Employee Retention: Big Company Tactics for Small Businesses

By: Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer

First, the bad news about employee retention. According to a recent Monster study on employee loyalty, 82% of surveyed employees have updated their resume in the past six months. Moreover, a whopping 59% say they are looking for a job “all the time.”

This crisis in employee retention is obviously a huge headache for employers who need to keep A-players in place to achieve business goals. (If you’re constantly recruiting and training new hires, that’s time spent away from your customers, right? Not good.)

The pressure is even greater for small businesses, which often compete for talent against larger organizations with more resources to lure them away. This begs the question: What are they doing you’re not?

Certainly employee compensation is a factor — but when it comes to keeping staff loyal — the real power lies in employee engagement.

Often, the level of investment an employee makes in your business is directly proportional to how much you’re willing to invest in them. This is where small businesses can take a page from “big company” playbooks and implement programs that are proven to increase overall employee retention rates. Here are a few of the best for your consideration:

Leadership Academies
Will Sutton, Executive Vice-President of BB&T, credits the bank’s internal Leadership Development Program for significantly boosting employee retention rates. “We studied retention levels over a five year period and found that — for graduates of the Leadership Development Program — the rate was 76%.” Notably, Sutton says this is 45% higher than the average retention rate for new employees who do not come through the program.

Once participants are accepted, they commit to full-time learning for ten months at BB&T University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The curriculum is broken down into four phases,” says Sutton. “In the first phase we work on developing leadership skills and banking knowledge.”

The second phase includes core competencies where participants learn more about their specific program track — commercial, retail, or corporate. “We use the third phase to really drill down into the skills needed to succeed in each track; in the fourth phase, all participants are brought together again and given the opportunity to run their own bank through an online simulation.”

While the Leadership Development Program represents a considerable up-front investment in new staff, Sutton believes it’s worth it, especially when compared to the cost of high turnover. “Pay now,” he says, “or pay later.”

Formal Mentoring Programs
Sodexo is another organization seeing real bottom-line employee retention benefits that come from staff development. The food and facilities giant offers a mentoring program that Jodi Davidson, Director of Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives, says reaps a 2-to-1 return on investment.

“Our studies show that for every one dollar we invest in the program, we get two dollars back in things like reduced turnover, increased productivity, increased customer satisfaction, and more efficient management overall.”

Davidson says a big key to the program’s success is the support provided by Sodexo’s mentoring implementation team. “We check-in with each pairing at the two month mark just to see how things are going,” she says. “If it’s what we call a ‘red-flag’, the team will step in with additional coaching and a bit more follow-up.”

If the relationship is progressing and set goals are being met, the mentoring implementation team will reach out again with email surveys at six months, twelve months, and six months after the program is complete.

Sodexo also hosts webinars at the four and eight month mark for additional training on communication and strategic leadership. “The Spirit of Mentoring program provides both professional and personal development for our employees,” says Davidson.

“Mentees are achieving their goals and gaining self-confidence, while mentors are honing their communication and leadership skills, and have the opportunity to ‘give back’.”

Internal Recognition
If creating a full-scale development program is more than you’re willing to tackle at the moment, an easier tactic may be to simply recognize your professionals for a job well done.

Paul Hebert, Managing Director of incentive design consultancy I2I, says internal recognition is among the best ways to give employee engagement a boost.

“When employees feel recognized by their employer, studies show they are more satisfied in their jobs.” Hebert also says recognition is “an action, not an item,” meaning you don’t need to invest in any fancy awards or hardware. You simply encourage everyone in your organization to “catch” their peers doing something right.

“The best recognition programs aren’t really ‘programs’ at all,” he says. “There’s no start or end date, only the act of saying to someone — in front of other people — ‘you did good.’” In other words, this is one area where small companies can play “big” indeed.

Author Bio
Emily Bennington
is coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of career success and the founder of Professional Studio 365, which provides onboarding services to new grads and their employers. She can be found online at www.professionalstudio365.com or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.