I’m not sure there ever was a time when businesses could be sloppy, but that time is definitely not now.
Even industries once considered as “choice” like technology face so much competition and challenge today that less than maximum efficiency is rarely acceptable. Small and medium-sized companies in particular must wring every ounce of efficiency possible from their people and systems. Organizations that don’t, just won’t be around long.
This may sound backwards, but one of the first things you need to consider is keeping your staff around. Assuming you don’t have any truly bad apples (more on that in a minute), you should spend considerable time and effort retaining the staff you have.
Certainly, there are some days where you feel like doing away with the entire group. But most owners and managers realize that staff turnover, retraining and related issues are a major drain on company revenue and other resources. In some cases, losing the wrong person can lead to other losses as your remaining staff tries to pick up the slack and morale suffers.
One study estimates that finding a replacement for a given employee requires approximately 20 percent of the employee’s annual salary. Even if the cost is lower, it’s better to do everything possible to keep quality staff onboard. Especially with your top performers, they’re worth the effort.
The good news is that employee retention is not a problem solved solely by throwing money. Certainly, competitive pay and benefits are important, but many studies and a great deal of experience indicate that some “free” investments make a big difference. Consider a few examples:
- Talk to your staff. Talking, and listening to your team is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make. First, you’ll both benefit from a two-way conversation. And when you spend a few minutes with a staff member, you’re not only talking about the subject at hand, you’re communicating that you consider that person valuable. That can be invaluable in terms of morale and motivation.
Additionally, staff members are the ones who know the most about many areas in which they work. If you want to gain some ideas about improving office efficiency, individual staff members may not know everything, but they’re often a good place to start. Remember that when you’re trying to find a few minutes to talk with one.
- Keep the office atmosphere positive. Sure, it’s work, not a vacation. But ensuring that the office environment is positive and free of chronic tension is important. This can be a difficult, complex issue, but eliminating things like bullying and harassment are good for morale and efficiency, let alone reducing lawsuits and fines. If nothing else, these are distractions you can’t afford.
I’m occasionally confronted with clichéd responses when I question the atmosphere around some organizations. “Boys will be boys.” “It’s always been that way.” You get the idea. The truth is, if one person is uneasy because of off-color, racist or other juvenile behavior, odds are that many more feel the same way, but fear speaking out. The problem for a manager is, that unease affects work. Instead of feeling like they are part of a team, people are going to work dreading confrontation, even when they are not the target. Don’t let that persist.
- Finally, consider releasing employees who don’t pull their weight. This may sound like a contradiction, but the best way to keep your good employees is often to reduce or eliminate those who aren’t producing effectively and supporting the organization.
I want to stress I’m not suggesting cutting staff left and right. If at all possible, you don’t want to fire anyone. Whether an individual is actively antagonistic to the office mission, or it’s someone who just doesn’t produce well enough, pursue a negotiated separation if at all possible. It’s easier for you, better for the organization and much better for the employee.
A negotiated separation offers a win-win advantage for both employers and employees. A flat-out termination is a win-lose situation that the employee can turn against the employer by filing wrongful discharge for up to two years after the termination. A settlement might at first seem more expensive but it’s often the lower cost option.
There are more potential tips, but all relate to a bit of creative thinking that can help the bottom line of most workplaces. To balance the budget, sometimes you must look past the dollars and cents.