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Preparing for 2020

By Kathryne A. Newton, Ph.D., Purdue University

It’s often said that you just can’t find loyal employees anymore. I agree, you can’t find them… you have to build them. That’s just one of the ways that the new generation of employees is different from yesteryears. We are no longer in an era where all a manager has to do is hire good people and pay them a fair (or almost fair) wage to keep people working for you. A good manager must do that, plus provide a blend of benefits and company culture that work together to do what essentially boils down to keeping people happy.

Good examples of companies that have been successful at this can be found in each by examining “The 100 Best Companies to Work for” list published by Fortune. These companies have succeeded not only because they have high commitments to the products and services they provide, but because of the “employee friendly” workplaces they provide for their employees. In particular, these companies have worked hard to provide what the Millennials want most (the fast growing group of workers between age 20 and 37). Some examples include:

• Growth opportunities
• Competent management (great bosses!)
• Fair pay and special/unique benefits
• Flexible schedule (including unlimited vacations)
• Integration (new word for orientation/onboarding programs)
• Have resources to do the job
• Great atmosphere and communication/socializing with coworkers
• Dedication to philanthropy and community

Not convinced? Here’s a telling statistic – a Robert Half International Inc. survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans said they would be willing to reduce both their work hours and their compensation in exchange for more “family or personal time.” Additionally, only 31% of new graduates believe their new employers properly integrate employees. According to Karl Moore of Forbes, onboarding (orientation) programs “provide a clear sense of the company’s purpose, mission, value and goals, and where an individual fits in the grand scheme of things.” It’s clear that Americans’ priorities have changed, and those managers who are progressive about meeting their needs will have a real advantage in the marketplace.

Adopt a Strategic Approach

Managing well today means managing strategically – taking the time and effort to make sure that each decision you make logically balances and supports the key objectives and operations of your company. The figure below illustrates the many areas that managers must balance in order keep employees happy and, most important, productive.

Unless a manager strategically plans for these components to work together, they may actually get “out of balance” and work against the very benefits that he/she hopes to get from them. For example, the caliber of employees that any given company seeks to hire should have a management system that has been designed to attract and retain them. Sounds logical, but too often managers are interested in getting and keeping the best employees without exploring what is required to attract and keep them.

Consider for a moment the area of compensation. The best employees will always earn top dollar in any industry. Is your company able to attract them with its current pay system? In compensation terms, your company fits into one of the following categories: a leader (pays better than average), a competitor (pays about average), or a laggard (pays below average). You really do “get what you pay for” And…..if you are going to go after the high caliber employee and pay a leadership wage, you must also recognize and plan for the appropriate training systems that will support the career paths that a high caliber employee will expect. And… you must have well developed measurement systems and open communication so that employees will know the progress they are making and thereby be motivated to continue working hard, and…..so on. Get the picture? Each area must support the others (think strategic).

By the way, I’m not suggesting that paying an above average salary is the only way to achieve a balanced management system. You can accomplish a balanced system with a competitive or a laggard pay scale as well, but you’ll have to be creative to make them work together to keep employees happy. I know of one company that pays a laggard wage purposefully. They use testing to identify intelligent, but under skilled, employees and essentially “grow their own.” But…they have invested heavily in education and training programs to support these employees in addition to a strong incentive system (with options!) and team environment to keep people motivated. Employees have a strong sense of purpose in the company and are given a lot of “ownership” in how they handle their own work. As you might expect, employees that develop successfully through this company are well paid, but they will have earned it.

That is just one example of how a company can balance a system to meet the needs of today’s employees. Other companies are already competitive in their pay and benefits and are looking for other ways to keep their employees happy. Get in touch with what your best employees are looking and find way to help them achieve it. Again, you must ask yourself “are the culture and system components complementary? Here are a few of the items you should be examining in your culture:

• Team environment (including top management)
• Creativity and innovation – wide variety of perspectives
• Openness of communications (authenticity and inclusion are critical)
• Employee and customer participation
• Propensity for action and change – great coaching
• Respect for the individual – embracing diversity
• Flexibility and open office designs

Once you have a clear idea of what your particular culture is currently providing for your employees, you can begin to identify needed changes and develop strategies to meet your company’s goals.

As you consider how best to manage the new generation of employees, ask yourself this question – “do I offer employees one of the best jobs in town?” If the answer is no, you need to identify what’s missing and go about correcting it. Remember that there is a supply and demand relationship for the best employees in town, and the top 20% of employees in any given market will always have a job. Your job is to make sure they are working for you!