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Building a successful business comes with a myriad of challenges, but I’ll argue that retaining amazing staff over long periods of time is in the top three … but not for me.
In 2022, about 50.5 million Americans quit their jobs, which was 2.7 million more than the number of Americans quitting in 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. But even more shocking is the fact that both 2021 and 2022 were record-breaking years respectively, seeing the highest numbers of quits in history since the BLS started tracking the figure back in 2001. These are the years economists are calling the “Great Resignation.”
So, how does a business owner achieve the goal of attracting and keeping the best talent amidst these nationwide quitting trends?
When I started my business, PostcardMania, my tiny team was made up of three people I trusted to help make my dream a reality — an assistant, a designer and a salesperson. My current president, Melissa Bradshaw, started out as my assistant at the early age of 19 in 1998 and now runs the core operations of my company. She has worked in almost every department at PostcardMania and is an incredible leader and friend.
Selecting the right people is incredibly important, and it’s one of the reasons we have been able to increase our staff retention year over year — by 5% from 2021 to 2022. We even increased the number of people working long-term at PostcardMania (for five years or more) by 12%. And last but not least, we increased retention in our sales department — an area with notoriously higher turnover — by 15% last year.
While reflecting on my 25-year journey of growing a three-person team to a 350-member team, three insights stand out to me as the ultimate keys to retaining quality talent. Follow them, and I bet you’ll witness a rise in overall employee happiness and a decrease in turnover.
Related: Employee Retention: 4 Tips to Help Keep Your Top Talent
1. Develop a mission statement for your business, and hire those who truly believe in it
Arguably the most famous walk-out scene in cinema history is in Jerry Maguire, which is based on real-life sports agent Leigh Steinberg. In the movie, Jerry writes an impassioned, 25-page mission statement for the company he works for, Sports Management International, and then sends it to every employee.
While the majority of staff applaud his work, it ends up getting him fired. As Jerry walks out of the office, he says he is going to start his own company and asks if anyone is willing to come with him to create something “…real, fun and inspiring.” He leaves with one person and a goldfish.
Even though many of Jerry’s coworkers said they believed in his mission to focus on people first, only one of them took action and walked away.
Do your current employees truly believe in your company’s mission statement, or are they just sitting in their chair for a reliable paycheck? Do you even have a mission statement or purpose?
And I don’t mean something like this: “We provide the best customer service,” or “Our product is better than our competitor’s.”
A mission statement should reach beyond just your business to encompass something that can benefit others — humankind, the planet, etc. — in a deep and meaningful way. This will help distinguish your business from a sea of other employers so that you aren’t competing on pay, benefits and other work incentives alone.
At PostcardMania, our mission is to be the absolute best at helping small businesses master their marketing and achieve success so that they can grow, which in turn leads to more jobs and more money in our local communities — and it also strengthens our national economy. That is our company’s greater purpose, and we prioritize hiring people who truly believe in it.
Whatever your mission is, make it clear and inspiring. Then ask candidates when they apply why they want to work for you and if they care about fulfilling that mission.
I think Jerry Maguire nailed it when he said, “The key to this business is personal relationships.” Focus on building a loyal team of people who believe in what you are accomplishing, and they’ll stick with you for years, even decades, of their lives.
Related: 3 Ways Leaders Can Boost Employee Retention
2. Promote from within to ensure staff have something to strive for
Even if your employees believe in your mission, they still may not stay if there isn’t room for growth in their careers. Giving your staff as many opportunities as possible to get promoted or learn a new role will give them incentive to stay.
In 2022, we promoted 91 staff members to either manager roles or higher-paying positions, and 19 current employees were promoted to managers — we didn’t hire a single new manager; they were all internal promotions.
First and foremost, I promote internally. Why? Because hard work should always be rewarded, and investing in your current employees will pay off in the long run. Plus, it’s just smart — they already know all about the company!
You can accomplish this by following these steps:
Analyze your staff’s strengths and weaknesses and leverage them to facilitate effective team management:
A good starting point is to review every staff member’s role and then identify how that person can use their strengths to grow that particular role and overcome any weaknesses. It could be that the individual isn’t truly right for that role and needs to move into another area, they could need more training, or their tasks might need to be restructured to enact more efficiency. Let the individual know what they can do in order to succeed in their job, and a good team member will take steps to be better.
Create new roles that team members can move into if needed, and always announce new internal promotions:
Your employees may not even know they can get promoted. Show them they have the opportunity to move up by announcing promotions within the company and applauding everyone for their hard work. You can also tell them that you are willing to create a new managerial role for them if they work toward certain goals.
Devise a step-by-step system that trains workers into managers:
What does it take for your staff members to get promoted? Do they know what they need to do? I suggest creating a “pathway to management” course that employees are free to take and outlines for them exactly what it takes to enter a supervisory role. We did this a few years ago, and it’s great! It tells us who is truly interested in moving up! People don’t know what they don’t know, so make every opportunity for success available to them, and then it will be fully up to them to take it or not.
Related: Why a Positive Company Culture Is the Key to Employee Retention
3. Create a work environment that prioritizes praise and eliminates office politics
One of the main reasons I started my own business was because I wanted to create a happy and healthy work environment where there was zero office politics and zero negative chatter. You may be doubtful that achieving this is even possible, but I created a Zero Office Politics Policy at my company, and I enforce it diligently.
Basically, the policy is that employees are expected to be kind to others and work out conflicts directly as quickly as possible without office gossip or backstabbing behavior. The result has been nothing short of incredible as I have watched over the years as new and old employees show gratitude for creating a workplace that is drama-free.
Not only have my employees shared with me how good it feels to come to work without office politics, but they also often admit how unappreciated they felt in their former jobs. Their bosses never once said, “Good job!” or “I appreciate you on our team.” Showing appreciation for your employees regularly is another key point to retaining staff. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, yet it can be easy to forget amongst the everyday hubbub of owning and running your own business.
According to a Pew Research Center study, 57% of Americans quit their jobs in 2021 because they felt disrespected at work. Respect starts with valuing a person for their talents and capabilities and then showing it.
Whether the employee is a star player or a work in progress, you can always find something that deserves praise. A simple “Hey, you did amazing on that project” could be the difference between whether the employee comes to work happy or miserable.
Appreciation also doesn’t have to stay within the manager/employee relationship either. Give all of your staff opportunities to show appreciation for their coworkers, too! We set aside 15 minutes at our weekly company meeting to allow anyone to share accolades of the week. Some folks are shy about speaking in front of the group, so we encourage them to email their positive comments if that’s the case, and I read them aloud to the group.
Verbal accolades are just the start, too. Develop a reward system where hard work results in gift cards, free lunches or other prizes.
I asked my public relations director, who has been at the company for 13 years, why she has stayed, and she said, “It boils down to really responsive, open and caring management. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t discuss something with my boss, and it was nice to come into a positive and comfortable work atmosphere every day.” Your staff spend the majority of their lives at your company, so creating a positive, not oppressive, work environment is crucial to overall employee happiness.
At the end of the day, if someone does decide to walk out of your company with their briefcase and a goldfish, at least you can say you did everything within your power to make their experience at your company rewarding and worthwhile.
What do you think makes the biggest difference in employee retention? I hope you gained some insight from my experience as a business owner and try using these tactics in your workplace. Keep testing out different methods, ask for feedback, and never stop investing in the people who hang their hat at your business.