Business and Operations
Staffing shortages? Maybe you’re the problem
By Jeff Mowatt
By Jeff Mowatt
August 26, 2011 – When I speak at conferences about customer service
strategies, I often hear managers discuss how hard it is to recruit and
retain good frontline employees. Too many managers mistakenly assume the
only way to keep people is to bite the bullet and pay more in salaries,
benefits and perks. Unfortunately, those managers are often “fixing”
the wrong problem.
Marcus Buckingham of the Gallop organization reported that the number
one reason employees quit was their personal feelings about their
immediate supervisor. Ask yourself if it's time your company took
measures to fix the real problem when it comes to staff turnover –
managers and supervisors not equipped with the necessary skills to make
their team members feel valued.
Before you roll your eyes and figure, "Yah, Yah, we do all that
touchy-feely pat-on-the-back stuff," let me ask you: When was the last
time you or your management team received current professional training
on staff recognition? The old days of “you're doing a good job” comments
and employee-of-the-month programs don't work anymore. Frankly, they
make matters worse. Next time you are celebrating the successes of your
employees, keep in mind these three keys that make employee recognition
easier, more consistent, and more powerful.
Telling an employee, "You're doing a good job," doesn't accomplish much.
In fact, it may even result in the employee feeling they're doing so
well that they can coast – exactly the opposite effect the manager
intended when making the comment. To truly motivate others, a compliment
needs to be specific; the more precise the better.
For example, rather than saying, "You're doing a good job," the savvy
manager says, "You did a great job in handling that upset customer. You
listened without interrupting, you expressed empathy, apologized on
behalf of the company, and you not only replaced the item but
compensated them for their inconvenience. Well done!" The employee knows
exactly which behaviours get rewarded. And more importantly, they're
more likely to repeat them. Make your compliments specific and you not
only generate good feelings, you also create a behaviour shift.
Catch them in the act
Years ago I did a series of management and frontline training seminars
for retail store employees in Halifax. While in town I worked-out at a
local gym and in its childcare area there was a sign reminding daycare
supervisors to "Catch them doing something good!" That's good advice for
managers as well.
The impact of giving employees praise once a year during a formal job
review is minimal. If we don't express our appreciation until a formal
performance review, that means for several months high performers may be
doing extra work and getting the feeling that no one has noticed or
cared. By the time we get around to recognizing them, it may be too late
– they've already become demoralized or started looking at
opportunities elsewhere. As the sign said, we need to catch them doing
something good. Recognition needs to be immediate.
Tailor it to the person
Of course, it's easy to think of ways to reward your star performers:
promotions, greater responsibility, perks, etc. The challenge is that
when we recognize only the stars we can actually serve to demoralize
others who aren't endowed with the same talents.
By definition, star performers love challenge. It makes perfect sense to
reward them with more responsibility. On the other hand, consider
marginal performers who barely manage to show-up. For instance, if we
notice that our underperformer, Biff finally starts improving, it does
not necessarily mean we should give him the same recognition that we
give our star. If you offer Biff more responsibly his first reaction
might be, "How much more are you going to pay me?" On the other hand
when we notice that his performance has been improving we might say,
"Biff I notice that since we had that conversation three weeks ago about
the importance of being on time, you are consistently five minutes
early for everything. Normally, your shift ends at 4:30, but why don't
you take the rest of the afternoon off right now? Good job!" Now Biff's
The lesson is that we can't always hold employees to the same standard
when it comes to recognizing performance. No two employees are exactly
alike. If we want to motivate the folks who are struggling we need to
help them create some wins that are achievable for them. That's one of
several reasons employee-of-the-month programs, which measure everyone
by the same standard, often backfire. Recognition needs to be tailored
to the individual.
Bottom line benefit
The demographers are predicting that staffing shortages are only going
to worsen in the coming years. With that dismal outlook, perhaps it's
time companies did some upgrading on their leaderships team's
supervisory skills. One thing is certain: to reduce staff turnover it's
less costly to pay a well-thought, well-timed compliment, than to simply
pay higher wages.
This article is based on the critically acclaimed book Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month,
by customer service strategist and professional speaker Jeff Mowatt. To
obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for
your team, visit www.jeffmowatt.com or call 1.800.JMowatt (566.9288).