The Skilled Employee Challenge

The Skilled Employee Challenge

This week, Ron Slee takes readers through the skilled employee challenge, after a particularly illumination conversation with a fellow industry professional.

Recently I had an online chat with a talented executive in this industry in which I have spent most of my career. After reading through the Job Shock series from Ed Gordon he posed an interesting and critically important question. How do we keep skilled employees? It has been reported from knowledgeable people that between 40% to 50% of the current workforce will be changing their employers over the coming decade for one reason or another. He wondered how he could avoid that kind of talent and experience loss in his group of businesses.

That is a tough question, isn’t it? Most of the exit interviews I have conducted over the years and research papers I have read indicate that the separations were caused primarily by the direct boss. Something was off with the relationship. Any separation should be respected and we should learn from it. What could we have done differently for you to stay?

My feeling personally as an employee in two dealerships was that I wanted to be given the opportunity to grow within the business. I wanted the company to provide me the chance to grow my skills and knowledge. Most of you know by now that I never had a performance review. I asked for one every year from every boss I ever had. I never got one. I strongly urge everyone reading this to reconsider the annual performance review. Sonya Law from Australia wrote about it last month and I have pounded on the desk with everyone one of my clients regularly to get them done. Please remember to conduct the performance review at a completely different time than the wage and salary discussions.

Asking the employee what they would like to see happen with their jobs, how they could be made better, what processes need to change, and that kind of discussion, needs to take place, in my mind, very frequently. We used to have weekly toolbox meetings on the shop floor. We have huddles in the warehouse. One of my clients had a morning session before work, before they opened the doors, that involved some exercises and stretching and then a group discussion of anything that anyone wanted to talk about at the time. Every morning.

Now we have a problem with this whole thing. It might be why the performance review doesn’t happen. Most of the people who have a team of workers reporting to them do not know how to conduct a performance review. They don’t want to allow the employees to ask for something that they are not aware is coming. They don’t want to have to allow for changes. They are to some degree comfortable with the status quo. Think about that for a moment. The employee is causing the boss to want to improve something and the boss doesn’t know how to deal with that. Imagine. I had an interesting exchange with a man who I had worked with for more than twenty years. I worked with him in Montreal, Quebec. I worked at attracting him to come work with me in Edmonton, Alberta and then to come to Denver, Colorado both moves which he made to my great appreciation. He was a very talented man. We were in a personal setting with our wives and I suggested to him that I wasn’t hard to work with anywhere that we had worked together. He started uproarious laughter. He completely disagreed with me. He said I was a very difficult person to work with and that completely surprised me. If that was true, I asked him why he stayed with me then. He responded simply because I was constantly searching for better ways to do things and that he loved that about me and the work we did together. I had to do some serious thinking about that one.

I still hold to some basic truths in life. Everyone wants to do a good job, BUT rarely does an employee get told what doing a good job looks like. Even more rarely does an employee get the opportunity to be able to evaluate their own performance on a daily basis because there are no objective metrics or measurements that are shared with each employee about their particular job. That is a truth that has always bothered me. I must have been a challenge. I was fired about six times by one of my bosses. He had a very short fuse. One time I even made it home. The phone was ringing when I got in the house and it was him wondering why I was at home. I told him he had fired me. He said emphatically “get back here right now.” I should tell you that if he were still alive and the phone rang and he said he needed me I would just ask where he was and I would be on my way there. I loved that man. He allowed me to be who I believe I was meant to be.

I don’t know that with the current leadership in business we have sufficient people skills to lead our teams of employees. Too many “bosses” – TELL people what to do. Too often the boss does not know how to do the job. They have never done it. They don’t ask for the employee to participate in making their work lives better.

I used to ask three questions about every six months of everyone I ever worked with:

  1. What do I do that you like that I do and you want me to continue to do?
  2. What do I do that you don’t like that I do and want me to stop doing it?
  3. What do I do that doesn’t really matter to you?

I would also ask each employee regularly, at least once each year what I called the Five Things. Put down on a piece of paper five answers to each of the following questions:

  1. What would you like to do to make your job more effective?
  2. What is it that you do that is a real pain to do?
  3. What would you like to change about your job to make your life easier?

There are two other pillars to my beliefs in people and their work:

  1. Everyone can do more than what they think they can.
  2. Everyone is fundamentally lazy

So that is the start of the answer to the question posed to me above. That is my immediate reaction without a lot of thought behind it. I want to think about it more and provide something more insightful in the coming weeks. But this is a start and I believe it is an important start. It starts with the “leaders.”

The time is now.

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