Make them Feel Special

The secret to employee retention is not to try and reinvent the wheel, but emulate the practices used by organizations that have been very successful at keeping their staff. Two such organizations are Marriot Hotels and Southwest Airlines. Both companies have extremely low staff turnover, while still consistently posting profits. The underlying basis of their success is that they are able to provide for the basic emotional needs of their employees in a manner that creates lasting ties to the organization. Both organizations believe that if you take good care of your employees, they will take good care of their customers. As Maya Angelou said “People will often forget what we said, but never how we made them feel.”

Employees come first

Publicly, both organizations have gone counter to usual “customer first strategy” and state that their employees come first. They have discovered that the best way to ensure customer satisfaction is to have happy, motivated employees which will result in having people who have a strong vested interest in keeping customers satisfied.

Hiring the right people…creating a culture and communicating it

They both hire not so much based on technical skills, but on attitudes, teamwork abilities and a natural inclinations towards friendliness and service to others. Southwest airlines has gone far beyond the usual help wanted postings and identified the personality traits of the type of person that will make a successful employee. In their recruitment ads will be statements like “If you want to have fun, this is the place to work! This is a place where you can be yourself, where it’s okay to be irreverent, where you will be loved and valued. We love our employees, we trust our employees, who in turn work very hard to give “Positively Outrageous Service (POS) to our customers.” To differentiate themselves form other employers who look for things like advanced degrees, professional conduct and adherence to strict dress codes, Southwest advertises “professionals need not apply”.
This kind of clear understanding and communication of the type of person Southwest is looking for serves as a valuable self screening tool for applicants, attracting people who are looking for and will fit well into the environment and dissuading those who would not from applying. Having done an excellent job of branding themselves Southwest has tapped into a steady supply of the “right kind of people.”

Model your culture…starting from the top

At Southwest having fun is taken seriously and modeled at all levels in the organization. The CEO has been known to do stunts such as dressing up as Elvis. New employees are shown funny videos such as “The Southwest Shuffle” set to a rap beat in which employees describe their roles in the organization. Leading off is the Chairman who is also introduced as the Chief DJ.

Immerse new employees into the culture right away

The sooner new hires are made to feel part of the organization the better. Southwest takes great effort in making their newest employees feel special and a valued part of the organization from the moment that they are hired. No sitting down and reading the policy manual. One of the new staff hired to work in the University For People (called the HR department in more formal organizations) was surprised to find on her first day on the job that the entire department was hosting a pancake breakfast in her honor. A program called “Cohearts” matches volunteer longer term employees to new hires. Their role is to ensure that the new person always feels supported and embraced. Some of the of the ways that “Cohearts” does this is by spending time with newcomers, buying them small gifts, and taking them for lunch. As a result of these efforts powerful bonds are created between staff and the organization in addition to long term friendships.

Provide ongoing training and career opportunities

Once hired both organizations invest heavily in their employees, both in terms of workplace training and opportunities, ensuring that they never feel that they have reached a dead end and there is nowhere else to go in the organization. This gives employees a sense that there are always opportunities for learning, advancement and that the organization has an interested in having them reach their potential.

Look after your people…in good times and bad

Southwest’s corporate culture involved looking after your own. The company believes it is as important to celebrate hard as it is to work hard. Impromptu parties with executives dressing in funny outfits happen frequently. Having fun is an integral part of their culture. The company believes that looking after their employees extends to the families as well. When tragedy strikes, or an employee or family member become ill, other employees have been known to deliver meals and offer support that goes well beyond that found in most workplaces. Leaders at all levels maintain a support network that keeps updated on events going on in employees lives, good or bad. It is quite common for Southwest employees to have meals delivered, rides provided, houses cleaned when they or members of their family are hospitalized or ill.

Author's Bio: 

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, speaker and internationally published author of THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success, published by AMACOM of New York He writes a monthly column for HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE WWW.HRPROFESSIONALSMAGAZINE.COM You can follow him on Twitter @Theeiguy