If a service company’s number one asset is its people, there is no more important topic than “How to Attract and Keep Staff.” The challenges of finding, hiring and keeping the best staff—at a cost that still fits within the overall financial plans of the company —are universal to all companies, but particularly important for managementfirms.
The first challenge for a management company owner is to ponder what he or she is looking for in a potential employee. What does an ideal employeelook like?
The second challenge for the owner is to consider why someone would want to be an employee in the first place. What does the candidate want to get out of working?
While both of these questions appear elementary, a company owner who thinks through these issues in greater depth is more likely to find employeeswho can provide the “right” service to the customers at the “right” cost, with reduced turnover in both employees and customers.
Attributes of an Ideal Employee
So what does an ideal employee look like?
An ideal employee is someone who has the right mix of skills, experience and attitude that increases the likelihood that existing customers will want to stay (and lead to more prospects joining as customers). In my experience, I perceive that most employers hire for skills and experience, when in fact, attitude is the most critical of the threekey factors to predict success. Why? Common sense—you can train someone so that their skill set improves and over time, their experience will increase.
Yet when was the last time you had success fundamentally changing someone’s core attitude? Take a look around your firm and the other firms you have worked with in the past. If you were starting from scratch, who would you place on your team? Who would you fire? Now note why you feelthat way. Is it due to skills, experience or attitude?
Now think about your firm’s hiring checklist. What questions do you ask? Are any questions focused on attitude? If not, why not? When I speak to most candidates, they comment that my questions are very different from the typical, “How many years at X firm, what software have you used,” and other standard resume questions. I havelearned to ask open-ended questions that get behind the resume, behind the façade created by the interviewee.
While nearly any open-ended question would be helpful, we tend to ask candidates to talk about their worst and favorite jobs, bosses, customers, without noting names, as we are looking for what truly makes these candidates tick. We ask them about their “interests” noted on their resume. Are any of these interests true passions? We ask them about their strengths and weaknesses. We ask them to image and clarify: what would a perfect boss look like? A perfect firm? What would they like to improve about their own skill set if we could give them a magic wand?
Since no one would possibly be ready to give canned answers to such “oddball” open-ended questions, the interviewer gets to see behind the candidate’s façade, so that the real person emerges.
What Makes a Firm Attractive?
Now on the flip side, why should the right candidate select your firm and then want to stay with your firm?
Survey after survey, over many decades, shows a major disconnect between what bosses and workers perceive as priorities. Most bosses perceivethat the number one criterion for employees is pay. Yet most surveys show pay as the third or fourth most important criteria that an employee is looking for in a job. For a company to succeed long-term, it must understand what workers want and then consistently meet those needs.
So what are those needs of employees? Survey after survey notes that workers are looking for: respect/appreciation, enjoyment, ability to learn, compensation, stability, and shared core values.
While the financial compensation must be reasonable, for most workers, a 10% pay increase at a firm where it is not enjoyable to work will not significantly reduce employee turnover. And the employees who leave are mostoften the best employees–those who have strong bonds with the other workers and the key customers.
Research has increasingly shown that the trend of financial rewards not dominating the employee’s hot list is accelerating. Someone from the Depression era, born in the ‘30s, would place money higher on the list than someone from the “Me Generation,” born from 1946–1964, which places self-fulfillment as a top priority. The newer employees from Generation X, born in the late 1960s through the early‘80s, are more likely to seek that elusive work-family balance as a priority.
How to Address Needs
How do your company’s policies address these concerns?
Without getting into compensation ranges and strategies, it is fair to say that my philosophy is to pay competitively, and provide additional financial incentives for those positions where theworker has control over the outcome and results can be clearly measured. In such situations, if an alignment of goals can be achieved, then “incentive bonuses” can have a role.
But on the more elusive non-financial issues, we spend a tremendous amount of resources (and energy) on trying to have fun, respecting all employees, investing in learning, showing financialstability and being consistent with core values.
So what are the results? In an era when it’s very hard to find quality workers, here are some recent hires:
• Ex-employee leaves successful job with union membership, taking a cut in benefits and pay to become director of maintenance, as he is tired of being disrespected at work.
• Trilingual worker with six job offers selects our firm, despite longer commute.
• Bilingual worker found by ex-trustee, who knew we needed a new receptionist, as the trilingual employee hired a short timeearlier was being promoted.
• Maintenance person who is active in his church recommends one helper, who succeeds, and both recommend another person to work over the summer, part-time.
• General manager of landscaping firm is aware that the building super of our second-largest client is going back to Brazil and helps find someone who shares our values of honesty, hard work and teamwork.
The bottom line is that business leaders must care about the bottom line. However, the best way to protect and then improve your bottom line is to find, attract, and retain motivated, friendly, skilled workers who can provide superior service to your customers, so that you have a lower turnover in clients.
Since long-term clients, more than anyother factor, facilitate higher margins, focusing on having happy, long-term employees is a classical win-win-win for the customers, the employees and the company owners.