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When people talk about employee recruitment and human resources, so much of the discussion is focused on how to attract talented workers. And while that certainly is a significant challenge, being able to attract talent provides no material benefit to a company unless it’s also able to retain and nurture that talent.

 

Why is retention and support so important? Well, for one, low retention is expensive, especially for a company that relies heavily on a highly-skilled workforce. My company employs dozens of engineers and programmers, and the costs associated with recruiting those employees is high. For instance, let’s say we hire a recruitment agency; that agency’s fee alone is typically 25 percent of the employee’s first year compensation. Then there’s the interview process itself; my company has an extensive three-stage interview process in which we first conduct a phone interview, then a first round of in-person interviews, and finally a second round interview that includes either a presentation or technical assessment. For each prospective employee that goes through all three rounds, we’ll devote upwards of 20 hours of staff time interacting with them, which means an open position for which we interview 10 candidates can result in over 200 hours of our employees’ time devoted to the process.

 

And even if you manage to retain an employee for a significant length of time, their value is still commensurate to their engagement and ability to perform their jobs effectively. Studies have shown that employee disengagement in the U.S. costs companies upwards of $350 billion per year, and the money lost due to inadequate staff training is likely many times greater than that.

 

Often in discussions of retention you’ll hear mention of Silicon Valley culture and the lavish perks provided by companies like Facebook and Google — WiFi-enabled buses, in-house dry cleaning services, etc… — but even Google’s own People Operations team, which uses empirical research to study employee happiness at the company, found that these amenities had limited effect. “The dirty secret of all these perks is it doesn’t actually retain people or even attract people,” Laszlo Bock, the SVP of Google’s People Operations, said recently.

 

So what does it mean to give your employees the support they need to not only want to stay at your company, but be engaged during their tenure there? There are two main practices an employer can embrace to ensure it gets the most ROI out of its workers:

 

Proper training

 

Every company has some form of employee training, but few do it well. And the reason they don’t do it well is because they don’t have measurable benchmarks to determine the amount of information the new employee has retained. At our company, we begin with a training plan that includes a checklist of topics and concepts we want to cover as well as what we’re going to do to get the employee to understand those concepts and topics. Much of our training is hands-on, meaning that we have our new employees shadow our consultants to observe the entire software development lifecycle from beginning to end. And then we have a more experienced employee monitor the new hires as they demonstrate their proficiency with the product. My particular company specializes in CRM software, and so we have an actual written assessment where we test a new employee’s knowledge, and then we ask the person to complete a number of CRM-based tasks to confirm they truly understand the system.

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Continuing education is also extremely important because it ensures that the employee remains challenged and continues to grow within their role. At the beginning of each year, our employees pick a topic or skill they want to learn and then we provide them with the time and resources to pursue it, whether that means sending them to a conference or enrolling them in an online class. Once they’ve completed the training, they’re then expected to put together an overview of what they learned and present that to other staff during our regular Friday lunch and learn sessions. This guarantees that other staff members can capitalize on their expertise in the future whenever it’s needed.

 

Communicating the mission of the company

 

It’s extremely easy, within any career role, to adopt a kind of “tunnel vision” in which you’re competent at your job but don’t have a full understanding of how it fits into the larger organizational hierarchy around you. When an employee doesn’t understand the vision of a company and how they fit into that vision, they’re more likely to become listless and disengaged.

 

At Cobalt, we update our business plan every year and make sure to distribute it to the entire company. In that business plan we reiterate the mission and vision of the company for the next three to five years, but we also designate a number of goals we hope to accomplish that calendar year. We break those goals down by department so we can hold the teams and individuals accountable to them.

 

We also go on an annual full company retreat. There, we discuss how we did against our business plan for that year — what went well and what didn’t go well — and ask everyone to provide suggestions for what we can do better in terms of specific processes and the overall direction of the company.

 

Our final method for communicating the company’s mission is by specifically tying it to each employee’s annual review. At the beginning of the year we develop clearly-defined, transparent key performance indicators. An example of such a KPI would be something like achieving a customer satisfaction rate of 95 percent or ensuring that all support tickets are responded to within one hour after they’ve been submitted. We try to collect data on those KPIs as close to real time as possible, and because of this you see team dynamics at play in which coworkers collaborate and cheer each other on so that each employee can meet their goals.

 

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Any employer who has had to hire and let go of employees knows there’s a large disparity between the output of a disengaged worker and an engaged one. Deal with enough disengaged workers and it’s not difficult to see the impact to your bottom line. And while investing in things like proper training, staff retreats, and annual employee reviews is time consuming and expensive, the payoff, particularly as it pertains to workplace productivity and revenue, can be substantial. It’s only when you give your employees the proper support that they can truly thrive.

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