Keeping good workers happy

Know who your workers are and play to their strengths.

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October 18, 2018

Steven Cesare doesn’t mince words when it comes to employee retention.

The Harvest Group’s human resources director said bad employees should go – they’re just sucking the blood from your company, or they’re deadwood. Meanwhile, he said employers shouldn’t pretend their best workers aren’t looking for better jobs elsewhere.

Keeping those star employees comes down to the leadership team, reinforcement and engaging work environment. Cesare said all of that lands on the culture the person in charge creates.

“You’re not the boss, you’re not the supervisor, you’re a coach,” Cesare said. “Get off your high horse. Coach them. If they don’t trust you, you’re shot to hell.”

During a session at the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ LANDSCAPES 2018 event, Cesare revealed a performance planning matrix, which tasks employers with placing each of their employees somewhere along the spectrum. He says employees who are both underperforming and lack promotion potential are deadwood and employers should start seeking to replace them.

Those who have potential but are underperforming are known as problem employees, and Cesare recommends establishing a three- or six-month development plan to diagnose what’s gone wrong. He said employers shouldn’t be psychoanalysts, but they should at least determine if a problem is fixable or not.

 Those who put in daily grind but won’t ever have promotion potential are “work horses,” and Cesare said companies should never let those employees walk. He said they just want occasional public recognition and reasonable pay, so don’t ever think of them as just a hard-working employee. Finally, employees who exhibit both potential and quality work are “stars.”

“These folks need a development plan. You don’t want them to get bored,” Cesare said. “If they don’t see a career path or career ladder, they’re going to get that wandering eye.”

Cesare said employees shouldn’t know about their score on this honest company evaluation process. He recommends writing every employee’s name on the matrix and pairing it with their salary – employers can then see what effort they’re buying on payroll.

To improve retention, Cesare encouraged prompt coaching and precise language. He recommends anything from 30-day and 90-day reviews with employees, public recognition for quality work and offering occasional bonuses. He said employees who feel engaged at work are less likely to just go through the motions, and they’ll perform their work with discretionary effort. They could choose not to put in that extra work, but they do it because they care about their job.

“You want that emotional engagement … otherwise they’re zombies,” Cesare said. “That connection is going to keep the stars happy.”

Retention success comes down to recruitment and replacement plans, which Cesare said all go hand-in-hand. For example, recruiting a good employee without planning for ways to keep that worker creates an inverted business model. Without constantly evaluating a company’s recruiters, a company could be turning off potential hires, which will be a problem when that company’s best employees inevitably leave. Cesare recommends studying recruiting trends, such as SEO postings, videos on social media, and developing clear distinction from the competitors.

Cesare said employers should ask themselves if their stars feel appreciated at work or if they trust the company management team, and if they don’t, figure out how to fix it so those workers don’t leave. Planning for a backup plan if those employees do leave is also critical: Could your company still function the same without your top three employees?

“Always be recruiting,” Cesare said. “Those top three people are thinking about leaving if they get a better offer. Don’t be reactive.”