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Vivian Scott
Mediator, Conflict Coach, Author
Snohomish, Washington

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Reducing Turnover in a Small Business

If you’re a small business owner and would like to keep folks around for longer than a few weeks or months, consider taking a look at what you might be doing to work against yourself.
Written May 12, 2011, read 2255 times since then.


Some people may be surprised to learn that even in today’s economy, turnover for small businesses is still a problem.  You’d think that people would be clinging to any job they have, but that’s not always the case.  If you’re a small business owner and would like to keep folks around for longer than a few weeks or months, consider taking a look at what you might be doing to work against yourself.  Look at a number of aspects for clues for areas you could improve. 

Start by considering your hiring process.  If you’re not able to offer the same wages and benefit package that other companies can, don’t feel that you need to apologize for it and hire anyone who’s willing to take the job.   Over- or under-selling a job will only result the wrong person getting hired.  If you’re honest about the position and take your time, you’ll find someone who wants to do the real job, not the fantasy one you’ve created for the interview.
In the screening process ask really good, open-ended questions that get prospective employees talking.  Make a list of the usual yes/no questions you ask and turn them into conversation starters.  For example, rather than asking an interviewee if she likes to work with numbers, say something like, “Tell me more about the detail work in your last position.”  While you’re at it, give as many real-life examples previous employees have had to deal with and ask how she might handle a similar situation.

Let other employees participate in the interview process.  Ask them to concentrate on specific areas for feedback like the person’s skill level or ability to handle stress.  If they have had the opportunity to participate, they may be more likely to embrace the person once he’s hired and make for an easier training and transition period.

Have documented policies in place that clearly outline mission statements, goals, job responsibilities, etc.  It’s okay to treat employees like family, but run your business like a business—even if you have only four employees.  You can never go wrong with clear communication—verbal, written, or otherwise. 

After you’ve taken on employees, let them do their jobs.  I often mediate cases for small businesses because they’ve taken a committee approach to the work at hand; causing employees to step on, over, and around each other.  If you’ve hired someone to do your marketing, let him do it.  Having to wait for a staff meeting to get consensus on the background color of the new brochure or to decide if an ad should be taken out in the industry rag is an easy way to get a marketing guru to run the other way.  Ideas are great, but he should make (and be responsible for) the final decisions. 

Additionally, praise and reward often.  Even when times are tough, taking 30 minutes to have a one-on-one with an employee or bringing in a box of donuts costs very little and goes a long way in making employees happy.   Have regular staff meetings and make sure to mention what people are doing well.  They can’t read your mind, so you’ll have to be specific.  I worked with a company that Instituted a Wall of Fame on which managers would post positive feedback they’d received from customers and vendors about employees.  For a few dollars in frames employees could see how much pride the company took in their contributions. 

Address problems as soon as they arise.  All your employees watch how you handle difficult situations.  If you let one person get away with poor behavior, others make a note of that and those types of things play into a person’s level of job satisfaction.  If you’re not comfortable with conflict, get comfortable.  (FYI, my book has lots of pointers!)  Stay committed to seeing a problem through.  If an employee needs training, provide him with training.  Tell him what to do rather than telling him what to stop.

Finally, if you do have to let someone go or an employee leaves, make sure to debrief with the others.  Talk about what happened, let people process their emotions, and let them help build a plan to fix whatever they feel needs fixing.

Learn more about the author, Vivian Scott.

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