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What makes the difference in retaining employees

B. Lynn Gordon Published on 25 May 2015

In the May issue of Progressive Cattleman, my column focused on “Why people follow leaders.” Followers may include employees, middle managers, committee members, volunteers, etc. According to Gallup, the four main reasons followers follow leaders are trust, compassion, stability and hope.

One of the most common relationships between leaders and followers is in the case of a supervisor and their employee. I will focus on that relationship.

After writing my last column and visiting with several people about the issue of leaders and followers, I decided to do this follow-up piece to bring even more emphasis to the importance of the relationship between the leader and follower.

What happens when a follower does not have that connection of trust, compassion, stability and hope? They quit their job. Oftentimes the leader doesn’t understand, at least for a period of time, why the employee moved on.

The employee probably left for one or many reasons, such as: They felt disengaged, they didn’t think their supervisor respected their work, and they didn’t see a future due to the lack of connection and communication between them and their supervisor.

In today’s world, leaders become so focused on putting out fires, they miss out on the opportunity to initiate a culture for their employees that might prevent these fires in the first place.

As employees, we’ve likely been in situations where we wished the communication was better, especially with our supervisor. If you haven’t experienced this, you are a fortunate person to have found that unique situation.

Communication is pivotal

Here’s a personal example. In a previous job, during the interview, the CEO (who if I was hired would be my supervisor) told me he believes so strongly in communicating with his core management team (which included me) that he takes time every week to stop by the offices of his managers to communicate with them.

This, he said, provides the managers the opportunity to share what’s going good, what are the challenges and what’s on the horizon. Wow, I thought, here is someone who really puts an emphasis on communication.

Well, you can imagine how much hope I lost and how unstable I felt when, after nearly three years working for this company, the CEO followed through with his outreach plan ... fewer times than I could count on two hands. As a result, I became a follower who lost trust in the words and actions of my leader.

I have heard comments about the lack of time supervisors spend focusing on their employees. For example, in one case, someone told me that in this past year, they had only had two opportunities to meet with their supervisor, one of which is a required performance review. Each meeting was less than an hour long.

Thus, in the 2,440 hours a year (standard annual work hour calculation), the employee had a total of two hours of dedicated time to communicate with their supervisor. How do you think this employee feels about their workplace? I asked if they requested more meetings, and they said they did but often the answers were: “I will get something set up,” or “Just give me a couple of weeks,” and nothing ever was solidified.

Another person mentioned that in their new job they feel like they have a closer relationship with “Darth Vader of Star Wars” than their direct supervisor. Maybe you have heard a friend reference another figure or famous person, but the concept is the same.

This person, who is very qualified for their new role, is capable of doing their job, but you can imagine the lack of stability and frustration starting to build within them. The outcomes/goals of their job and the company have not been communicated with them. Again, how long do you think this person will stay in this role?

This spring at South Dakota State University (SDSU), I taught a leadership class, and one assignment was for my students to write an analysis of leadership of an organization or where they may have a part-time job.

One statement stood out to me as I graded the assignment. The student wrote that on his first day of work the person who was going to be his supervisor walked up to him and said, “Hi, what is your name? And what are your future dreams and plans after college?”

This student said he stood there in shock and surprise. He was totally overwhelmed that immediately his brand-new supervisor showed compassion to him and interest in his future.

This student wrote, “I’m a college student trying to make a few extra dollars to go to school, and this supervisor showed me he was a leader and cared about me – I will remember that moment forever and will work for this company all through college as a result.”

The bottom line : It’s not difficult as a leader to care for your followers. It only took that supervisor a couple of minutes to impress a positive attitude on his new employee. Down the road, when that student is in a leadership role, how do you think he will treat his followers?

It’s more than talking the talk; it’s walking the walk of trust, compassion, stability and hope, all of which encompass communication. Do you want to be the employer your employees brag about to their friends and family – or the employer who has a “help wanted” ad in the paper every week?  end mark

B. Lynn Gordon
  • B. Lynn Gordon

  • Ag Leadership Specialist
  • Assistant Professor SDSU Extension and Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership
  • Email B. Lynn Gordon