HR Headaches: Keep your best workers

In order to keep your workplace running, keep your workforce.

The recent exodus of 35 employees who left an area bank reminds me that there might be management issues which, if ignored, can be perilous.

Without interviewing all of the bank’s employees and their management, we’re left with news reports that make it risky to guess too much about cause and effect for this exodus. However, any organization that abruptly loses 35 employees in a matter of weeks is facing serious challenge.

One point I frequently emphasize is working hard to ensure that you have a High Performance Organization. I define an HPO as a place where people don’t just work, but instead are engaged in their work—committed and enthusiastic about management’s mission, vision and values.

It’s doubtful any business can be comprosed entirely of engaged employees. But research by the Gallagher Organization suggests that only 25 percent of the typical work force is engaged. These employees are the core group who can always be counted upon to produce and make things happen. They train the new people, carry the owner’s banner and stick up for the company through bad times.

The second group, about 15 percent of the typical workforce, is disengaged. They are disgruntled, negative and act to undermine the organization. They will throw cold water on any idea and attempt to take new employees under their wings and corrupt them. They are often technically competent but interpersonally incompetent. If management knew how much undermining and damage this group causes, they would drop them.

The third group of employees is the 60 percent who are neither engaged nor disengaged. They do their jobs and head home. They underachieve, in part, because they are not engaged but also perhaps because they have not been recognized and encouraged to achieve. People usually live up to or down to the expectations others have for them.

In a high performance organization, you would have zero percent of the work group in the disengaged category, no more than 15 percent in the middle group and the balance, approximately 85 percent of the work group, engaged. Imagine what it would be like in your work setting, without spending one more nickel on personnel costs, if 85 percent were engaged and nobody worked to undermine you? Imagine an organization where nobody is working against management and most people work at the highest levels!

My job is to help the business owner or executive expand the engaged group of employees. If they cannot be converted, my objective is to extricate them from the organization. This may sound cold, but in a business climate where you have to do more with less, all employees must be firing on all cylinders at all times.

Combating this takes an engaged management, and a management’s engagement often turns on how well they listen to their employees. It’s not a one-way street! Simply listening to employees is good for morale, but actually devoting time and attention is even more powerful. Real communications can provide management with valuable information while helping employees understand their roles. It’s a positive outcome that will benefit most organizations.


 Steve Cohen is president/partner of Labor Management Advisory Group Inc., and HR Solutions: On-Call. He has more than 35 years of specialized experience solving HR problems in companies of all sizes. He recently wrote “Mess Management: Lessons from a Corporate Hit Man.” He’ll be providing insight on HR topics every month exclusively for KCBCentral.