February 17th, 2022
Developing and Maintaining Employee Loyalty
There is a saying in the window and door industry. Once you become part of the fenestration industry, you can never leave. It sure seems to be true. I cannot tell you how many times I have found out that one of my favorite people has left a company that I call on only to hear from him or her a week or two later as they reappear at another window company. This does not shock me at all – I expect it. I am glad when they reappear at another window company because I get to retain the equity that I have acquired in that relationship. This equity comes in the form of mutual trust and respect that one earns with an industry colleague the years. Now to be totally transparent here, this equity means much more if this person stays within the window and door industry as opposed to re-surfacing say, as a tour guide in Alaska (true story). So, I get to keep this industry equity to my benefit. It simply jumps from one customer to another, which can be an advantage in many situations. But what about the company that lost this employee? They have lost their equity in this person, sometimes forever. All that experience and knowledge learned over the years from being on the job, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. All of this is equity is now residing at another company, perhaps even a competitor. If only this employee would have been more loyal.
So, what is employee loyalty and how do we develop it amongst our valued people? A loyal employee is one who feels connected to the company’s mission, culture, values, and goals. A loyal employee is not actively seeking a new position. This is not to say that they could not be lured away with a lucrative job offer but they are so engaged in their current position that they might not even be inclined to entertain such offers. Loyal employees care about your company.
There are three major ways to develop employee loyalty. Number one is to maintain an uplifting work environment. A relative of mine called me from her car a few weeks ago. She had never been to Chic Fil-A and was calling as she was waiting in the drive through. “These people are standing outdoors in the freezing cold taking our orders on I-pads before we even get to the speaker! They are smiling, very pleasant and super happy to answer any questions about the menu. Where on earth does Chick Fil-A find these people? she asked. “That’s Chick-Fil-A for you,” I said.
From the upper management through the middle management all the way through the rank and file, employees are taught to have the utmost respect for their customers and each other. All employees, regardless of rank, are taught to assist each other, with the end- goal of pleasing the customer. It is the Chick Fil-A Corporate Culture. The result is that these people are truly happy to be working there! This company has a specific screening technique and hires only employees that they feel will fit their corporate culture, who have upbeat personalities and who work as team players supporting each other. They know that such an environment is infectious in a good way. They follow this employee selection process with an intensified employee training program aimed at keeping all employees focused on how to work together to delight their customers. The end-result is an uplifting and positive work environment which makes employees happy to work at the company. They continue to instill this attitude within the company culture by conducting follow-up employee training on a periodic basis. They also plan employee appreciation events (parties with awards and prizes) to constantly reinforce this uplifting environment. This makes their employees feel valued, and it pays off.
Last summer while on a road trip, we came upon a Chick-Fil-A restaurant and, being in a hurry to make our destination, we thought we would give the drive through a try. I almost backed out of line after seeing such a long line of cars. “These people are crazy,” I said. “Who would wait in this long line for a chicken sandwich?” Then, my wife said, “Give it a try … just stay in line and you will be amazed.” She was right. A young lady with the most pleasant personality walked up alongside our car, took our order, our credit card and then went on to the next car and so on. We went through that line with amazing speed exiting with delicious sandwiches in no time at all. This level efficiency was a thing of beauty not to mention the food was really tasty!
Number two is to make sure you provide employees with a well- defined Career Path. I once worked for a company that, as a part of the year-end review, we were required to list what we wanted our next position to be within the company. You also had to list action steps that you were going to take within the coming year to help prepare you towards the ultimate step of obtaining that position. There are so many companies that fail to offer employees a path towards career growth. This is not only a disservice to their employees, but it’s also bad for the company. When it comes to filling key positions, the best source of employee talent should come from within your own company. Loyal employees have already proven to identify with and fit in with the company culture. They already know your products, how they are made, and how best to please your customers. If they do not understand these things, then they should not be there. So, even if you have an uplifting work environment, you still risk losing your most ambitious employees if you do not feed their ambitions. They need to grow. Loyal employees would prefer to grow their careers within the company to which they feel they owe their loyalty. But if they do not see light at the end of the career path tunnel then it leaves an opportunity for some other company to come along and whisk them away. We have all heard the explanation, “I was happy working there, but this other company just came along and offered me a deal that I could not refuse!”
The third and final step to building employee loyalty is to offer competitive pay coupled with Special Incentives. Pay attention to the local wage rates. If an Amazon moves into your area and offers a higher wage rate in a clean air-conditioned environment, then you better offer a similar wage structure if you want to have a chance at getting employees who are willing to run a saw or a welder in a hot window and door plant vs. sorting and loading packages in an air-conditioned warehouse. The monthly inflation rate in the USA was 7% in December of 2021. It was only 1.4% in December of 2020. Monthly inflation rates have risen nearly every month for the past year. It’s not a pretty picture. So, every month working families are falling behind on paying their bills. All manufacturers are competing to hire and keep the same workers. With lead times on new equipment currently at eight months to over a year, you cannot automate your production floor unless you have already placed your equipment orders last year. The cost of labor will continue to be challenge for the foreseeable future. So, also consider Special Incentives. These are other things such as flexible hours, tuition reimbursement, a company paid gym membership, on-site day care or even doggy care, extra vacation days, or any other unique benefits that you can throw into the mix that will make your company the Premier Employer in the area. What is a Premier Employer? This is the company that everybody talks about how great it is to work there and everybody would like to land a job there. Premier Employers excel at making their employees feel special. I have one such customer who is considered the Premier Employer in their area, and I can tell you this much – employee turnover there is not an issue!
Finding and keeping people has been and will continue to be a major challenge in the coming years for the window and door industry as well as for any manufacturing- based business. So, developing and maintaining employee loyalty within your company can make all the difference. Loyal employees have a huge impact upon productivity, quality assurance and customer relations for one simple reason – they care about your company!