Employee Retention

Losing Employees to Clients or Competitors? Culture Is the Secret to Retaining Them.

Smart companies recruit and retain top talent by using these four culture-related strategies.
Losing Employees to Clients or Competitors? Culture Is the Secret to Retaining Them.
Image credit: gradyreese | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Head of Agency Management Institute
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Businesses lose employees all the time. At any moment, you could lose your top salesperson or developer to your biggest competitor, a company in another industry or one of your own clients. Some of your best workers might decide to start a company of their own. Even Microsoft, a hot destination for top talent, regularly loses high-ranking employees to Amazon, Google and other competitors.

What’s the problem? In a word, culture. You can throw money at top talent all you want, but if you don’t inspire your teams, you’ll struggle to attract employees in competitive job markets or retain your best workers in the face of tempting offers.

Healthy cultures lead to happy people, and happy people lead to happy clients. To create that happy culture, you don’t need to start Free Beer Fridays or let everyone leave after lunch. You simply need to improve your emotional awareness and give your employees the environment, motivation and perks that matter to them.

Why you must listen closely.

As a leader, you probably consider yourself to be an attentive, helpful soul. When employees start to leave for greener pastures, though, it’s easy to wonder what they saw elsewhere that you didn’t give them.

The trick, as usual, is to listen. Employees love managers who listen to what they have to say, remember their opinions and treat them with respect. While better relationships won’t necessarily make every employee stay for life, a personal touch can go a long way.

Related: 3 Tips for Creating a Company Culture That Keeps Your Team (and Your Bottom Line) Happy

Say you have an employee who gets especially upset when she feels disrespected. When you have a heated discussion with that employee, you can either press your point to get things done sooner, or you can back off until tempers cool down. The first option might get the job done, but you might sacrifice that employee’s job happiness in the process. The second option is less appealing in the short term but wiser in the long run.

This process relies on active listening. If you don’t pay attention to what employees say, you’ll never know what they need -- and when they find someone better at listening, they’ll jump ship right away. Active listening is a time-intensive process, but if you want to keep your best workers, it’s the price you have to pay.

Follow these tips to create a culture that not only attracts the best employees, but also keeps them at your company when headhunters come calling:

1. Discover your employees’ triggers.

Learn what makes your employees light up and what makes them furious so you can speak to each employee with compassion and understanding.

A close friend of mine performs an exercise at her company that she has found highly useful. She calls the exercise “sharapy” -- people talk to one another in pairs to share something significant about their lives or jobs. Partners aren’t allowed to speak until the time for the first partner is up. When the sharing ends, participants should be able to share most of what their partners relayed to them with relative accuracy.

The point is not to quiz employees. Rather, the point is to teach employees how to listen intently without thinking about what they’ll say next. In a world where distractions such as smartphones are king, these exercises are uniquely useful to forge stronger bonds within teams.

2. Wear your values on your sleeve.

You might think you know yourself well, but do you really? Most entrepreneurs start their companies without thinking much about identity, focusing only on values after sales start piling up.

Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos does it differently: The famous “Ten Commandments of Zappos" include such rules as “pursue growth and learning” and “be passionate and determined.” Customer service agents at Zappos have the power to send replacement shoes for any reason they deem worthy. Many even keep greeting cards on their desks to send personal notes to customers who need them.

Agents at Zappos aren’t trained to sniff out who’s lying for an extra pair of shoes and who’s legitimate; they’re trained to make customers happy, and they do what’s necessary to achieve that goal.

Related: The 8 Essential Steps to Building a Winning Company Culture

3. Give employees real power, and watch how they use it.

Actions speak louder than words. Let employees make decisions with real effects, and see how they wield that power. The answer will tell you what your culture values and how your team responds to responsibility.

We allow our employees to set their own growth goals in quarterly one-on-ones. Other companies take similar paths. One recent survey from Paychex found that 73 percent of employees expect employers to provide high-quality self-service options, so employees clearly want to take control of their own lives.

Keep tabs on how different employee empowerment policies affect metrics such as engagement, and then draw the line from engagement to profit. Higher engagement is better for business, but not to the detriment of a company’s bottom line.

4. Don’t rely on unwritten rules.

Write down the rules you expect employees to follow, and then follow them yourself. Employees are attracted to companies with clearly stated missions, but only when the people running the show truly walk the walk.

Richard Branson didn’t become one of the most prominent businesspeople in the world by equivocating. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, Branson didn’t just condemn the Saudi government for its involvement; he suspended many substantial agreements his company had with the nation, showing the world that he means what he says.

Related: It Really Pays to Have a Rich Company Culture [Infographic]

Within his businesses, Branson treats his employees with respect and makes his expectations clear. That philosophy has made Virgin one of the most sought-after employers in the United Kingdom, per LinkedIn, as top talent swarms to a company that understands the value of culture.

To employees, staying at a job is about more than salaries and perks. By creating a great culture and merchandising it to top talent, companies can attract better candidates and keep their top workers for longer. Follow these tips to invest in your culture and transform it into a powerful tool for recruitment and engagement.

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