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Disclaimer and intro: I don't belong to OTW, mostly because I'd never seen their pledge drive and because I usually give my charity money to a few other projects near and dear to me.  I've seen a lot of talk about the elections and the board and the inner workings, however, and I have answered some questions for friends about how these organizations normally operate.  And I have also expressed a few comments of 'They're allowed to do that there?  Holy shiiii-' variety.  I'm making a couple of posts for those who are interested in an outside perspective of how these systems normally work in a healthy organization.  Questions are welcome.  I cannot comment on the inner workings of OTW, as I've not seen them, but I can comment on public statements and/or public policies.  I'm going into some detail about my own workplace, but keeping details confidential, so please don't share its name if you know it (the broad org type is fine). 

OK, let's start at the top.  So what the fuck do I know?  I'm a manager and a good one.  How do I know this?

Evidence based decision-making: Retention and user satisfaction

This post is
Part one: Retention
During my decade-long tenure, employee retention has skyrocketed.  (In other words, instead of having employees stay for six months, they stay for three years--or ten years).  The reasons for leaving have also changed.  Instead of employees leaving because of scheduling conflicts or dissatisfaction, they now leave because they've completed a job-related degree (I've talked three people into this....SO FAR!) and have acquired a higher-ranking job with great benefits and increased pay elsewhere.  I've had two employees leave because of family-related reasons, who then wanted to come back.  

That tells you that my employees are happy, which is part one.  It's possible that I let them sit in the back and play Parcheesi, so we need to look at the other side of the equation.

Despite an industry-wide reputation of poor experiences, lack of service, and so on, my locale has received unsolicited positive feedback at the highest levels.  We routinely score highly on surveys for satisfaction (much, much higher than our fellows).  And so on. 

I'm not saying all of this to toot my own horn, although I am damn proud of my employees, but to set up a story of how I judge success.  What I just told you was what we in the management trade call 'evidence based decision making'. 

In other words, we try not to just make shit up.  (I know, I know, managers have lousy reps for being bullshitters, but some of us do try, so bear with me.) 

The evidence I use to judge whether I'm doing a good job as a manger is retention/employee satisfaction and user satisfaction.  Those are both standard.  You might, at first glance, wonder why anyone would care whether employees are happy.  I mean, yes, that's the human thing to do, but management isn't really known for its kind, squooshy heart. 

Organizations care about retention because it is in the best interest of any organization to keep people for as long as possible, if they are able to do the job.  Period.  There are two reasons for this:

One, institutional knowledge.  Have you ever met one of those old primary school secretaries who knows everyone?  She can call a thousand parents and she's fixed a thousand skinned knees and she knows exactly what you did on September the 13th 1982 that got you called into the principal's office, buster.  None of that knowledge is written down anywhere, it's in her brain.  She knows why there is a 'no red jello cups' rule for the month of October, when everyone else is baffled.  (Perhaps there had been a rash of fake zombie attacks involving tapioca cups and red jello cups.)  If the secretary leaves, her insitutional knowledge also leaves.  Jello cups are minor.  Why the board fired someone named Smith in 1992 probably is not.

Two, time and resources required to train new recruits. 
I have about ten part-time employees.  Each works about twelve hours per week, on average.  It takes me approximately forty one-on-one hours to train them successfully.  Any time I'm training, I'm not available to do other work, such as finances or troubleshooting.  It is not possible to successfully train these employees in less than forty hours.  Their job quality suffers.  In addition to the training time, I also have my employees do what is called 'Shadowing'.  Shadowing means that a new recruit follows an experienced employee around like a shadow, watching and listening and learning.  After a time, the new person can begin to answer the easy questions, while the experienced person is still there at their elbow, ready to leap into the situation if it becomes too complex.  It makes for a lovely, low-stress introduction to the work place. 

It is also very time and money intensive.  Instead of paying for one employee at the service desk, I am paying for two.  Because the older employee is helping the newer one, the service interactions take longer--the older employee usually takes some time to explain the why's and wherefore's of the interaction, so service slows down.  And so on. 

It yields excellent results, so it's worth it. 

This type of training is a bit of a catch-twenty-two.  It costs a lot in the front-end, but it does prevent quick burnout.  I can afford to train this way, because I only have to train new employees every two years or so.  If I had to train them every two months, I probably couldn't.  But I improve retention by not stressing my employees so much--a job where you know what you're doing is a lot less stressful than one where you are afloat in a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. 

By spending the money to do things properly the first time, my organization saves money in the end. 

Another aspect of turnover is gap-time.  Let's say I have an employee who leaves.  She gives me two-weeks notice.  That's fair.  Can I acquire and train a new employee in that amount of time?  No.  It generally takes two months to run a search, go through applications, select a person, and then hire them.  After that, they must be trained.  So add another month.  At which point they're a baby new employee who can do the basics.  Is this the same as the employee who left, who had six years experience on the job?  Yeah, no.  During the time between leaving and acquisition, someone must fill in the gaps.  Sometimes that is my other employees, sometimes it is me.  

Since everyone already has a job, that means we're all expected to do two jobs.  Ours and the employee who is now gone. 

That is not sustainable over the longterm, and if it continues for too long, other employees will leave, which means, you guessed it--more additional jobs.  Left unchecked, you end up with a death spiral and a couple of deeply stressed, freaked out people who cannot leave (for whatever reason).  They tend to have bags under their eyes and an air of hopelessness. 

Even if the organization was OK with that from a human point of view, it results in a landslide of poor user satisfaction.  One person trying to do two jobs, no matter how dedicated, is going to fail in the longterm. 

If doing customer service (whether internal or external), as many jobs require, said employee will often become snappish or have trouble taking criticism, or have increased numbers of misunderstandings, even if they're doing their best.  That does not make them bad people.  It makes them human.

Right.

So I hope that I have made a case for retention as being in the best interests of any organization. 

I measure retention in two ways:
  1. How long people stay.  Longer is better.
  2. Why people leave.  Reasons outside the organization is better than reasons inside.  I can't prevent (and wouldn't want to!) an employee who married their sweetheart and is eloping to Chicago.  Good for them.  I can and should prevent work dissatisfaction, lack of training, overwhelm, burnout, etc.
Depending on why people leave, I might do various things about it.  In my next post, I'll be talking about strategic deployment of individuals.  In other words: horses for courses, advertising, recruitment, and most important: The Absolutely Biggest Managerial Gift Ever, the Ability to Say NO. 

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
vom_marlowe
Nov. 14th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you! (Also, jeez am I wordy McWordyPants today, lol.)
crystal_lilly
Nov. 15th, 2011 01:18 am (UTC)
I have no idea what OTW is or what happened to it, but I really have to say that I wish my manager could read this. I honestly want to print it out and put it anonymously under his door. After reading the first paragraph, I was hooked and have now read to the end. I'm actually only a few tiny steps away from being one of the "deeply stressed, freaked out people" left in the department... except we're all like that. I've imagined handing in my resignation and doing my exit interview so many times, it's not even funny.

Okay, going to read part 2! Just wanted to say thanks for posting this, I find it really interesting.
lady_ganesh
Nov. 16th, 2011 12:47 am (UTC)
This is awesome. I wish several people I'd worked for read it.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )