How I Got My Best People to Stay

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Even in our more successful times during our 15 years of owning a business we, like most small business owners, didn’t have lot of excess cash on hand. We basically operated our business with enough reserve to sustain us for a couple of months and what extra we had, we invested back into the company. Every new salary we added was a huge commitment. We were faced with the challenge of wanting to hire the best people, but knowing we couldn’t pay employees what they were truly worth. We offered a good benefit package, but we knew that even that didn’t compare to what larger companies could promise.

We expected this constraint on our business would likely lead to a lot of turnover – always losing our best people to opportunities that offered more money. But we didn’t. Even over many years, our best and even middle-ranked team members stayed.  These individuals had the talent and confidence to seek other opportunities that could pay more.  But they didn't. 

So, the question we were asked was, “How did you do it?”

I attribute our high retention rate to one of our four core values: mutual respect. From the moment a new employee entered our office, it was required that, in every interaction, they were respectful to each other regardless of status, education, or age. Disrespectful language was not tolerated.  Disagreements were resolved with open discussion.  Mutual respect was woven deep into our company culture which resulted in a company-wide belief that every person was a valuable part of our organization.

I could count on one hand the number of people who chose to leave our company over the last decade. People at the lowest and highest levels of the business were empowered by the culture and consistently performed at an exceptional level. The result was a team fiercely dedicated to our values and our mission to be the best in our industry.

By the time we sold our business after 15 years, over half of our staff had been with us for five years or longer. Our middle and upper management team were all people who had started at entry-level positions in their respective departments and worked their way up the ladder. 

More than the raises, a 401k plan, or profit sharing, it was the environment we created – a place where people were respected and valued for their contributions at every level – that kept our best and brightest employees committed to our organization, resulting in such excellence that our small firm received national recognition as the best in our industry six years in a row.

Mutual respect was the foundation of our entire organization because it made our people feel valued, and empowered them to be the best version of themselves.