NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Finding, hiring and retaining good employees is tough for many business owners.
But it doesn't have to be, according to Lawrence Steinmetz, a speaker at the recent World ITRA Expo in Nashville.
``The only reason you don't maintain good people is you aren't paying attention to what's going on,'' Mr. Steinmetz said during his workshop, ``How to keep good employees.''
In business, the human relations function is to recruit, select, develop, train and maintain a stable workforce, explained the former University of Colorado labor relations professor and current president of High Yield Management Inc. ``That does not occur as a series of accidents.''
In a speech filled with real-world examples, Mr. Steinmetz dispelled myths and provided helpful tips on how tire dealers can do a better job of finding, selecting and managing employees.
Lots of employers neglect the recruiting process, he explained. They wait too long before hiring someone and then want to find a good employee quickly. ``That's an almost impossible task, particularly when unemployment is low,'' he said.
Instead, employers should develop an ongoing recruiting effort, which means collecting names and phone numbers so that when they have to hire someone they're on track to do that, he said.
A key source for finding potential hires is your employees, Mr. Steinmetz said. Ask if they know anyone looking for a job. And don't be afraid of hiring friends or relatives. Most people become friends after a few days on the job anyway.
Once a business owner has a list of recruits, the next step is selecting the best person for the job. And the only way to do that is to talk with prospective employees and ask relevant questions.
That means using open-ended questions-those that evoke more than a yes or no answer. For example, instead of asking, ``Is it raining?'' inquire, ``What's the weather doing?'' Mr. Steinmetz said.
Learning to ask questions using the five W's and one H-who, what, when, where, why and how-also will help draw out pertinent information from prospective employees.
``People will talk but won't typically volunteer a lot of information unless you know how to ask the right questions,'' he said.
Every employer would prefer to hire someone already qualified to do the job. But if you can't find skilled candidates, then think in terms of training them, Mr. Steinmetz said.
``If you can find somebody well-trained, hire them,'' he said. ``But don't ever get into the idea that you've got to find somebody with experience. You can give people experience. You can train them. You can teach them.''
Along with training, employers must exercise control over workers-meaning they must check up on and make sure employees are doing what they're supposed to do, on time, and doing it right.
``You won't delegate work to others if you don't train them, because if they don't know how to do (their job), you won't trust them to do it,'' he explained. ``But you will still have a problem if you don't control them.''
People like to be checked up on because they want to know that they're doing a good job, Mr. Steinmetz said. So don't be reluctant to do performance appraisals.
Most supervisors consider such reviews a waste of time and don't like doing them, he noted. But they're not, he said, and employers need to do them consistently as well as keep good records.
``The people who maintain people over long periods of time have performance appraisals and reviews,'' he said.
And if someone is not working out, don't be afraid to get rid of him or her.
``If you don't terminate that employee (who's not doing the job), you've got a rotten apple in your organization,'' Mr. Steinmetz said. ``And guess what those rotten apples do? They infect other people in your organization.''
Motivating employees is another key factor in retaining people, but Mr. Steinmetz warned against using money to encourage employees. Money is a motivator, he explained, but ``you're more apt to negatively motivate people with money than to positively motivate (them) because of the relative comparison factor.''
If you have a disparity between what you're paying people at the same level in an organization, that will cause morale problems, he said. ``You can differentiate in terms of pay, but don't discriminate in terms of pay.''
Providing employees with meaningful work also is crucial to retaining them, Mr. Steinmetz said. This is particularly true when business slows down and an employer is reluctant to lay off people.
In those instances many employers create work for employees-such as having them do neglected painting and cleaning jobs-in an effort to keep them busy. But he added what seems like a benevolent gesture can come back to haunt the business.
Research shows that in the first month of a slowdown, employees who've been given ``make work'' are thankful they have a job, he said. But in the second month, they grow contemptuous of the employer because they're not doing what they were hired to do.
Drag this out a third month and something even worse happens: These employees will have become trained to work at a slower pace, Mr. Steinmetz said.
``You could ruin a good employee in three months making work for him,'' he said. ``Don't do it! You're better off sending someone home and letting them find another job.''
The affect of making work for employees will be seen when business picks up again. With employees trained to work at a slower pace, a business will find the need to hire additional workers to handle the same workload as before the downturn. This spike in wages will drag down the profitability of the business, Mr. Steinmetz said.
To help keep payroll costs in line, he urged his audience to determine historically the percentage of wages to sales for their own businesses, then strive to maintain that percentage.
``If your payroll as a percentage of sales starts ticking up on you, I'll guarantee not only will you start facing operating profitability problems, you will be destroying the viability of your workforce,'' he said.