Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, I postulated a formula for some of the “known” elements. The formula suggests that each of this factors can contribute to the success – or failure – of a retention strategy. Successful Retention = f (Objective Expectations, Compensation, Training, Recognition, Feedback, Organizational Culture, and…) The objective expectations component was discussed in Part 1. Part 2 discussed the challenging aspects of compensation. A lifetime of training leaders, managers, and front-line customer service staff leads to some very important conclusions on the impact of training in a retention strategy. A vision and philosophy for training can have a major impact in a successful retention strategy.

Training Begins…

Clear expectations, discussed in Part 1, actually begins the training process before an employee is hired – as part of the recruiting and interviewing process. A retention failure occurs when a new employee discovers that the actual job is dramatically different from the expectations provided (or not provided) during the hiring process. The next, and major step, comes with a solid employee orientation program – for unexplained reasons now more frequently referred to as “onboarding.” Fortunately, some of the most successful organizations, including Disney, Zappos, and others, have realized that orientation is much, much more than a Human Resources program on policies, procedures, and forms for payroll. I mention Disney specifically because I’ve been a “participant” in Disney’s “Traditions” program several times. I’ve also developed and led orientation programs for an entertainment complex. Some basic guidelines include:
  • Orientation is completed before the employee starts work.
  • Orientation includes history, values, company “terminology.”
  • Orientation is experiential, visual, and in today’s popular terminology, “gamified.”
  • Orientation includes 25¢ tours not 5¢ tours involving current employees welcoming the new employees in different areas.

On-The-Job Training

Many organizations do not realize the power of on-the-job training while others make great use of large training libraries to ensure new employees learn how to correctly prepare products, process transactions, and serve customers. Some on-the-job training guidelines:
  • Subject matter experts (either developing or delivering) are critical – but they need to understand one basic fact. They know procedures so well that they don’t teach them effectively. So, they need to add teaching skills to their job content skills.
  • Standards for OJT are critical – employees too frequently are trained by soon-to-be colleagues and often are taught multiple – incorrect – “secrets” for doing things. Confusion does not lead to a retention plus factor.
  • OJT is delivered right away – at the moment the employee starts, not two weeks later.

Regular Training

I’m going to borrow something here from a special project I’ve been pursuing for several years, lessons for leaders and managers from the performing arts and sport. Fundamentally, these professions focus extensively on training and practice – often far in excess of the actual “performance” time. I know of a Broadway show where key performers rehearse several key scenes before every performance. I’ve seen a singing group spend almost as much time working on a “sound check” as the time of the actual concert. I’ve seen in both the performing arts and sports how important the role of the coaches and feedback are for consistently top performance. Too often, organizations do not invest in training. It’s a classic point-counterpoint but still valid today: “What if we train people and they leave?” What if we don’t train them and they stay? Some companies do invest in hours of training for employees or managers, but they believe that a one-time training program will last for years. Even with good reinforcement for training on-the-job, assuming the lasting effects of a training program delivered years ago is a faulty assumption. Some training guidelines:
  • Training should be experiential – learning by doing, with practice.
  • OK – maybe 20% - 30% presentation, even with PowerPoints, is OK.
  • Responsibility for follow-up is shared by training staff, participants, and participants’ managers.
  • Training is for everyone – senior management inclusion improves implementation by all.
  • World class content comes from knowledgeable authorities – in-house developed content may be cheaper but it’s not always best.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to “shadow” a Disney Cast Member. He was a frontline member of a dining/entertainment attraction. He was a “lead,” not a supervisor or manager. Because of my interest in training, we talked extensively about the training Disney makes available for all cast members. He offered to show me something – a significant responsibility he had as part of being a “lead.” He had file folders for each one of the cast members at his attraction. For each employee, there was a chart showing available training programs through the Disney University. It was his responsibility, proudly accepted, to schedule fellow cast members for training and follow-up on completion. Training and development for managers and leadership have some additional elements but the ones discussed here focus on those best for retaining employees at all levels.

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at     Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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