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Retaining Top Talent, Part I

By Bridget McCrea

Top-tier employees are getting harder and harder to come by these days thanks to a recovering economy and companies’ growing need for skilled workers. The fact that the economy is in recovery mode is a double-edge sword for electrical distributors.

The onslaught of new business is more than welcome, of course, but staffing up has gotten somewhat more difficult in 2014. No longer compelled to hang onto their jobs for fear of not being able to replace their incomes, employees have more options at their avail and are readily exploring them.

By the Numbers
The labor market is on track to get even tighter as 2015 approaches. According to the recent Bloomberg article, Tight Job Market in U.S. Cities Prompts Higher Pay, companies across the U.S. from Texas to Virginia and Nebraska are struggling to fill positions as jobless rates hover below the 5.2 percent to 5.6 percent level the Federal Reserve regards as “full employment” nationally.

Competition for workers is prompting businesses to raise wages, Bloomberg reports, increase hours for current employees, add benefits, and recruit from other regions. The trend is expected to continue. “There are spot labor shortages that probably will broaden out over the next year as the job market steadily improves,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., in the article.

In Part I of this article series we’ll explore the key reasons for putting solid employee retention and training programs in place, and in Part II we’ll share some key strategies on putting this philosophy into action at your own distributorship.

The Grass is Greener
As the U.S. economy continues to emerge from a period where many employees were afraid of losing their jobs – or, that another would be difficult to find – industrial companies across most sectors are struggling with a shrinking pool of skilled labor. 

These and other factors have made recruiting, hiring, and retaining somewhat challenging for distributors. “You can’t have a great business without great people,” says Barry Maher, a Corona, Calif.-based business management consultant and author of Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business. “The idea that employees would stay put simply because they had jobs is going away; the labor market is better and people are starting to look around for better and/or different options.”

But finding new workers is just the first step of the employee onboarding process, according to Keith Rollag, an associate professor of management at Babson College in Babson Park, Ma. Electrical distributors also need to think about how to keep their workforces happy, motivated, and engaged – a process known as “employee retention.” Ignore this step, says Babson, and the time, money, and man-hours spent seeking out, interviewing, and hiring new workers will go to waste.

“When a company puts time and effort into hiring someone, it’s a tragedy not to fully onboard that person and help him or her create connections with fellow workers, the job, and the company itself,” says Rollag. “To be fully invested and onboard in a new job role, individuals have to feel like they’re part of a group – not outsiders.”

To avoid this “outsider” trap, Rollag says distributors should pay particular attention to a new worker’s first few weeks on the job. This critical juncture can make or break the new hire, he says, and leave him or her feeling either completely engaged and welcome, or totally out of the loop and frustrated. Simple steps like ensuring that the new employees has a desk and/or work area, the proper tools to the do the job right, and someone to sit with or talk to during lunch and breaks can all contribute to a positive “honeymoon period” for the employee.

“You can’t imagine the number of people I’ve talked to who didn’t even have a workspace or a computer on their first day on the job,” says Rollag. “That alone can make someone feel isolated and unwanted.” And remember, Rollag warns, that these days a new job is just a few clicks away on a computer. “When a star recruit feels disengaged and unwanted that early in the game,” he notes, “jumping ship doesn’t really take much effort.”

Creating a Support Structure
The biggest complaint that Thomas E. Boyce, president at the Center for Behavioral Safety, LLC, in San Carlos, Calif., hears from new employees is that they haven’t been adequately trained before being let loose to handle their new roles. In a distributorship, for example, an inside customer service representative may be asked to answers phone calls without proper training, while an outside sales rep may be thrown out into the field to start selling without ever receiving help, guidance, and support from a veteran salesperson.

“Companies tend to do the bare minimum needed to get their new workers comfortable and familiar with their new jobs,” says Boyce. “When things don’t work out, the tendency is to blame the employee rather than the ineffective system that the individual was brought into.” Boyce says distributors can overcome this challenge by carefully analyzing their current onboarding and training systems, identifying any “holes” that exist within these systems, and then finding ways to fill those gaps and ensure a better, more successful experience for new employees.

In many cases, Boyce says distributors may find that they’re missing key steps (such as pairing up new workers with mentors or “buddies,” or taking the time to better match workers up with assigned roles) early in the intake process.

Another good way to figure out which steps are being skipped is by conducting exit interviews with workers who decide to move on to different jobs. An outside salesperson, for example, may gripe about the fact that he didn’t get enough field training before being sent out on his first sales call. “Talk to your exiting workers about what could have been done differently,” Rollag says, “and then find ways to close those gaps the next time around.”

In the second part of this article we’ll explore the top ways that electrical distributors can ramp up their employee retention and training strategies in order to keep their top workers happy, engaged, and in place.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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