Matters Column

The ties that bind: employee retention

November 17, 2017
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People use quotes or phrases that they pick up along life’s path that get incorporated into their daily lives. They frequently spew them out without giving them much thought. It becomes a convenient way of communicating and perhaps even sounding somewhat intelligent. Perhaps now and then, we might stop to really consider what something means when it falls on the ears of others. The exact words may be consistent, but it is the historical context of the person who hears the words that actually shapes the meaning and their impact on the other person or people who are part of the conversation.

That is one of the critical aspects of communication, and unfortunately, when we speak or prepare a presentation, we generally only think about what we want to say and what message we want to get out. We rarely think in terms of the audience and their perceptions. When someone speaks of the “ties that bind,” they usually use it in the context of blood relations and marriages. These are relationships that are expected to endure, no matter what happens. However, as we know all too well, marriages are fragile, and it is often other matters that link people more closely than blood.

Whether we like it or not and whether we admit the connection, one of the most critical relationships we have is that of employer/employee. The wages, the status, the benefits we receive both directly and through government provisions, as well as operating schedules that influence our comings and goings, usually impact us in more ways than other ties which we treat as unbreakable. So why do we treat this relationship so casually or in some cases disrespectfully?

Who’s the responsible party?

When we speak of marriage, it usually is stated that it is a 50/50 relationship obligation. Does this same balance apply to the work relationship? When you inspect the day-to-day circumstances, you typically come away with a slightly different perspective. The perception is the boss or owner has all the power and the worker is expected to toe the line on whatever is the matter at hand. The actual responsibility balance is difficult to judge and may shift a little from organization to organization, but the control rarely approaches the 50/50 balance.

We just witnessed a very poignant example with the dispute on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. The owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair, made the very forthright statement, “We can’t have inmates running the prison.” Pretty clear how he sees the responsibility for the control of his business. For him, no one else has a vested interest in the team operations, and the players are just his means to an end. Such strong leadership is inspiring. He sees no one’s view but his own.

I may be wrong, but I suspect there will be very little loyalty among the troops, and the ties that bind likely will be hidden ropes that will attempt to constrain actions from time to time. This matter of control that some leaders guard so tenaciously seems like an attribute associated with items that are quantitative in nature and have a scarcity element. Consequently, if you give some of it away, you may have lost something valuable, which you can never get back.

However, if you are thoughtful, such as providing training and education when giving away or sharing some control, it typically comes back. It strengthens the ties to the organization. You don’t have to look very hard for the impact on the bottom line. You also don’t have spent time trying to corral employees or watching them to be sure they don’t stray from the organization’s objectives or looking out for those ropes that might entangle you in nonproductive circumstances. Employees want to be responsible, you just have to give them a chance.

Does performance management play a role?

One of the other critical elements of strengthening bonds with employees is communication. This topic is kicked around a lot and often is difficult to get your arms around to manage effectively. Part of the problem is organizations don’t tackle the communications matter as they do with other business problems. They don’t set clear objectives, or they are too general to facilitate effective solutions for specific situations. Secondly, they don’t establish measurable standards to determine if they actually achieved the objectives.

So, here is one strategy that can go a long way to solving the problem. Each time you begin to address a business problem, build in a response to these questions:

  • Who is the audience?

  • What do we need to tell them?

  • Do we need to do something to get their attention?

  • When should we begin to educate them?

  • Can they give us feedback?

  • How do we know they got the message? (Can you quantify this?)

The answers don’t have to be complex. But they will go a long way to achieve your objectives. In addition to alignment of the audience, there is a somewhat subtle transition that takes place. The audience will work with you even more effectively because you have shown them respect.

The action step

What does communication and employee retention have to do with performance management? Everything! Performance management is about alignment. It is about control. It is about development and training. It is reinforcement either positive or negative. How this is managed has an extensive impact on how the employee relates to the organization and management. If you shape the performance assessment around the primary objective, which is to create a two-way communication experience, it changes the entire process.

Going back to the basic objective of stronger relationships for the long haul, a review of your performance management tool can be a terrific place to start. When you do this, step one might be to get a picture in your mind of your spouse or significant other and then how you would shape this discussion with them. Then address how best to achieve the desired outcome and strengthen the bond between you. It’s the same with employees. Now picture how this would turn out when you use the existing process or form. Do you need your attorney or therapist?

Ardon Schambers is principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.

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