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How to Keep Your Best Employees


December 3, 2013

I’ve read several articles on why companies lose their best employees. While that’s helpful, I’d like to see a more positive selection of ideas for how to keep good people. Any ideas?

It seems simple on the surface: Don’t train? Forbid personal activities between 9 and 5 while demanding that people work on weekends? Place jerks in management? We’ve found your problem.

I want to say “duh” to a lot of these tips, but as obvious as it seems that you shouldn’t do these things, many companies do.

Let’s just take the three examples I cited. Of course you should train people, but it takes time and money. Of course you should be flexible about time, but clients are making demands. Of course you shouldn’t put jerks in charge, but sometimes the jerk is already there.

We largely know what we should and shouldn’t do. Perhaps the more valuable advice would come from someone who can tell us how to consistently do the right things and avoid doing the wrong things.

In my experience, hanging on to good people becomes easier when a few simple factors are present:

  • They trust you.
  • They have confidence in both the stability and the vision of the organization. (Both are crucial, because an exciting long-term plan is hard to embrace if you’re not sure you’re going to make payroll this week.)
  • They like what they’re doing and feel they are in a position to succeed at it.
  • They can see their way forward to future opportunities that they want.
  • They’re satisfied with what you’re paying them.

Those four factors result from doing things right. They require your honesty, vision, commitment to training (and the resources for it), wisdom in choosing your management team, flexibility, trust — and your overall effectiveness in leading the organization.

Achieving these conditions requires a genuine commitment to good leadership of your team.

And let’s face it: Not every agency owner has this. For some folks, it’s just not who they are. They can nod their heads at all the platitudes about how their people are their greatest assets, and they might even say it in client presentations. But it’s not sincere.

If you just don’t inherently believe in the value of your team, it probably doesn’t matter how many tips you read. Without a change of heart, there’s not much anyone can say that will make you a good leader.

But most agency leaders are not like that. Most really do value their people, want to train them, lead them, keep them and reward them. And in theory, they are totally committed.

That said, much of what we do depends on what circumstances allow.

You want to let people spend time in training, but there are those deadlines. And you want to pay great salaries and offer generous benefits — if only that one delinquent client would send the check, if only we hadn’t lost that account, if only we didn’t need to invest in this new technology. You get the picture.

You have to care

So here’s the problem with everything I just wrote: It reflects reality, and you know it does, but you can’t use any of it as an excuse.

You have to give your people the opportunity to succeed, or they’ll leave. The realities of business make it difficult, so find a way to tackle these challenges.

Companies with leaders who understand the value of people keep their people. You know what you have to do. But first, you have to run your organization well enough that you can do those things.

But most important, you have to care. Because that’s the reason you’ll work hard enough to make it happen.
 

Ann Willets Ann Willets is president and CEO of Utopia Communications, Inc., an ethically focused PR agency. She was the 2010 chair of the Counselors Academy.
Email: askthepro at prsa.org



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