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IMA Executive News & Views Blog

Three Ways Manufacturers Can Retain Skilled Employees

by Deborah S. Marshall

Wipfli LLP is an IMA Member

Like any business, manufacturers must deal with employee turnover — but given the manufacturing industry’s increasing difficulty recruiting top talent, retention is particularly important to the long-term success of your company.

So how can you retain your skilled employees? Money isn’t everything. Your organization’s leadership can do a lot to keep the employees they manage. It comes down to coaching retention, enforcing accountability and conducting stay interviews.

  1. Coach Retention Every Day

Discussing turnover with your leaders only when it becomes a big problem is not a mindset that results in greater retention. Your leaders need to be thinking about retention much more frequently for their efforts to have an effect.

There are different ways you can coach retention. Discuss turnover and retention strategies in your staff meetings. Do postmortems with your leaders when one of their reports leaves. Ask them what they could have done to keep the employee and what would they do differently in the future. To motivate leaders, you could even make employee retention a requirement for promotion.

  1. Make Leaders Accountable

Every leader with direct reports is responsible for turnover, and you must make sure they know this.

Of course, some turnover is uncontrollable, and it would be counterproductive to suggest leaders should retain clearly unproductive or problematic employees just to make their retention numbers look good. But you can certainly investigate it more thoroughly to address the underlying reasons for voluntary turnover.

Making retention visible to leaders is important, as we all know “that which gets noticed gets done.” Sharing turnover percentages with their peers provides the opportunity to approach improving retention as a problem-solving project. Don’t be afraid to remove the leaders who are driving good employees away, but more importantly, provide them with the leadership and communication training they need to improve.

One way to keep things positive when framing turnover to your leaders is to focus on measuring retention instead. If you have a 15% turnover rate, you have an 85% retention rate. Aiming to increase retention rather than decrease turnover can help put leaders in a more positive, continuous-improvement mindset.

  1. Conduct Stay Interviews

To help your leaders in their day-to-day efforts in retaining employees, train them on how to conduct stay interviews with their direct reports. A stay interview is a structured discussion a leader conducts with an employee to learn the specific actions the leader must take to strengthen the employee’s engagement with the organization. It is not a performance evaluation, so you may want to encourage leaders to conduct stay interviews opposite of performance reviews to avoid confusing the two.

During a stay interview, a leader should listen closely and take good notes, focusing on the things they can control. Sometimes things come up that are out of their control, such as the employee requesting more money or vacation time. Address with the employee that you are focusing on what’s doable and within your control; you’ll be surprised at the number of issues that can be readily resolved, and often due to a misunderstanding. Telling employees that you value them, that you’ll do what you can retain them and work with them to resolve frustrations — all this goes a long way in keeping people at your company.

An important point to make is that leaders shouldn’t be afraid to ask employees why they might choose to leave. Understanding why they stay with your company and what could drive them away will really help improve retention by improving your overall organization.

Ask these five questions during stay interviews:

  1. When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?
  2. What are you learning here?
  3. Why do you stay here?
  4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team, and what prompted it?
  5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

Stay interviews give leaders information they can use not just in the future but also today. They put each leader in the solution seat. Plus, employees hear directly from their managers that they want them to stay and grow with the company — that they care about them. Good working relationships are built on trust, and stay interviews strengthen that trust.


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