Communicating as a Leader

Retention: if you Don’t Love ‘em, Someone Else Will

Leaders for Today asked:

Rachel Simmons prides herself on being able to recruit top nurses to her hospital. The 47 year old nurse recruiter had great rapport with candidates because of her 10 years of experience as a pediatric nurse. She understood the stress, responsibilities, and rewards inherent in the nursing profession. In short, she could convince her candidates that the hospital would be a great place for them to work.

The hospital’s problem was that the nurses Rachel hired rarely remained with the large, acute care facility for more than a year, and in some cases,

less than six months.The community was becoming aware of the hospital’s “revolving door”, and

patients would often ask about

since-departed nurses who had

cared for them on a previous

visit. In addition, fewer nurses

were responding to Rachel’s

position ads, and she was forced to hire outside recruiting firms to find candidates, adding significant cost to an already very challenging problem.

Does this story sound familiar? Nurses are not the only class of hospital employees that are hard to retain. As their pool of skilled talent shrinks, most industries struggle with keeping staff, but service industries, such as healthcare and restaurants, are especially vulnerable.

Rachel wanted to get to the bottom of why her nurses were leaving. When she reviewed six months worth of nurse exit interviews conducted by another member of the human resources team, a pattern emerged. Of the eight nurses who left during that period, one said he was leaving for more pay and another was leaving because her husband had been transferred out of state. But the other six all cited issues with their supervisors, ranging from inadequate feedback and a hostile work environment to a perceived lack of trust.

Why Do Workers Leave Organizations?

According to Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordon-Evans, authors of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em — Getting Good People to Stay, employees leave an organization for many different reasons. Workers often cite insufficient feedback and face-to-face time with managers as key reasons, as well as their sense that, as Rodney Dangerfield always said, “I don’t get no respect.”

Employees apparently really

value “good bosses“—those who

take the time to develop and

encourage their workers. It is

often said that people don’t leave

jobs; they leave their bosses, and

this certainly seems to ring true.

And it’s not just a matter of keeping your workers on your payroll. You want them engaged, i.e. actively committed to doing a good job and to the organization. In a study published by Towers Perrin in 2004, only 14 percent of workers worldwide are fully engaged on the job and willing to “go the extra mile” for their company. This idea of the engaged employee dates back to the mid-1940s with Peter Drucker’s classic, The Concept of the Corporation. Prior to Drucker, employees were rarely, if ever, seen as essential assets to a company, but rather as cogs in a wheel that could be easily and quickly replaced at any time. Drucker, without question the first guru of business management, put forth the concept that employers could achieve sustainable profits only by treating employees as valuable resources.

Retention Lessons From The

Restaurant Industry

Clearly, keeping talent engaged, happy and productive should be job one at your organization. It is a priority at Blue Ginger, a well-known Asian-American restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where Chef Ming Tsai’s management team has stayed well over the industry standard of two years. According to Chef Ming, good retention starts with good hiring. “I screen for attitude when hiring,” said Chef Ming. “I can teach just about any necessary skill to my employees, but I can’t teach attitude.”

Chef Ming focuses on all aspects of his business, but especially when it comes to his staff. He is involved in almost all hiring decisions, and asks potential candidates for a commitment to him of two years—an eternity at most restaurants. Even though such a commitment can’t be enforced, it sets a high level of expectation that permeates the Blue Ginger team. Employees get the immediate sense that commitment to the job is a requirement, not an option.

Chef Ming’s concern for whom he hires reflects his personal commitment to the individuals he invites into his culinary dynasty. During the interview, Chef Ming also outlines career paths for those coming on board. He lets line cooks know they can move up to sous chef, and waiters can move into management. In fact, Chef Ming rarely hires management from the outside, and instead typically promotes from within. This can be a powerful recruiting and retention tool.

In the language of human resources professionals, this is called “career pathing.” It involves letting employees know explicitly where they can aspire to be within a certain timeframe, and under what circumstances. It is this knowledge that enables employees to see their advancement opportunity, and understand that their organization values and nurtures its employees.

Another restaurant that has fared very well with employee retention is Bob Chinn’s Crab House in Wheeling, Illinois.With 350 employees and a number four ranking in sales nationwide, this small restaurant is truly a giant within its class. It attributes its turnover rate of 38% (whereas 100% annual turnover can be the norm) to its English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Bob Chinn’s employees attend classes before reporting to work for the lunchtime shift and meet twice a week for independent study.

In addition to keeping employees engaged, the ESL program has improved communication, employee productivity, morale and teamwork within the restaurant. As a result, workers share a common language, processes become faster without the need for several translations, self-esteem is built gradually as language skills improve, and working well together in the classroom extends naturally to the restaurant floor.

Crab House workers have reason to believe that management

truly cares about them by providing the means

to improve their lives. The outreach reflects a great deal

of sensitivity and the respect management holds for its

employees. The effort doesn’t just

help the employees. Decreased

errors in reading and distribution of

food orders result in a significant

increase to the bottom line.

The restaurant business face is similar to healthcare in

terms of stress levels, fast pace, customer satisfaction and

narrow profit margins. Both industries employ unskilled

workers and depend on their

good service to make customers

feel taken care of,

whether it be an anniversary

dinner for 12 or the birth of

a child.

Of course, restaurants and

hospitals also employ highly

skilled contributors whose

service can make or break the

organization. Executive chefs,

sommeliers, and managers

with years of industry experience

are highly sought after,

and offer tremendous value to

their restaurants. Physicians,

nurses and multiple layers of

administration provide the

infrastructure required to keep

a hospital running well and in

the black.

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