Thursday, September 5, 2013

How Crazy Our Thoughts Get About Employee Retention...GET REAL!

I recently found two different threads of discussion most amusing on the ASAE online forums, related to the retention of employees, and board members "poaching" or recruiting one of your association employees to come work for them.  I was amazed at some of the conversation!  Many execs had no idea, or plan to maximize employee retention, and actually thought it was a good thing to control and discourage advancement of employees, by keeping them from leaving...even if it was to a member company.  I received so many positive emails regarding my responses, that I thought I would share my thoughts on my blog.

In my experience as an association executive, I've found employee retention to be easy.  By applying 8-simple ideas, I've never had anyone leave in 18 years of leading 2 associations. that doesn't say someone will not leave, because someone may offer them a position in the top 5% of pay.  However, I've experienced that if you do the 8 things I speak of below, your employees will not actively go looking for employment...someone will have to find them.  That is huge in the area of having confidence that when you are traveling or not at the office, your employees are working to grow and protect your association, not on or networking online with other friends to find another association job.

As leaders, we make being employed way too hard.  Many associations want to pay cheap labor, with no benefits, for someone to come in and be passionate about their cause everyday, and they are shocked when they leave.  The management philosophy of many is:  "JUST DO YOUR JOB.  YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY TO HAVE ONE!"

If you aren't doing any of the 8-steps I speak of below, you are always at risk of losing people. 

If you don't want your staff to be tempted to leave, and say "NO" to any other offers, then take my advice and make sure you have the following 8 steps in your employee service strategy:

1) Treat employees with respect
2) Be fair
3) Communicate expectations openly with them
4) Pay them well (in the top 10 to 20% of their field)
5) Do something once every other month to say, "I care about you"
6) Give them an exciting, flexible, and positive environment to enter into everyday

7) Know their personal goals so your association is helping them to achieve them
8) Give them an incentive to grow through promotions or bonuses

These eight things must be backed up with actions...not just words.  Your employees will follow you wherever you go...not just where you tell them to go.

I'll give you a personal example of how you show you care as an association/employer.  As I was doing some planning for the future, my employees asked me, "Tom, what happens if you get hit by a truck or die prematurely?  What does that do to your contract, and how are we impacted?"  Like any management contracts, upon death, mine ends, meaning my employees have no job.  When you only represent one big client, that thought is unnecessary pressure on your staff.  I took that conversation to heart.  A month later I sat down with my employees and told them that I had taken out a life insurance policy on myself.   If I died prematurely as owner of my management company, they would pay each of my employees one-year's salary.  That one simple gesture gave a ton of relief to everyone.  If something happened to me, they now had a year to figure out (and find) what they would do to help generate income in their households.  That is called showing you care with actions...not just words.  Do you have actions...or just words?

Regarding board members recruiting an employee they feel could be of great value to their company, I say, "you can't control it".  
Some things in life you have to say, "I can't control it, so I'm going to make the best of it", and look at being a mentor to your people instead of trying to control their advancement.

I come to work everyday as CEO knowing because we put a lot into our people and demand the best, that one day, someone may offer them an opportunity that we certainly can't match.  It makes me proud to know that I've helped to make that person so valuable in the marketplace.

It makes me think how proud pro-football coach Bill Walsh, from the San Francisco 49ers must feel, looking around at the last 15 years, and seeing how many of his key assistant coaches are now head coaches... who were hired right out from underneath him.

Instead of having your head in the sand about your employees potentially being recruited away, network well enough so that other association staff know you do the above 8-things.  You will have highly qualified staff members from other associations lined up to work for you within days of your person leaving.

Don't live in a bubble.  Don't assume employees are never looking for another job.  Employees typically leave because of adverse working conditions caused by a boss, needing more money, or needing more benefits.  The question for you is...are you providing them the best in all of those areas?  Remember, the average person's home life is not an encouraging and fun filled's tough.  If you give them an exciting, encouraging, and personally fulfilling place to be everyday, it will take a life-sized opportunity for them to leave.  


  1. Brilliant, Tom. Your life insurance policy says a lot about your commitment to the team - and that commitment probably extends to your customers, as well.

  2. Providing health insurance, life insurance and a retirement-savings plan is essential in retaining employees.
    Human Resource Consultant in Hosur | Industrial Employees Relations Consultant