Picture this. It’s late in the day. You’ve finally made it back to your office after another crazy day. Just as you plop down into your chair to begin digging through what’s be haphazardly dumped on your desk by your all to willing to “dump it on the boss” staff and there’s a knock at your door.
Usually, it’ll be around 5 o’clock. At least, that’s when it would happen to me.
The next thing you see as you look up from your desk is one of your employees standing in your doorway saying something a lot like this, “Hey boss, you got a minute because we need to talk?”
And suddenly you can feel your body tighten up because you probably already sensed what comes next. More times than not it’s time to give you the “I need a raise ultimatum” or it’s just their time to give you notice that they’re leaving. It’s what I’ve named, “The 5 o’clock knock.”
Most times a staff member has already made up their mind for quite awhile that they’re planning to leave and all you can do at this point is make a hard sell to try and keep them on. Maybe I’m paranoid but the timing seems to be closely tied to when they sense they have you over the barrel. I say that because it rarely happens in your slow season when you’re carrying them.
They’re not bad people. It’s just human nature. And the fact that it’s not personal does little to keep you from feeling like another ton of bricks have been piled on top of you.
Don’t know about you but I learned to hate feeling of being surprised by an employee. Worse than surprised for having not seen it coming I actually felt like I was a hostage.
I finally had enough so I took the necessary steps to minimize being surprised by an employee and what plans they had for my company and me which helped abate my winding up feeling taken advantage of.
What I began to live by the motto of, “Always be recruiting, hiring, orienting, training and retaining”, life got better. It’s these five steps of staffing that helps any employer escape the hostage syndrome. And it’s the cornerstone for anyone who wants to build a great company with the right stuff people. Without this ongoing aggressive never-ending effort, you’re not only going to be at the whim of your employees you’re never going to build the kind of company you dreamt of when you first got into the contracting business.
Here’s what I can share with you. When an employee is at the point that they’re in your doorway more times than not, you will have to buy back their allegiance to keep them on or no matter what you say they’re already got one foot out the door and it’s too late to really save them.
You can choose to play along with the “Raise my Salary Game” and you may end saving them…for awhile. But, there’s a high cost to be paid. It swings the door wide open for everyone else who works for you to come in and renegotiate their pay. If you do capitulate, you’re left feeling you were taken advantage of. Even they come away worse for the experience because they feel like they had to act like a kid who had to demand an increase in their allowance. Rarely over time do these hard feelings subside. In fact, they’re usually end up postponing the inevitable and no one wins.
It doesn’t have to be this way though.
The best way to address this is to have known career paths with defined in writing performance based salary levels [aka salary ladders]. It’s the only fair way to do it. Pay is tied to demonstrated objective performance and it’s is a real blessing to owners and employees alike.
The great thing is it takes you both out of this salary negotiating tug of war. They know how to get their own raise in pay. It’s so good that clients of mine actually use it during the recruiting and hiring process. The do this because they know it sets them apart from their competitors and the right stuff people are attracted to companies who think ahead and provide a concrete career path vs. just a job.
One more change in my approach to warding off if not eliminating unwelcome staffing surprises was to become more proactive in my communication. I made it a great habit to meet as many staff members as I could each week and spend a few minutes one-to-one with them so I could ask them the following 3 questions:
- What’s going right?
- What’s going wrong?
- What do I need to know right now?
The fact that I bothered to ask them these questions already made them feel like they were important. I learned to invest time actively listening by paraphrasing what they were saying so they could rest assured they’d been heard. Sometimes, I jot down some notes while they’re talking and make it a point to follow-up with them.
And if you adopt this great habit too great things will happen for you and your staff. I say that because of what it did at my own company and what I’ve seen happen at the companies I’ve worked. People love to work where they feel they have really been listened to.
Know that they don’t always get the answer they want. What they are entitled to hear from you based on their feedback is one of the following three basic answers:
- Yes, we can do that….
- Yes, we can do that but not right now and here’s why….
- No, we can’t do that and here’s the reason why….
The three question method which “takes the temperature” of a team member is never intended to be a sit down meeting. It’s done as you walk around your office or as you encounter them in the field. The longest any three question meeting should ever be is 5 minutes.
I got so good at this impromptu meeting that I could tell by how they responded, whether or not they made eye contact and whether or not they were smiling as to whether they were onboard with us or they were seeking actively now another place to work or would be doing so soon.
So I’m clear, these change in my own habits didn’t mean I would never be surprised at an employee leaving. What it meant was I was rarely surprised anymore and most times I could take action sooner which reduced the stress.
And if you get really proactive, you’ll learn how to overcome these bumps in the road and be ahead of the curve and well on the way to building the right type of team members that makes you excited to come to work every day.