Riddell: Finding the right employees is critical
February 24, 2015
As long as Grand County remains a service based recreational economy, finding and keeping good employees will remain a major challenge. While every successful company in any geographical area must consistently meet this challenge, the transitory nature of Grand County's recreationally focused workforce adds even more complexity to this very real issue. Today we are going to try to provide some structural insights with the goal of providing a different path to sustainable success.
Before addressing specific retention ideas, perhaps the best place to start is an honest appraisal of the role of the service providing employee. Specifically, does the individual provide a very real value to the purchasing experience of the customer? Are there aspects of the product or service where a certain level of expertise is required (aka "expertise adding") or is the customer contact one of merely collecting information and forwarding it on for some type of disposition (aka "experience enhancing")?
An example of the former could be a sporting goods shop where technical and performance aspects need to be presented to potential customers. The latter might be a waiter or waitress at a local breakfast spot. How these roles are viewed by the employer is fundamental to how much time and energy the employer should be willing to spend in training and retention.
The focus must always be on ensuring satisfied customers. In purchasing environments requiring "expertise adding," customers expect a level of product knowledge greater than their own to go along with a pleasant disposition. This can't happen without some product-specific training or at least some tests to ensure the required knowledge.
So often many small business managers mistakenly assume that an awareness of some buzzwords directly implies an above average knowledge of the product. Today's internet savvy buyers want to know just how the various technical features will enhance their individual recreational experience. Minor pricing issues then become secondary to this level of expertise.
Contrast this with a purchasing environment where product specifications are not nearly as important as delivering an expected standard of quality in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price ("experience enhancing"). Now managerial attention and subsequent training has to be on these three aspects. In this arena a pleasant disposition is the most critical element accepting that you really cannot train folks to be pleasant. While menu items have to be learned and specials memorized, with the exception of certain high end specialty restaurants, the training/expertise requirement for delivery is pretty minimal; the requirement for production (cooking), however, is huge. Both factors, as well as others, contribute to the experience.
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Both of these categories share a common requirement in the area of providing customer satisfaction. Yet when you talk to small business owners or managers, many are at a loss as to how to gauge this trait among prospective employees. A very straightforward way to get at this issue is to simply ask any prospective employee how they felt the last time they experienced bad customer service and what would they have done to fix it. The managerial challenge then becomes to truly listen to the answer and see if it fits with the managerial requirement.
Now all of this expertise/experience stuff may seem pretty simple and fundamental. That's because it is. Yet managers and small business owners sometimes allow themselves to be whipsawed or panicked into violating these basic requirements. Needing a salesperson, they hire the first one in the door. Needing a cook, on the job training seems like a viable solution. Needing a server, a job-seeking grump can appear to be a life saver. All are guaranteed recipes for managerial heartburn and diminished business success — so please don't do it.
Once you find a valuable employee, the next goal is to try to figure out how to keep him or her. Our next column will go into some detail about different ways to structure compensation and retention programs to protect and enhance the respective training investments while underscoring the drive for satisfied customers.
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