by Gregory P. Smith

Chart Your Course International, Inc.

Business leaders should realize creating a workplace that attracts, retains and engages their workforce is important no matter what the economy is doing. The key point to remember is talented and skilled people are always in demand. The more skill and talent they possess, the more likely they can leave you for another employer. Employers should not only be concerned about retaining the employees you have, but also focus on creating an environment that makes them as productive as possible during these troubled economic times.

During the last economic downturn, many employers took a short-term approach to managing the people side of their business. They cut back and downsized so severely that it forced those that remained to work two or more jobs. So, when the economy recovered, many of those alienated employees jumped ship just when their employer needed them the most. These actions can damage morale—preventing you from attracting new talent and retaining good people.

Provide a Positive Working Environment

Senior leaders that take personal responsibility for retention in their organizations have lower turnover and higher productivity than those that do not. Jim Goodnight is cofounder and president of SAS, one of the largest software development companies in the country. Their progressive work environment and host of family-friendly benefits keep their turnover rate far below the national average. Jim said, “My assets leave work for home at 5:00 or later each night. It is my job to bring them back each day.” Wise executives realize the responsibility for creating a positive work environment cannot be delegated. It starts at the top.

Recognize, Reinforce and Reward

Money and benefits are important factors in attracting and retaining people, but reward and recognition help meet that basic human need to feel appreciated and rewarded for what one does. A successful reward and recognition program does not have to be complicated or involve money to be effective.

“Talented and skilled people are always in demand. The more skill and talent they possess, the more likely they can leave you for another employer.”

Disney World views reward and recognition as key parts of the compensation package. An extensive program helps create a supportive environment, contributes to employee retention, and encourages employee engagement. They have over 20 different recognition programs such as ‘Applause-Ogram’ cards and ‘Thumbs-Up’ gift certificates provided to individuals. Additionally, each department has custom designed reward programs providing on-the-spot recognition. New employees are asked to participate in their own reward strategy by listing in their file the things they would like to be rewarded with; for example, time off, movie tickets, or public recognition. The highest form of public recognition is when top performing employees have their names stenciled on the storefronts along “Main Street,” stating they are the store proprietors.

Involve and Engage the Workforce

People may show up for work, but are they engaged and productive? People are more committed when there is a process for them to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

The Sony Corporation fosters the exchange of ideas within departments by sponsoring an annual idea exposition, during which scientists and engineers display projects and ideas they are working on. Open only to Sony’s employees, this process creates a healthy climate of innovation and engages all those who participate.

Develop the Potential of Individuals

Many people rate educational and training opportunities as ‘just as important’ as the money they make. In a study by Linkage, Inc. more than 40 percent of the respondents said they would consider leaving their present employer for another job with the same benefits if that job provided better career development and greater challenges.

Deloitte is listed as one of the ‘Top 100 best Places to Work.’ They discovered several years ago they were losing talented people to other companies. They conducted exit surveys and found 70 percent of those employees who left to take new jobs and careers outside the company could have found the same jobs and careers within Deloitte.

As a result they created Deloitte Career Connections, an intranet-based development and career coaching program for all employees. During the first week of implementation, over 2,000 employees took advantage of the program. Not only does the program provide new job and mentoring opportunities, but Career Connections offers a host of career development tools such as self-assessments, tools to develop resumes, and articles on various job seeking strategies within the company. Evaluate and Improve Continuously Someone said, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there.” The evaluation and improvement process must include important indicators such as turnover, employee attitudes, and how well managers are taking care of employees.

La Rosa’s is a chain of Italian restaurants in Ohio with over 5,000 employees. The company conducts an employee satisfaction survey once a year, which measures employees’ feelings about pay and benefits, care and recognition, etc. Additionally, all employees evaluate their bosses twice a year using an Internal Customer Satisfaction Index (ICSI). The ICSI has only four questions and asks the employees to give their managers a letter grade from A to D in four different categories. Any grade lower than a b requires additional comments.

Here is a checklist of items that should be included in your process.

  • Conduct exit interviews on the real reasons people leave your organization.
  • Ask employees who have been with your business longer than five years why they stay with you.
  • Ask new employees what attracted them to your business.
  • Evaluate which departments have better/worse retention rates than others.
  • Create a retention plan for those key individuals that have the greatest impact on profitability and productivity.

Gregory P. Smith

Gregory P. Smith

Chart Your Course International, Inc.

Greg Smith is the president and “Lead Navigator” of a management consulting company, Chart Your Course International, Inc., located in Atlanta. His 30 years of leadership and consulting experience have helped propel him as one of the nation’s leading authorities on leadership, employee retention, talent management, customer service and organizational performance. Visit our website,, to sign up for a free 7-lesson course on employee retention.