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Minding the Store: Key Insights for Attracting and Retaining Employees

July 8, 2019
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As seen in the Westchester County Business Journal and the Fairfield County Business Journal

The Deltek | Clarity 40th Annual Architecture and Engineering Industry Study lists these top four challenges facing financial leaders: finding and retaining qualified staff, increasing profitability, managing growth, succession planning and ownership transition. The common thread in working through these four challenges for architecture and engineering firms, and virtually all businesses, is a strong and talented workforce. The study goes on to say that the second and third challenges for project management are staff shortages and inexperienced project managers.

The current economy with low unemployment and a lack of qualified candidates adds to the above stress on business management. The other reality of the stronger economy is that it takes a longer amount of time to fill open positions – and then the new employees need to become acclimated into the firm to start generating revenue.

As technology allows for more and more tasks to become automated, it is the creativity and innovative thinking by the people that become the key differentiators of successful companies. A strong talent pool contributes to the current operation’s profitability and provides a path for the future growth and transition.

Many of the steps that a firm will adopt to attract and acquire good personnel are the same policies and culture that will help retain and grow a talented workforce. Before touching on those items, here are some thoughts on attracting employees:

  • Show your brand – Before a potential employee considers your firm, they want to determine if it is the right place for them — your core values, culture, and work environment. Showcasing your firm’s practice and culture through an employment portal on your website sends a message and makes an initial impression. The content provides context and insight of what it’s like to work at your organization; you provide the opportunity for candidates to identify and align with your values. For example, highlight the members of your firm within and beyond the workplace, feature examples of work/play balance and exhibit engaging and candid stories.
  • Have a plan – Understand clearly what you want in a new employee. Consider streamlining the process when a good candidate has been found. An unintended delay until an offer is made may provide the wrong message to the candidate who may accept another position.
  • Create an employee referral program – It is likely that your employees may be aware of some great candidates. Be sure to use them as a resource.

Clear and defined core values that can be communicated not only help in attracting candidates but provide a basis for retention and growth. The values have to be authentic and rooted in everyday operations; not chosen just because they sound good. Today’s candidates expect transparency and want to understand how their everyday work adds value to the organization’s purpose. Aligning candidate’s values with your organization’s values will naturally advance the culture of your firm. 

Foster motivational culture for best retention – After you have hired the best talent, you must make them feel like they belong and are valued.  

  • Compensation and benefits – This has to be addressed in today’s market. It’s not the only reason someone chooses who they will work with, but it’s a significant consideration especially in a competitive market. Benefits can also tip the scale favorably and can include 401(k) plans, professional development, healthcare and performance bonuses.

  • Communicate and share – Be sure your employees know the company goals. Share information about how the company is doing and let them know how their jobs contribute to the big picture. Transparency in the workplace improves overall culture, and when employees are informed they feel a greater sense of worth and responsibility and become more willing to contribute to the firm’s future. Ask for employee input in developing the overall growth strategy. When people help develop organizational goals, they are more enthusiastic about achieving them. Creating an atmosphere where everyone feels they are part of the team is a strong motivating factor.

  • Provide feedback – Lack of communication from management can be seen by the employee as a sign that their contributions to the organization are not meaningful or worthy of attention. Even negative feedback, when delivered constructively, will lead to positive results. This is a cost-effective activity that is proven to reduce errors, increase productivity and reduce employee attrition. Formal feedback, such as performance reviews, can be very effective in motivating employees. However, a simple-hand written note about a job well done can also be an instant motivator. A mentoring program can help an individual navigate their growth in the firm.

  • Equip employees with training – As employees grow through the firm, they need to be empowered with education to complement their skills.

  • Recognize and celebrate – Statistics show that employees often are more motivated by non-monetary recognition than by annual raises and bonuses. Take the time to recognize employees for work well done and to celebrate their achievements. A celebratory lunch or an email to the entire company acknowledging someone’s achievement are great morale boosters and will also motivate others to follow suit. In addition, monetary rewards that are tied directly to performance goals can also be a great way to reinforce the message about what is important and can play a major role in employee recognition and motivation.

Today’s workforce is very dynamic in that employees want and expect to have a variety of experiences over their work lives. Chances of someone hired today staying with your firm for the long-haul are minimal. Do everything you can to retain them but, if they decide to move on, make it a positive experience, keep in touch and let them know they are welcome back.