The changing landscape of employee development and retention

May 28, 2021
Employee development is arguably the most important metric for two of your most important stakeholders: employees and customers.

Employee development is arguably the most important metric for two of your most important stakeholders: employees and customers. Improving employees’ skills isn’t about working faster or harder; it’s about developing their skills to work smarter. Your ability to trainretain, and recruit employees is critical to your future business success. Today’s new business climate has forced a change from the standard assumption of “your employees know how to process cars or else you wouldn’t have hired them. Helping employees continuously improve their skills can directly improve your shop’s profitability and help create your opportunity to become the employer of choice in your market.  

Making employee development work for your shop 

To help employers develop their employee development success plans, we work with our customers to help them learn best practices used by companies to successfully train entry-level employees, learn how to develop and cultivate technicians’ skillsets, explore process steps for training employees, and explore a simple set of tools designed for the collision industry and their shops. 

One of our customers has taken employee development to a new level, hiring first for the person they are and the character they have, rather than the skillset they have. “I hire for attitude and work ethic first, then I do all the necessary skills training once they are hired, so they are trained the way I want our employees to be trained,” says Andrewcollision shop manager from the Metro Los Angeles area. Andrew proudly manages a high-performing staff of mostly millennials — something you don’t hear about every day in this industry 

If you go back and reread Andrew’s hiring philosophy, therein lies the solution: Successful companies spend time and money to develop staff! Your people create your profit. 

There is a famous quote from Firestone’s Tire Company founder, Harvey Firestone, when discussing employee development with managers“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” And so it is.  

Now let’s flip the coin and get the employee perspective. 

What employees are saying 

What is the employee perspective on development opportunities? In our conversations with several employees, we noticed three basic themes 

  1. They would like to expand their knowledge in their current or future position. 

  2. They would like to expand hands-on experience concerning current or future tasks.  

  3. They would like to chart improvements with a planned mentor approach, reinforcing a career path. 

New and existing employees at all skill levels stated that when these developmental items were in place, the business they worked for became their employer of choice. 

The key is to connect managers’ and employees’ needs. Over the past couple years, we have asked shops in our performance groups about developing their own internal training programs. The feedback was very positive – shops wanted to have their own programs, but stated they needed them to be simple and customized to their culture 

Developing training programs 

Before creating training plans for shops, we need a basic understanding of the development concepts that staff in our industry would find useful; including whether they would need hands-on training and if shops should provide feedback.  

When we have posed these questions to employees, we have noticed three main categories of desired strategies:  

  1. Career-specific training  Staff was looking for a detailed job process with skills needed to grow and develop. 

  2. Assessment charting  Many people spoke about being able to self-assess their skills and charting their progress of learning. 

  3. Mentoring  Staff wanted on-the-job training with mentors that could assist in their ongoing development. 

The next step is to identify specific learning areas to be considered when developing an employee training program. 

Wcan break down training into four high-level categories that shops feel necessary to construct a development program for staff: 

  • Company overview  What training items would be needed for an employee to understand company overview areas, including different department processes, shop layout and design, and organization of work areas. Providing this information via employee handout is very helpful. 

  • Safety items  Processes and procedures regarding on-the-job safety 

  • Process areas/tasks  The areas and tasks of skills needed in the process for employees’ development 

  • Tools and equipment  Understanding of all the tools and equipment needed for their position 

Training plan development 

Creating an overview, like the one above around the four learning areas, and listing the items that would be important to you and your employees is a good start to developing your training plan. After you have a completed your list, you can assign a skill level that you deem appropriate for training. You can use numbers, letters, or symbols to arrange the training sequence for employees. Assigning an internal or external mentor to help develop skills can improve employees’ skills faster in their work environment.  

Periodic review and calibration give the employee a sense of empowerment and the ability to chart their skill development. Employees feel that having an employer that is invested in their development creates a preferred work environment.  

Now that you’ve invested time, energy and resources into training your employees into high-performance team members, you want to retain them so you can continue to grow and thrive together. 

Creating a winning employee retention strategy 

The steady decrease in qualified employees over the last two decades highlights the increasing urgency of employee retention. You’ve focused on growing and developing your people. Now you need to keep them. Employee turnover costs a business time, money, productivity and more. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates the total cost to be as high as the equivalent of six-to-nine months compensation. 

For your “people strategy” to be comprehensive, you must have a proven retention strategy to hold on to the employees that you value. This includes the same employees whom you’ve worked so hard to develop. Do you track your retention rate? Your annual goal should be 85 percent or better.  

While having a strategy may sound like common sense, it isn’t as common as you think. According to a study featured in Entrepreneur, more than 50 percent of the responding small businesses admitted that they have no employee retention strategy. Why is that? If a business owner or manager believes that retention is driven mainly by compensation, they’ll miss the more subtle drivers that make employees feel successful, secure, and appreciated. 

Why employees stay 

To understand these drivers better, AkzoNobel polled customers within our performance groups and conducted extensive research. Our finding: a sound retention strategy should focus on and address the following key elements to help you retain your valued employees:   

  1. One way to reduce the odds of employees leaving is to hire the right ones to begin with. Hire for strengths. Like our customer, Andrew, recognizes  you can’t train missing personality traits into someone. Use tools like a DiSC assessment to give you more insight into applicants. DiSC is a personal assessment tool used by more than one million people every year to help improve teamwork, communication, and productivity in the workplace. 

  2. Do a great job of onboarding. New employees should be set up for success from day one. This is one of the key moments that an employee will always remember. It plays a part in defining what they think of your company. 

  3. Smart managers invest in their employees’ development and help them grow. This includes crucial soft skills for managers. These are mainly people skills. While there are dozens that make up a great manager, the top ones include knowing how to organize and lead a team, empowerment, and trustworthiness. If you aren’t developing your employees, then you aren’t investing in them. And if you aren’t investing in them, why should they stay with you? 

  4. Keeping open lines of communication is essential. Direct reports should feel comfortable coming to managers. Connect with each employee on a regular basis and be fully engaged. Share company vision, goals, and key metrics that are important to each position. 

  5. One of the top reasons that people quit a job is a lack of recognition. The time managers spend on recognition can be one of the best investments they make. Recognizing employee achievements and timely promotions make people feel valued. Support recognition with a timely reward, and chances are employees will reward you with their loyalty. 

  6. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Promote the right ones and require people skills. Provide training on the soft skills mentioned above. Require and reward managers for spending time coaching employees. How well supervisors use their soft skills is one of the keys to retention. These skills cost almost nothing, except for the cost of training and may be your most important retention strategy! 

  7. A strong culture is a powerful driver of retention.  If you receive feedback that your company could be a better place to work, you’d better fix this first. Strive to be the employer of choice. This is where applicants really want to work. It’s an elite status that signals that your brand as an employer is top notch. It’s also part of trying to be the best in the market. People want to work for a winner, not #2, or #5, etc.   

  8. Prioritize employee happiness. This may sound soft to some, but the metrics behind it are not. Employee happiness is a key indicator of job satisfaction, lower absenteeism and alignment with core company values. How do you know if your employees are happy? Ask them! 

  9. Ensure that your compensation is competitive within your market. Provide meaningful annual raises to those employees who deserve it. As you grow and develop younger employees, make sure that their compensation increases with their skill set. If you don’t, your competitors will. 

  10. When was the last time you polled your employees on what benefits they value? There are many low or no cost emerging benefits available. Pare down your more expensive traditional benefits to the ones your employees want and need, then round out your package with a number of these emerging benefits to provide a very competitive package. Another key: the package should have something for employees at every stage of their life. 

What employees want 

Let’s summarize what we have discussed so far and boil it down to a few key things that the best employees want: 

  • Career development opportunities 

  • Regular feedback on how they and the company are doing 

  • To be able to contribute directly to the organization 

  • Flexible work schedules and work/life balance 

  • A good wage and the opportunity to increase it over time 

  • Benefits tailored to the employees’ needs 

Designing your retention program 

What’s next? Use these six steps to create a solid retention strategy: 

  1. Evaluate your current retention percentage and situation. 

  2. Decide on which strategies to incorporate. 

  3. Create your action plans with staff input. 

  4. Present the final strategies to your staff. 

  5. Anticipate skeptics and be prepared to win them over. 

  6. Reassess your strategies annually and adjust as needed. 

Every business should want to provide the best employee experience possible. If you do, you’ll keep employee morale high, turnover low, and guarantee your organization’s success!  

In our next article, we’ll look at the new age of recruiting for the collision repair industry. Our industry has seen many changes over the past few decades. One of the biggest changes has been the decreasing pool of qualified employees to help repair damaged vehicles to your standards. And with that decreasing candidate pool comes another shift  not only do you have to want to hire the candidate, but the candidate needs to want to work for you!