Stop Living Dangerously, and Start Managing Turnover

2001 was a tough year. Like many of you, I saw a lot of staff pack up and go, and the ones that remained had to work harder, smarter, and wider (doing extra things they didn’t do before). But when it comes right down to it, working harder, smarter, and wider isn’t really a bad thing. In the long run I would argue that going through this process makes your organization more efficient and resilient. But it doesn’t come without a price. By the time it’s all over, your staff has been through a fair amount of stress and uncertainty. That can ultimately take a toll on team morale, employee motivation, and staff longevity. So here we are in 2002. The industry pundits say it’s going to be a better year. The economy will pick up, hiring will pick up?? and guess what??? so will staff turnover. Staff turnover is expensive, and if you’re setting yourself up for a lot of staff turnover in the coming months, they you’re living dangerously. So as things improve in the economy, how do you minimize the impact of turnover on your organization? I have some ideas, but I also have some bad news: the answer to this problem can’t be implemented overnight. It might take weeks or months, or maybe even a year, to change your departmental or company culture. But it will be well worth it. With that said, the time to start working on this is now! Let me share some of my ideas with you. These are low-cost, real-life (albeit sometimes obvious) things you can start doing today: Engage Your Staff If your people don’t know you are out there, they certainly won’t bother to come see you when they have a problem or concern. Just as in sales, it’s all about relationships. Let them hear from you on a regular basis?? not just when you have some bad news to deliver. Consider these practical ideas on keeping them engaged:

  • Write handwritten notes on birthdays or work anniversaries. You will be surprised by how many of them you will see on people’s desks on a permanent basis.
  • Send out a daily or weekly trivia question, and then later in the day recognize all the staff members that got it right.
  • Pose an interactive “Question of the Day.” For example: “If someone gave you a million dollars right now and told you that you could buy anything in the world you wanted, as long as you did it in the next hour, what would you buy?” This is meant to elicit interdepartmental bantering back and forth. It’s very healthy, promotes creativity, and usually burns itself out in 15-30 minutes.
  • Meet with your team regularly. It can be a 15-minute meeting or an hour. The key is to meet regularly. Already on a regular schedule? Try varying your format. For example, to start your meetings, split everyone into three or four groups and give them an exercise or a brainteaser to do. It’s a great way to get people to wake up, interact, and think outside the box.
  • Walk the floor. Yes, walk the floor. In years past I think it was often referred to as MBWA?? “Managing By Walking Around.” A simple concept that works. It’s a great excuse to stop and chat, and it lets you see first hand what your people are doing at any moment in time. Need a reason to do it? Pick up that candy jar in your office and walk around and offer some to everyone. You don’t need all those extra pounds that candy represents anyway.

Communicate as Openly and Honestly as Possible Obviously, because of confidentiality, you can’t tell people everything. But tell them what you can:

  • Share the good news. I am certain you can find a metric that you track that would be of interest to everyone.
  • Share some bad news. It helps for your staff to know what you are dealing with and what went wrong. The good news is that they will often amaze you by producing solutions to your problems.
  • Share the difficult news too. These might be issues of group dynamics or behavior. Let the group know if as a whole they are making too many personal calls or coming in late too often. Sure, many of these are individual problems and should also be dealt with individually, but there is nothing wrong with letting everyone know what you expect of them.

Invest In Your People Any Way You Can Okay, in these times of tight budgets, what can you do? I say get creative!

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  • Offer training. Everyone appreciates being sent to an expensive, specialized training program out of the office that will put a certification next to his or her name. I say do it, when you can. But when you can’t, look at some of the lower cost, larger venue events that are designed to improve motivational, organizational, and interpersonal skills. Some of these can be purchased for a hundred dollars or less per person.
  • Consider interdepartmental cross-training. Let your own people share their job knowledge about what they do with others in the group. It will result in a great backup system in times of emergency.
  • Implement a series of lunchtime seminars led by your staff. Topics might be work-related, but then again, maybe not (e.g.: scrap booking, stamp collecting, or investing). Remember, everyone is an expert on something, and very often they would like to share it with others. It’s also a great way to find out about some of the hidden talents your staff possesses.
  • Invite and host a speaker from another department to come share information about what they do. This educates, entertains, and helps to break down those cross-departmental barriers.
  • Develop an exchange or apprentice program with another department. Find another manager that cares about their staff as much as you do, and design a program that allows you to share resources on regular basis.
  • Implement a group incentive program for your staff that rewards exceptional performance. The added productivity or quality you reap will pay for the program several times over.

Remind Your People They Are Special Do the little things that show you care:

  • Meet with your people individually on a regular basis. If you have never done this, in some ways it can be scary. What will I talk about? How will I break the ice? Will my employee trust me to talk honestly and openly? The first one will be tough, but they will get easier. You’ll be surprised how much more connected you will be to your people. Try to do it at least once a year, but probably not more than twice a year. Just five to thirty minutes where they have your undivided attention to tell you how they are doing and what is going on in their lives. And by the way, turn off that cell phone of yours and don’t take any calls or entertain any interruptions. Make sure everyone knows it’s a “do not disturb” time!
  • Start a monthly creative writing contest and make participation mandatory. Select a different topic each month. Offer a small prize to the winner. You be the judge and share the winning submission with everyone.
  • Consider instituting a special snack time for the group once a week or once a month. This takes no more than ten minutes out of the day. You can surprise them with a different snack each time, or ask them all to sign up and show off their baking prowess. Pick a different location each time for the meeting area. This could be someone’s desk or a different location within the department. This will help keep it interesting.
  • Celebrate the holidays. Organize a food drive at Thanksgiving, send everyone a Valentine, orchestrate a visit by the Easter Bunny, etc. Make your department the fun place to work in the company.

Doing any of these things takes energy from you. It takes time out of your day when you already feel stressed out with too little time to complete all the things on your plate. You’ll also do battle with human nature itself: the more things you do for people, the more they seem to expect from you. So pace yourself and shuffle your initiatives around on a regular basis to keep things interesting. I promise you though, if you can focus on these four concepts, you’ll spend much less time later this year listening to someone tell you why they are unhappy in their job, or trying to talk someone out of resigning, or interviewing candidates to fill an open position. It won’t be a year of living dangerously for you?? you’ll have a full complement of staff on hand to help you take advantage of new opportunities later in the year.

Andy Cimowsky is the vice president of client services at ComputerJobs.com. Over the past 20 years, Andy has worked with numerous software and technology companies in the areas of software implementation, project management, TQM, and customer service.

ComputerJobs.com is an employment website for IT professionals and the pioneer of regional and skill-based IT job sites. In business since early 1995, ComputerJobs.com hosts 20 regional job sites in all major metropolitan areas of the U.S., as well as 18 skill sites that target today's technology skills.

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