Keeping the cream Featured

9:45am EDT July 22, 2002

A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the median job tenure for workers ages 25 to 34 is 2.7 years; by age 32, the average worker in the United States has had nine full- or part-time jobs.

For most organizations, especially smaller companies that may lack the resources to continually recruit and train people, this can pose a significant problem.

A survey by the Gallop organization concludes that two-thirds of employees leave their jobs at the end of the day with a lower level of self esteem than they had at the beginning of the day. The nature of their work actually lowers their self esteem.

Poor self esteem causes people to lower their personal performance standards — to become satisfied with lower levels of achievement. This results in a tremendous loss in productivity and a waste of valuable resources. And it certainly can cause people to look for greener pastures.

So if you don’t have the resources to continually recruit and train — if you would like to keep the cream of your crop — consider the following:

1. Show your people they are an important part of your organization. This is sometimes easier said than done. People seem to be more cynical nowadays when it comes to their work. Perhaps we can thank the Dilbert craze — or our politicians. Nevertheless, providing people with a sense that they are important can go a long way toward helping you retain them.

2. Maintain a high level of involvement and enthusiasm. Someone once wrote, “The test of a true calling is a love for the drudgery it requires.” When a person can tolerate what they perceive as unpleasant tasks, they are more inclined to retain a higher sense of involvement and enthusiasm.

Of course, sometimes even the most unpleasant tasks are important and critical to the organization’s success. If these tasks can’t be eliminated, re-emphasize their importance. The tasks most often reported as drudgery include excessive paperwork, attending what appear to be nonproductive meetings and checking and rechecking another person’s work.

3. Don’t let your people become complacent. When they do, their performance begins to decline. When it continues for even a relatively short time, they will begin to find fault and regress to thoughts about “the good old days.” Maintain a sense of urgency about the work by implementing a focus that sustains growth through meaningful objectives which continually challenge and stretch their abilities. Keep them focused on the future.

4. Keep people involved in the implementation process. Roughly 20 percent of the tasks performed in any organization do not add value to the products and services. If a task does not increase profits, reduce costs, improve workflow or address a specific customer need, it should be changed or eliminated. By getting your people involved in the process, you improve their sense of involvement and organizational performance.

So make a special effort to retain your top performers and, like the cream, you, too, will rise to the top.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or