Employee Retention 701- Consultation

Shawnee Love   •  
May 11, 2010

We are finally at one of my personal favourites for keeping employees happy and engaged in your organization- Communication and its BFF, Consultation. Up till now, these articles on how to retain employees have focused on what you as a leader can do for your employees, but Consultation touches on what your employees can do for you. That is, they can give feedback, opinions and ideas, get involved and share the burden of growing the business.

Getting involved is important because we live and work in a fast changing world where I don’t think I am out on a limb stating “Grow or Die” has become a truth in the business world just like it is in the plant kingdom. To grow doesn’t just mean increase sales or add employees. It involves continuous improvement so that you can keep those customers and employees in the long run. And if that sounds like a lot of work (and it is), wouldn’t it be nice to share the burden with people who not only want to be involved but need to be involved to buy in to the vision and the plan for achieving the goals?

I believe the business model with the King at the top making all the decisions is becoming extinct. In making all the decisions, the King undermines his subjects’ abilities to think, and thus that King must always be present to make the decisions.

But who wants to make all the decisions on every stupid little thing that comes up? Certainly not me, and you shouldn’t either if you want to focus on important things like sales and business development.

To free yourself from the day to day minutiae means empowering your employees to make decisions that work for the business which stems from effective communication with your employees. Talk about where you are going, how you are thinking of getting there, what problems you are facing, etc. every chance you get. In these conversations, ask for your employees’ ideas and input. You will be surprised what comes from these discussions if you are consistent, honest, and open and also willing to put in the time and effort up front for greater likelihood of success down the road.

Communication and consultation can and should take many forms in order to engage as many people as possible. Hold meetings, send email updates, provide news blasts on your intranet, create a newsletter, implement breakfast with leaders, talk at the water cooler, and yes, you can even set up a suggestion box (although these boxes are my least favourite way to consult employees, because I want employees to feel comfortable sharing their ideas publicly [great barometer of how much your employees trust you], and I like to publicly reward great ideas [more on this next week]).

One caveat. Don’t ask your employees for their ideas and opinions and then ignore their answers and do nothing. That is why I caution leaders on the use of employee surveys. I love employee surveys for their ability to gather excellent insights confidentially and honestly, but I have seen examples of when they have absolutely killed the employees’ trust in their leadership. If there is no follow through, employees feel even more let down than they would have if they had never been asked to share their opinion. That let down is a reason why employees will look elsewhere for a job and when they find one, they will leave, but in the meantime they will be less productive, less attentive and care less about their job and your company. Since these behaviours are exactly what I am trying to help you avoid, please don’t consult your employees unless you really have the resources (time, money, discipline) and desire to act on the results. If you aren’t going to take any of their advice, proceed at your own peril, and at least take the time to tell your employees why.