By Harrell Kerkhoff, Maintenance Sales News Editor
Talented employees are—or should be—highly prized. Successful companies recognize that fact, and will go to great lengths to keep their top talent happy, satisfied and in the fold. Achieving that, however, is not always easy.
Addressing “the talent topic,” a subject that transverses all industries, was Lisa Ryan during a recent conference presentation titled: “Manufacturing Engagement: How to Attract And Keep YOUR Top Talent From Becoming THEIRS.”
Ryan (www.lisaryanspeaks.com) is a Certified Speaking Professional, engagement and retention expert, culture consultant and author of the book, Manufacturing Engagement: 98 Proven Strategies to Attract and Retain Your Industry’s Top Talent.
She explained that a company’s best employees have the power to take their skills to the competition. What is alarming is Gallup reports that close to 71 percent of all employees feel unsupported, detached or disengaged from their current employers. The impact costs U.S. businesses more than $450 billion in lost productivity each year. On the other hand, studies show that engaged employees have: 50 percent fewer accidents, 41 percent fewer quality defects, and 30 percent fewer health care costs.
Among the points that Ryan discussed during her presentation were:
■ Why the focus should be on employees who are doing things well, instead of toxic workers;
■ How to build a company’s reputation as a great place to work;
■ How to address the hidden killer of productivity and profits;
■ How to get off the hamster wheel of a continuous hiring cycle, and focus more on creating an irresistible workplace culture; and,
■ How to tackle the generational divide at work.
‘EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT’ AS A VERB
The importance of employee engagement has become a common theme among my business leaders as they try to keep their top employees from jumping ship. The feeling is, an engaged employee will always feel welcome by company leaders and co-workers — and will not want to leave. Ryan cautioned, however, that employee engagement, in and of itself, is not a panacea.
“I got news for you, employees don’t necessarily care about engagement. Why? Because too many times owners and managers are looking at engagement as a ‘noun.’ It’s a process, a strategy or a checkmark to them,” Ryan said. “Employees do want to engage, though, when a company owner or manager sees engagement as a ‘verb.’ That is where special connections happen.”
For true employee engagement to take place, Ryan suggested implementing the three “rings.” They are:
■ Hearing — “Do you truly listen to what your employees have to say? Do you listen to their ideas?” Ryan asked. “Do you value what they bring to the company, and the way they see the world? Do you give them credit when implementing one of their ideas? Do you make them feel like they are important, and that their contributions are important?”
■ Caring — “Do you really know your employees? Do you know if they are cat or dog people? Do you know the names of their kids?” Ryan added. “Are you involved as a boss or manager? Or, are you one of those bosses where if you appeared on the television show ‘Undercover Boss,’ you wouldn’t need to put on a disguise because few of your employees actually know who you are anyway?”
■ Sharing — “How often do you provide feedback to employees? Is it just that once-a-year personnel performance review?” Ryan said. “If it is, that is not enough. Besides, most managers don’t like giving yearly performance reviews, and employees hate finding out everything they have done wrong over the past 364 days.”
According to Ryan, it’s much better to stay in frequent contact with employees, where the focus is seeing how they are doing, and if they need any help.
“So many times we hear about the ‘exit interview.’ Isn’t that concept a little late? Here is something to write down: Have you ever heard of, or conducted, a ‘stay interview?’” she asked. “It involves a one-on-one conversation with an employee where you can ask: ‘What keeps you here? What do you like about your job? What would cause you to leave?’
“As a boss, wouldn’t you want to know those questions from your people?”
Employee engagement should start at the top of the company, Ryan explained.
“If engagement is just seen as a human resource program, it’s not going to work,” she said. “Unfortunately, I hear from business leaders who say, ‘Lisa, I already have a full plate at work. I have so many things going on. I don’t have time to connect with all of my employees.’
“My response is, ‘But you keep finding the time to hire replacements.’”
She noted that employee engagement does not always have to be detailed. It can simply start by saying “good morning,” and/or “thank you for coming in today.”
“If your employees feel they are an important part of the organization, they will give you a lot more than expected,” Ryan said. “And why is that important? There are 10,000 baby boomers retiring everyday. For every four people who are retiring, there is usually one interested and qualified worker to take their place. That is unsustainable.”
TOP 5 REASONS EMPLOYEES STAY
A common misconception in the workforce is that all employees really care about is making as much money as possible. Although being able to make a good living is important, Ryan said money isn’t everything.
Research, she added, paints a different picture of what is truly important for many employees. The top five reason employees stay with a company are as follows:
■ Company Culture & Mission — “You can feel culture, can’t you. You can walk into a store or job site and feel it the employees like working there,” Ryan said. “When you have new people coming onboard, or interviewing with you, what are they feeling about your company’s culture? Are your employees laughing and friendly with each other?
“It’s about creating positive relationships and culture in order to keep your people in place.”
■ Approachable Leadership — In “the old days,” according to Ryan, most new employees would not dream of walking up to an established company owner or manager and starting a conversation. A chain of command had to be followed.
“That doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “Business owners and managers have to be more approachable when it comes to today’s leadership. Employees see leaders much differently when they (the leaders) are welcoming people by name.”
■ Opportunity To Grow — “People want to be better off tomorrow than they are today. Therefore, it’s important that leaders help employees not only with their on-the-job skills, but also their personal skills,” Ryan said. “It’s important to look at an employee as a whole person, while seeking ways to help them.”
■ Flexibility For Work/Life — “I spoke last year to members of the roofing industry. When it’s not raining, those people are installing roofs. I talked with one company leader who said that they had such a hard time finding employees. To help, they decided not to work on weekends anymore,” Ryan said. “Did they lose jobs because of that? Yes. Are they now more profitable? Yes, because they are not spending all of their time looking for new people to hire.”
■ Recognition — Providing proper employee recognition is one area that will cost companies the least amount when it comes to time and effort, according to Ryan, “but I promise you, will make the biggest difference.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF GRATITUDE
The definition of “gratitude” is: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for, and to return kindness. Through her various career paths, Ryan said she has found the most success over the years by developing various gratitude strategies (“grategies”) for personal and professional development.
She also has found guidance on the subject through Dr. Robert A. Emmons, an American psychologist and professors who authored: Thanks!: How The New Science Of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
Ryan explained that Dr. Emmons divided students into three groups. He had members of the first group write down things they were grateful for. Members of the second group wrote down all of their troubles and hassels, while the third group simply recorded daily events. After 10 weeks, Dr. Emmons observed, the “gratitude group” was 25 percent happier.
“The ‘gratitude group’ also exercised, on average, 1.5 hours more per week than the other two groups. They had fewer physical ailments as well,” Ryan said. “Research shows that people with autoimmune and neuromuscular diseases fare better when they practice gratitude. They complain less often, and are happier, more joyful and enthusiastic.
“Dr. Emmons later interviewed the people associated with the ‘gratitude group’ to see if they noticed any true difference in their lives — and they did, for the better.”
The bottom line, Ryan added, is to not underestimate the importance of gratefulness and the act of finding the good in everything. People at work will benefit.
TRUST — SET THE FOUNDATION
A common practice with business leaders — after attending a convention or conference — is immediately starting all types of new programs at work. However, to avoid overwhelming your personnel “once the boss returns to the office,” Ryan suggests focusing on one key implementation, and then “stick with it.”
“When you are trying something new at work, consistency is the key. Whatever you pick, it should be for the long term,” Ryan said. “You have to start with a ‘foundation of trust,’ that a new plan is in place that will be followed through to its completion.”
Another key factor in employee development is taking steps to truly “know all your people.”
“Sometimes, we spend all of our training dollars just on managers and emerging leaders, when a little bit of additional investment with all employees is just as important,” Ryan said. “Improving communication helps.”
So do little gifts of appreciation, such as $10 gift cards, she added. To be effective, such gifts should be given with the tastes of individuals in mind. For example, not everybody drinks coffee. Therefore, sending $10 gift cards from a coffee shop to “everybody” is generally not a good idea. There will be those people who are disappointed.
“It’s those little things we can do (as bosses and managers) that can make more employees feel welcomed and needed,” Ryan said. “The Golden Rule says, ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you.’ There is also the Platinum Rule, which states, ‘Do unto others the way they want us to do unto them.’
“Find out what your employees like. There is not one thing you can do to make everyone happy, but you can put together ‘little packages’ that recognize each employee the way they want to be recognized. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule.”
Ryan also expressed the importance of training for all employees.
“You may say, ‘Lisa, if I spent all kinds of money training everybody, there would be employees who would take that training and leave.’ My response is, ‘What if you don’t train all of your employees and they stay?’” Ryan said. “I find that response gets training dollars available rather quickly. We have to change the conversation when it comes to training.”
OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW
Along with a higher priority placed on training, Ryan discussed specific ideas that business owners and general managers can implement to not only help themselves, but get more employees involved at work. They include:
■ Lunch and Learns: “I have heard from company leaders who said, 'We have had Lunch and Learns and nobody showed up.’ My response, ‘Did you ever ask your employees what would make them show up? What did they want to learn?’” Ryan said. “‘Lunch and learns’ don’t necessarily have to be related to business. Buy some sandwiches and start a conversation.”
■ Learning library. “If you are providing learning resources for people, you have to educate them on how to properly use those resources,” Ryan said. “For example, if I went to ‘Bob’ and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I just went through an amazing program and I have this book for you to read.’ What is the chance that ‘Bob’ ever opens that book? Zero.
“Instead, if I gave ‘Bob’ a book with specific tips in it and said, ‘Why don’t you go through this book, find a couple of ideas that maybe we can start to implement and let me know what you think.’ Now, what is the chance that Bob is going to actually open that book? Pretty good.”
■ Toastmasters Club: “If public speaking terrifies you, and you want to get better, visit toastmasters.org. According to research, public speaking is the No. 1 fear most people have, while death is No. 2. According to the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, ‘The person doing a eulogy would rather be in the casket,’” Ryan said, with a laugh. “If you are terrified of public speaking, look at Toastmasters.”
■ Ongoing and positive training: Ryan expressed the need for owners and managers to create a positive environment when it comes to training.
“Too many times, we look at training as punishment,” Ryan said. “Stop throwing away your training dollars by punishing people. Instead, say to an employee, ‘I see something in you. I would love to send you to this program. I think it would be good for you and your career. And when you come back, I would love for you to share some of the things you learned with others.’”
■ Bring in an outside trainer: “Let’s face it, when you bring in somebody from the outside, your employees are going to hear things differently than if you, as the boss or manager, said the same things,” Ryan said. “That is why outside trainers can be very effective. Your employees don’t see them everyday.”
■ Public seminars & trade shows: Not every employee gets to “escape” the work setting. According to Ryan, there is real value in letting employees attend a seminar and/or trade show. Allowing employees to visit such events can go a long way in maintaining their loyalty, while adding recruiting possibilities.
According to a study from the WorkHuman Research Institute, 21 percent of employees who participated reported NEVER being recognized while at work, while 33 percent said such recognition had not taken place for six months.
“That is unacceptable,” Ryan said. “You have to find ways to catch your people doing things well.”
Ryan also spoke on the importance of saying “thank you,” and responding to a “thank you” with “you are welcome,” rather than simply saying “no problem,” “sure,” or “you got it.”
“When somebody says ‘thank you’ they are giving you a gift. When you respond, ‘it was nothing,’ you are taking that gift and rejecting it. Simply by changing our language, we change the conversation,” she said. “Here is why that is a big deal. It’s not you, it’s your brain. When you say ‘no problem,’ the other person’s brain is saying, ‘Problem? What do you mean problem?’ The brain is not processing those small words. When you say, ‘no worries,’ the other person’s brain is saying, ‘Worries? What should I be worried about?’ But, when you say, ‘you are welcome,’ or ‘it’s my pleasure,’ that is a different conversation.”
Ryan also discussed a study that focused on work teams and their communication styles. Results showed that for high performing teams, there was a 6 to 1 positivity ratio. That meant, for every one negative thing a person on the team heard, they heard six positives. As the positivity ratio dropped among different teams, so did the performance level.
Ryan also cautioned business owners and managers who only focus on people who are doing things wrong.
“Think about switching that and trying to catch more people doing things well. If all you are recognizing is the bad, you are going to get more bad. If, however, you start recognizing the good, you will get more good,” Ryan said. “There are too many times when we focus on those people who are the most toxic, rather than the employees doing things well.”
Ryan spoke of another study that showed that 30 percent of employees, on average, are actively engaged at work, while 50 percent are disengaged and doing “just the work required, because they don’t feel connected to the organization.” The bottom 20 percent, however, are the “toxic people,” who can suck the life out of a company.
“You can’t afford to have those people around. Think about it, when employees start leaving because of a toxic person influencing the company culture, who are those quitting? They are usually your best people,” Ryan said. “When that toxic person finally leaves, the rest of the employees are relieved.”
Ryan said it’s also important to not neglect the 50 percent of people who are disengaged and just doing the work required to get them by. She called those people “Steady Eddies.”
“‘Eddie’ comes to work, does his job, and is neither a rock star nor problem child. What you, as a company leader, want to do is go to ‘Eddie’ and say, ‘I really appreciate that you are here all of the time. Thank you,’” Ryan said. “You may be the first manager in Eddie’s life who recognized him. You have now given Eddie the tool he needs to move up to ‘rock star’ status at the company.
“If you start paying more attention to ‘Steady Eddies,’ instead of the top 30 percent of your workforce being engaged, maybe that level increases to 50 or 70 percent. Also, when you create that type of positive culture, the toxic employees at the bottom will start to leave. They can’t stand to be around too many positive people.”
NAVIGATE WORK/LIFE INTEGRATION
In summary, Ryan said it’s important for business owners and managers to continue looking for ways to connect with their employees and build relationships. That can include interaction away from the work setting.
“Many of your employees have best friends at work. How do those friendships happen? When they are doing stuff together,” she said. “It goes back to creating and building relationships.
“Also, what are you (as owners and managers) doing to serve the greater mission? How are you making a difference as a company? Are you giving your employees time off once a quarter, once a month or once a year to do volunteer work?” she said. “When you do something like that as an organization, in an effort ‘to give back,’ not only are you having new conversations with your people, but you are also building stronger overall relationships.”
Ryan added: “When you build trust, you inspire performance. When you help your employees to become better tomorrow than they are today, they are more engaged. When you acknowledge and applaud their efforts, they are proud to work for you. When you navigate that work/life balance, you reduce stress — both yours and theirs. When you get to know people, they feel important. And when you serve a greater mission, they feel included.”