What's the picture in your business in terms of staff retention?
A couple of years ago we bought one of our longest-serving staff members a travel voucher, because we thought that would be a nice opportunity to send her to England. I said to her 'we realise you'd like to have a nice holiday, but in this case it's a one-way ticket because you've been here for 20 years and I can't think of any other way to get rid of you!' She knows me and my sense of humour pretty well and she's still in the business today. Then we have some who have been here 17 or 18 years, and there are a lot who have been here more than 10.
Why do you think you've been able to retain staff for those kinds of periods?
It all comes down to engagement. We look at engagement - that people care about the company and the work they do - as an outcome. Those things have to be earned because no one can say 'you have to be engaged and love what you're doing'. That's the big challenge for every employer. It's also something that takes a long time to learn how to do. We've been baking pies now for 34 years and I could write a book about the mistakes I've made.
What are some of the practical things you do that you've learned help drive engagement?
One of the best things we've done is create a fundamental set of values. We have five and we've kept them simple and easy to understand. The first one is 'follow the recipe'. Obviously in the pie business it's important that you follow the literal recipe, but the recipe can be translated to many things - how we look after each other, or how we follow health and safety rules.
The second value is 'speak the truth'. We encourage people to have the courage to speak up if something happens or should be done in the company; you're not going to be fired if you disagree with things.
The third one is 'givers get' - if you help others, others help you - and the fourth is 'see it, make it better'. There are always places in the business where we can make improvements, so if people - no matter where they are in the business - have an idea to make something better, then we ask them to voice it.
And the last one is 'you decide'. You decide whether you come to work if you've got a headache after you've been on the turps the night before, because you decided whether you went on the turps. You decide whether you put in 100 per cent or 90 per cent.
It's one thing to have a set of values, but how have you tried to embed those in your company culture?
It's so important that at every opportunity you keep driving the values. Every month, for example, we have a full staff meeting where we encourage people to put forward one of their colleagues who has done something exceptional in whatever department, and that's awarded based on our values. So if someone's had a great idea that's been implemented, we give them a $100 Pak n Save voucher and a certificate and have their photo taken as employee of the month.
Also, we've never failed at Easter for 34 years to buy everyone a big Easter egg, and we've always had a Christmas party and a Christmas gift for everyone and their family. It's one of the values we've kept up as a business no matter how small we've been.
Or we do things like have free fresh fruit available. I don't want it to be a perception that we care about our people; I want them to know we care, because if they're happy at work it's reflected throughout the business, from the quality of the product to the relationships we foster with customers and suppliers.
What doesn't work when it comes to retention?
The biggest mistake - and I've made many of these - is to hang on to people who don't belong in the company. You have to give everybody a fair chance and tell them what you need them to do to be successful, but sometimes there are people who just don't care. And if that's the case that person has to go because the performance of a company is entirely reliant on the lowest common denominator. It's something I've had to learn.
Do you have any other advice for business owners wanting to retain good staff?
If someone is serious in terms of developing their staff engagement then they need to bring in a system to measure that on a regular basis - maybe three or four times a year. Engagement has to be measured regularly, you have to listen to the feedback, but then you have to act. Even if the feedback is something you don't like, you need to act on it. If you don't, you might as well not bother with the whole process because people eventually won't give you feedback if you're not acting on it.
Coming up in Your Business: Trade shows are part of the marketing mix for many businesses. So what are some of the strategies companies use to get the most out of their investment in attending these kinds of events? If you've got some experiences to share, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org