Business Owners: Forget About Gaining and Keeping Loyal Employees

mocha momentsWhich business owner doesn’t have a loyal employee? “Do you see so and so” they say…”he has been with me since before Christ. I can depend on him no matter what.” This person enjoys certain perks as a result of his devotion. The Boss enjoys having him around and he seems to enjoy his job. Except one day he comes into the office and says “Today is my last day. I can no longer work here. I’m quitting today with immediate effect.”

Here’s a great loyalty story for you: A company having celebrated a milestone, awarded a particular employee with a long service award. Everyone in the company loved this fellow. Polite and helpful, he was soft spoken and always kind. So imagine the shocker when after a thorough investigation, the HR Manager found our honest Abe at the centre of a racket involving logging false times on time cards so that all involved could benefit from additional overtime dollars. This “loyal” employee encouraged employees who recently became members of this organization, to join him in this bobol. They followed him because they felt that since he had been there for a long time that he clearly knew his way about things. I guess that meant they trusted that he would ensure they wouldn’t get caught!

How do you determine who is loyal and who isn’t?

I’m going to suggest that you trust people until you can’t trust them. My dear friend Sean Loregnard who died way too soon, used to say “Look for people where you see them!” We love to say that “we didn’t look for so and so there” but if that’s where you find them, accept that this is where they are and move on. “Don’t hu’t yuh head!” And we all know who says that!

I’m also going to suggest that you don’t waste time instituting programs to try to gain loyalty from your employees. My next story will tell you why.

There is so much you can learn when you remain open. Undercover Boss has a formula that works! Boss goes undercover, works in the trenches with employees, discovers areas where the company could improve, and finally the boss rewards employees based on his or her own discretion or in very rare cases, terminates them.

In this particular episode, the President of Maaco , (an auto body repair and painting franchise chain) Jose Costa, is the featured Undercover Boss.

Jose goes to work with a body technician called Jim who tells him that it’s “OK to cut corners. You just have to know when to do it.” Jim shares with Jose that Maaco is the place that customers come to when they want a cheap paint job and that Maaco was subpar. Jose had to do everything within his power to not reveal his identity and fire Jim on the spot.

The last person Jose interacts with is a guy called Acey. This department is the last one before the car is delivered to the customer. Acey opens by assuring Jose that at the end of the day, after working with him, that “he’s going to be the best detailer ever!” Acey’s enthusiasm is contagious.  He appears to love his job. He keeps reminding Jose to follow the process. At the break, he shares that having left home at an early age, he got involved with gangs, and was eventually jailed for two years.  He was now raising a family and focusing on being a good role model to his kids.

If I were to ask you who was MORE loyal – who would you choose? Jim or Acey?

During the reveal interview, Jose has a very hard conversation with Jim. Jim who was previously in jail himself tells Jose that this was his first break since incarceration. That the “cutting corner” approach was how he was taught and that he was not a bad person. Jose promised that he would look into the training being provided at that shop and gave Jim thirty days to improve. Jim promised Jose he would not let him down.

When it was Acey’s turn, Jose was extremely liberal with his compliments. He admired Acey for his work ethic, his focus on ensuring that the job was done the right way all the time and for arriving at a place where he understood that he was now a role model to his kids and that he wanted to turn his life around. Jose gave Acey a trip for him and his family, seed money for his kid’s education fund and a down payment on a new home.

At the end of each episode they show you each person six weeks later.

Let me ask you: Which one of the two are still with Maaco?

You may have already seen this episode and if this is the case you already know the answer. Both quit.

The moral of this story is not that you should become bitter and cynical and not reward good employees for their efforts. The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t focus your energies on trying to keep good employees. When people are ready to leave they will leave anyway – regardless of how loyal they have been to you in the past.

You need to focus on ensuring that every employee, while with you, for however long (2 months or twenty years) learns how to out behave your competitors.

Martin Zwilling says “The customer experience is really your brand, since that is what customers remember and communicate to others, rather than your marketing. Thus the real challenge in building your brand is building the level of engagement and delivery of your team. “

outbehave book coverGregg Lederman, in his recent book, “ENGAGED!” offers this advice which I think all business owners will do well to follow: “Focus on culture change rather than culture talk. Culture is changed by how we act (perform) and interact (employees and customers). Define and document a common mindset and make related behaviors non-negotiable. Everyone must know and do these things consistently. The secret to success is 1% training and 99% reminding.”

Forget loyalty! You can’t control loyalty. What you can control are your standards, and your systems design. You can also determine upfront what the consequences are for noncompliance and substandard performance. Lederman tells us “Your mission, values, brand positioning, and guiding principles are invisible, unless your employees know specifically how to act them out through their day-to-day behavior. You have to define these behaviors, measure them, and reward them.”

Walking the talk is the place to start. Focus your energies here.


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