Focus on HR - Retaining Your Lab's Human Assets

By Hedley Larson
Does this scenario strike a familiar note? You spent months recruiting a new member of your marketing and sales organization. It has been frustrating, time consuming and expensive. You took valuable time from your schedule and those of others to interview four well-qualified individuals each of whom you judged to be an excellent fit for your lab and possessing the ability to ‘raise your game’ in an increasingly competitive optical marketplace.

You concluded your interviews with a formal offer, clearly convinced that the new colleague would bring innovation, business acumen, a passion for the industry, and the human skills to effectively interact with staff and customers alike. She accepted your offer and enthusiastically joined your lab. Within the first six months, her assimilation to the lab and the optical industry was beyond your expectations. She showed a unique ability to work with colleagues, became a respected and integral member of your business, and won the praise of your customers. Needless to say, your unit and dollar sales exceeded budget, customer retention was solid, and an increasing number of new independent retailers and small regional optical chains came on board.

Now you have concluded almost a year with your new marketing and sales manager, and all segments of your lab operation are exceeding your most ambitious expectations. Clearly, she has fully integrated with your lab, your customers, and others in the optical industry. You approach her to schedule time to review her first year with the lab and are prepared to offer her a handsome raise and bonus. She stops you mid-sentence and informs you that she is giving two weeks notice and has accepted another position. She immediately excuses herself to leave to make an important proposal to an account you have pursued for several years. She exits the room, and you are left standing in shock.

Questions begin to race through your mind: What could I have done to prevent her departure? What did I do wrong? Did she not feel appreciated or recognized for her efforts? Should I have given her a raise earlier? Did another member of staff do something to offend her? You begin to think, “What am I going to do?” And you are forward-thinking enough to muse, “How can I ensure this doesn’t happen to me again?”

Facing Reality

Stories like this have become standard fare in virtually every company and in every industry. In some industries, turnover rates are approaching three percent monthly, or thirty-six percent annually. This exceeds the turnover rates of prior years by a factor of two. And data suggests that turnover among professional, technical and managerial ranks is on the rise in more traditional industries, as well.

Reasons for this accelerated turnover are many. Here are but a few:

• The long-held “psychological contract” between individuals and their organizations has weakened. Lay-offs continue as a means of reducing cost and overhead expenses in all industry segments, leaving individuals to feel less secure about their future.

• Competitive pressures, such as customer demands, continuing new product introductions, faster time-to-market, changing technology, and related organizational changes create both uncertainty and stress on individuals. Many seek to escape to “calmer waters.”

• Insensitive, tyrannical, offensive behavior by supervisors and managers is no longer acceptable to employees. This is especially true in a “hot” market for competent people.

• Professionals and “fast track” managers are no longer willing to tolerate poor organizational leadership or the lack of clear a clear business vision. Simply explaining that someone’s behavior is “entrepreneurial” is no longer an excuse for inept leadership.

• Many companies no longer consider good performance to be good enough. As such, organizational strategy requires companies to “trade up” to constantly improve the overall performance of people and organizational units.

• Job opportunities abound in all industries, and working across industries is now the norm, not the exception.

• Some companies now expect people to be professionally developed and ready for new assignments as opposed to developing people to be promotion ready. Or, in some cases, companies hire outsiders because they believe “new blood” is essential to the company’s future success.

All of these factors have led to turbulent times and increasing strain on companies and their management and human resources staff. To mitigate this “open exit” market place, organizations are now placing greater focus on retention strategies to ensure valuable human assets do not exit the business.

Work Culture and Employee Retention Brash companies simply ignore these factors as reasons for their inability to retain good people and instead convince themselves that turnover is healthy and that departing staff is either inept or malcontents. Bold companies, on the other hand, have a radically different view of human assets. Bold companies believe:

• “We recruit great people - therefore, we have an obligation to our business owners or shareholders to develop and grow each person to the fullest.” In so doing, Bold companies make a strong “invest in people” decision that is understood by and visible to everyone.

• “Human assets are the most important assets of the business.” Human assets are viewed by Bold companies as a business investment, not a cost. As with all assets, they are properly deployed, fully engaged, and always well- managed. Ignoring any business assets, especially human assets, will become more than an Achilles’ heel to the business regardless of profitability, a strong balance sheet, or healthy cash flow. Put another way, a Bold company is more than its financial numbers.

• “Everyone’s job satisfaction is essential to business success.” Job satisfaction correlates with doing important work, feeling a part of the company, believing in the company’s leadership, serving customers with a passion, working in partnership with other employees and organizational units, and being recognized and rewarded for a job well done. Less caring managers (and there are many in today’s business world) believe that if an employee doesn’t like the job, he or she can simply leave and get another one…or better yet, wait around to be fired or laid off. Bold companies continuously assess job satisfaction and take measures to ensure it remains high.

• “Ideas and innovation are the life blood of our company.” Bold companies fully engage their human assets by permitting them to contribute to all aspects of the business, thus maximizing those assets. Brash companies believe that one or two people “know all” or “lead all.” This type of arrogance misses the enormous opportunity to leverage the talent of every employee. “Thinking out of the box” (as opposed to “Living in your box”) should be the rallying theme of every company.

Would any of these tips proved valuable in retrospect to the lab owner who lost a key management contributor? That will remain a rhetorical question. But if you are a lab owner who has experienced a similar scenario, these tips may help ensure that you retain every key member of your lab team, not just a few.


Labtalk June 2020