could do for employee loyalty. It could be the difference between employees thinking, “I’ll do this until something better comes along” to, “why would I ever leave?”

The employee experience matters. How do you keep your top performers growing and thriving, so they’ll stick around for the long haul and continue delivering results?

Don’t let hospitality fade.

Your warm welcome may have won them over during the hiring phase, but it’s what they discover “behind the curtain” after they’re settled in that will have the strongest influence on their desire to stay.

One area many companies focus too little on is the onboarding process. If new employees are left to find their own way, it can make for a bumpy start. Onboarding helps make their assimilation into the organization much smoother for everyone. Be sure to assign someone to help them navigate the systems and procedures. Introduce them to key people in your organization they’ll need to work with. Even lining up peers to take them to lunch during their first week can go a long way in making them feel at home more quickly.

Onboarding and hospitality shouldn’t have an endpoint. Nurturing the internal work environment and working out kinks should always be on your radar. Look around for things that might need a tune-up—everything from internal procedures and systems to performance reviews. For example, it can be a big source of frustration to find out too late that the job is bogged down with inefficient administrative tasks, unnecessary spreadsheets and mundane meetings. Ask for their feedback right away and then again in a few weeks. Often new employees will have the most ideas for improvement right when they begin a new position, so capitalize on their fresh ideas before they become entrenched in the, “way it’s always been done.” And not placing high priority on regular employee performance reviews—even beyond the first year—sends a message that you don’t value their presence on your team. When things like that permeate your culture, they plague the employee experience.

Connect with employees’ hearts and minds; make it more than a paycheck.

Contrary to popular belief, when an employee leaves one job for another it's almost NEVER about the money. In the book, “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave,” author Leigh Branham reveals 89% of managers believe employees leave because they want more money. But that’s far from reality. The truth is only 12% leave because of money. This is very telling for a couple of reasons—first, it goes to show you can’t win employees on salary and benefits alone; and second, perhaps managers like to use money as a scapegoat instead of facing the real reasons their star performers may want to leave. (Hint: Maybe it’s not the employee; maybe it’s you. More on that below.)

What gives the relationship staying power is a positive environment, meaningful work, and to see that what they’re doing is making a difference. Align corporate and individual performance goals so employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s success. Challenge them and provide growth opportunities. Invest in them and train them for the future. All these things will make them feel more like an essential part of the organization, and less like just another cog in the machine.

Be intentional about aligning the right people.

What’s the single most important contributing factor in a work climate? The people.

In a perfect world everyone plays fair and you have a well-functioning team 100% of the time. But we all know that’s not reality. You will encounter bad apples, and you’ve got to deal with them before they spoil everything. It can be very demoralizing to the team when you’ve got someone not pulling his or her weight. Not only are you allowing toxic behavior, you are sending a message to everyone else that that particular behavior is acceptable.

Our team watched a video that shows the influence productive vs. destructive people have on teams. The lesson here? Take a careful look at each player on your team and determine what’s working well, where you have development opportunities, and where you might have serious trouble—and the sooner you deal with those issues, the better.

Of course, you can avoid this altogether by hiring for quality to begin with. That requires looking beyond the resume. Does their personality and work style blend well with the culture of your company and team? One helpful strategy could be setting up an informal group interview with members of the team, so you can assess the chemistry with would-be peers.

Internships also can play an important screening role, at least for more entry-level positions, offering both the employer and employee a trial period before making a long-term commitment. If this is a luxury your company can afford, it’s a great way to gauge fit.

Prioritize manager development.

Managers can be bad apples, too. In fact, most turnover in an organization is the result of manager behavior. Time and time again studies show employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. “Lack of appreciation” is one of the most popular “reasons for leaving” cited in exit interviews.

Managers set the tone and can make the experience amazing … or they can make it miserable. Your CEO could be an excellent leader and visionary, and everyone may love some of the little perks like the fact that you have covered parking or great snacks in the breakroom; but it’s their direct manager that they deal with regularly and often, and if the direct manager is awful then employees will dread coming to work every day.

Many managers are promoted to the role despite a lack of experience, and this can be a disaster if they don’t receive the training they need to be a good boss. Managers need to know how to communicate, how to help their employees grow professionally, how to motivate and drive their team toward goals and objectives, and how to recognize and show appreciation to their hard-working staff. If your company isn’t taking deliberate action to develop these skills among your managers, then it’s time to make that a priority.

Focus on intangibles.

The lines between work and life are blurry—when you count the hours we’re awake, it’s just a fact that during the week we spend more time at work than we do at home. And ag professionals know more than anyone that 8-5 workdays are a figment of the imagination, so supporting their work/life balance in an industry known for long hours can go a long way in building loyalty.

Intangibles are a big deal, and every generation has its own preferences—so learn what those are so you can adjust the work environment to meet their needs. For one group it might be free coffee, but others in your organization may have a much different expectation for what a great perk looks like…and how to achieve the elusive work/life balance.

One of Entira’s business partners allows pets in the building, and that gives many employees more productive time in the office because they don’t have to run home to let the dog out—it’s a win-win. (Plus, dogs make people happy, so there’s that.)

Pets in the workplace may be a stretch for most businesses, but there are plenty of other low- or no-cost benefits you can implement and show your people how much you value them. Relaxing the dress code, hooking them up with discounted tickets for events, or offering a flexible work schedule are all great examples. If the company is in a rural area, in many cases a job is also a source of social life. How about offering social activities? It could be as easy as sharing events going on in the community to organizing a company outing.

Manage your own expectations.

Despite your best efforts, some people are going to leave. Younger generations are more likely to job-hop than baby boomers. But being known as an employer that develops rising stars isn’t a bad thing—maybe your company won’t be their forever home, but you can attract great talent by building a reputation for being a great place to develop your career. And when people do leave your company, commit to the exit interviews—do them and learn from them.

Companies pour millions into studying what drives customer loyalty. Why don’t we devote more time and energy to learn what drives employee loyalty?

As any good marketer knows, there’s no one size fits all for customers and their needs change over time—and those same rules apply to employees as well. If you haven’t checked the temperature inside the company lately, perhaps it’s time. Ask them what’s working well and what areas could stand improvements. Find out what’s most important to them.

We’ve worked with hundreds of companies that have struggled with and mastered retention issues, particularly during periods of transition. We can help you measure the effectiveness of your employee experience and strategize ways to keep the internal environment healthy.

Bottomline, with so many opportunities vying for employees’ attention, you want to make it hard for your best people to leave. Prioritize their experience and they are more likely to remain loyal to you.

If you’d like to talk about overcoming your own hiring challenges, contact Nancy Appelquist at 845.544.1985 or