Managers are the key to recruiting and retaining employees

"Recruiting and retention" is the answer, "What is your biggest business issue this year?" is the question. No matter what part of the country I work in, employers of all sizes and in almost every industry are struggling to fill jobs with qualified people. What’s particularly interesting to watch is the approaches companies take to solve these problems. Some are looking for the quick fix and are not realizing this for what it is- the beginning of a sustained period of labor shortages that will require some systemic changes in the way employees are recruited, trained and retained.

In some cases I see similarities between the employee crisis today and the quality crisis of the 1980’s. Then, some companies were blowing off the need for quality products and services. They thought the quality scare would go away. They wanted a silver bullet, a quick fix. They hoped it was a passing business fad. Many of those companies have either gone out of business, or survived by playing catch up later, to meet the raised standards the consumer has come to expect.

The consumer this time is the American employee. They can pick and chose where they want to work. In some cases they are going to the highest bidder and/or to a place that meets their other important needs.

And that brings me to the subject of this column. One of the most important, long-term investments your company can make is to improve the quality of it’s managers. It’s not a quick fix; it’s one of the most important steps you can take for the long-term health of your business. Without good leadership, even if you recruit people you won’t be able to keep them, and the cost of that revolving door will bleed you dry.

Managers are the key link between the organization and the employee. Recruiting and retention problems begin to ease when a company becomes an "employer of choice" and builds a reputation for being a great place to work. But don’t kid yourself- even great companies with great leaders will see tough times ahead for recruiting and retaining employees. The difference is that the best companies to work for will be able to recruit the cream of the crop, get more out of them while they are there, and keep them just a little bit longer than their competitors.

Here’s what I see and hear on a regular basis: a company spends thousands of dollars running ads, going to career fairs and recruiting on college campuses. If they are lucky enough to hire a good candidate, the hiring manager heaves a sigh of relief and business goes on as before. Meanwhile, that excited new employee begins to grow disenchanted with the job, the boss, the company (any or all of the above) and leaves for greener pastures. Worse, experienced employees begin to leave, too, as companies steal the best employees from each other.

In a recent study by the Wall Street Journal recent job changers were asked what factors were most important in their decision to take their new job. Here are their responses, from most important to least important:

1.         Open communication
2.         Nature of the work
        Control over work content
4.         Job security
        Stimulating work
        Fringe benefits
        Flexible work schedule
8.         Advancement opportunity
      Size of organization

Most of these factors are in the hands of the employee’s immediate manager. These are the perceptions the employees had from the interview process and what they thought they knew about the company before they joined the organization.

Here are the reasons people leave their jobs, based on countless interactions with people who have written or spoken to us about their decision to leave:

1.         Lack of respect for the individual or for their contributions.
2.         Stagnation and lack of growth and challenge on the job.
3.         Poor communication about where the company was going, what they were  expected to do and how they were

4.         No involvement or employee participation in decision-making.

Again, the most common reason for taking or leaving a job, is the manager. So what can your company do to dig in to this issue and create a meaningful, systemic change in the way managers lead? Here are some thoughts:

§      Stop promoting people into managerial positions simply because they have more seniority or because they are the best technical performer. Instead, identify the critical leadership skills that are needed and build these competencies into your promotion criteria, training programs and performance reviews.

§      Give managers the training and support they need to do the job. Few people are fully equipped to step in and manage a dynamic work group. They need skill training, support groups, roundtables to discuss common issues, and a support staff of human resources and legal advisors who can help with tough decisions. They also need to have a voice in the policies they have to administer.

§      If your company has some poor managers who aren’t meeting the minimum standards that are required, do something about them. Do it for their own sake as well as for their employees and the company. These managers usually know they aren’t cut out for the job, and are often relieved to be reassigned. Sometimes they need to leave the company altogether. In any event, don’t look the other way and hope it goes away. It doesn’t. It grows like a cancer and can destroy your workplace. Decisions about who leads the people or your organization should carry the same weight as which capital investments you make or what direction your company will take in the future. Because in the next 20 years, people will be the key asset that will determine your success in the future.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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