Intentional planning and continuous effort | The Business News

More and more companies prioritize employee retention strategies to compete in today’s talent market
by Heather Graves
Editor, The Business News
NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – Substantial focus is often given to a company’s employee attraction strategies – which could include hiring bonuses, relocation allotments, above-market wages and competitive health insurance options – especially in today’s job market. However, the importance of a company’s employee retention tactics – which Jess Lambrecht, executive director of continuing education and community engagement at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), said is one of the most important tools companies have in their toolbox – can sometimes get overlooked.

“I think we have to recognize individuals don’t stay in positions like they used to,” she said. “So, we have to do that much more within an organization to help encourage them and help them see their growth and potential (within the company).”

Lambrecht said part of that comes from individuals within the company telling their stories of success to new and potential employees.

“I think that’s where career laddering comes into play,” she said. “(For example), if you start out in an introductory role, what is the typical pace and intensity someone will maybe move through (positions)? I think telling the story about how individuals (progressed through the company), even those in executive-level roles, can showcase how they accomplished that because they stayed committed to the company.”

Lambrecht said an employer’s retention strategies could also be key contributors to a company’s attraction tactics.

“I think the part that baffles me – and I don’t understand why companies continue to do this – but, they lead with wages and position titles,” she said. “I think in the space of recruitment, that doesn’t mean a whole lot to individuals anymore.”

Jess Lambrecht

In today’s job market, Lambrecht said employees are looking for a place of employment that has a healthy work culture and is a place where they feel supported in their own career goals and interests.

“(Employees) want to know (they are) going to be supported through employee resource groups, professional development offerings or helping them connect with agencies that can help complement their role,” she said. “People switch jobs because they want to work for a company that is innovative and progressive. They want to be supported and they want to work for a manager or leader that’s going to help them navigate that space.”

Retention statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country’s latest turnover rate is 3.4%.

Industry-specific turnover rates in February, according to the bureau, were:

  • Manufacturing – 2.9%
  • Construction – 3.8%
  • Trade, transportation and utilities – 3.5%
  • Leisure and hospitality – 5.2%
  • Finance and insurance – 1.4%
  • Healthcare and social assistance – 2.8%
  • Professional and business services – 4.2
  • Educational services – 1.6%
  • Accommodation and food services – 5.5%

Fox World Travel Chief Culture Officer Audra Mead said the travel management company has retained almost 80% of its associates hired since the beginning of 2022 and has brought on more than 120 associates in that time as well.

“We also believe that length of career is a fantastic indicator of employee satisfaction, and 48% of our team has a tenure of more than five years – with 20% of associates in that group having more than 20 years at Fox,” she said.

According to Lisa Pichotta, director of human resources for Nicolet Plastics, LLC (NPL), the team member turnover at the custom plastics injection molding manufacturer was reduced by 10.36% following the first year of its Future Leaders/Leadership Program – a continued-education initiative – and by an additional 7.2% the second year.

“We have seen a 4% increase in the leadership category for our annual culture survey and an 8% increase in our survey results in the category of training,” she said.

Julie Ryan, vice president of talent for Faith Technologies Incorporated (FTI), said nearly 90% of its team members have noted they believe they are “developing the necessary skills to achieve their careers goals, find their work personally satisfying, feel a sense of belonging at work and overall feel happy with their job.”

“I also believe some of the best measurements of success are realized through our employee-referral program,” she said. “Team members are proud to work at FTI and refer approximately 40 candidates a week.”

Focus shift
Maria Nelson, vice president of Red Shoes, Inc. – a public relations firm in Appleton – said during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shift in what people viewed as important at and from their employment.

“While workers made this shift, many companies have lagged behind,” she said. “Companies thriving now have adapted to this new reality.”

Audra Mead

Ryan said it’s important to recognize the time commitment employees are making to their employers and how that affects every aspect of their lives.

“Gone are the days of employees coming to work to punch in, punch out and collect a paycheck,” she said. “Employers can provide so much more to their team by looking at their organizational values and applying those values to how they treat team members. Listen to learn – what do they value and what matters most in their lives? Engage team members in the conversation and the solution.”

Mead said Fox World Travel created a dedicated learning and development department that provides numerous opportunities for its team members to advance their careers – which includes self-paced training, executive coaching from external professionals, internal coaching, continuing education opportunities, educational conferences and industry conferences (virtual and in-person).

“Unemployment is at an all-time low, and it’s critical we prioritize initiatives to show our employees Fox values them, and provide a place they can work, grow and succeed,” she said.

At Red Shoes, Inc. Nelson said continued learning is a requirement.

“The pace of change in our world requires us to be on top of news and trends so we can best advise our clients,” she said. “We encourage and support learning whether it’s through webinars or in-person events and allow employees to attend events during the workday while Red Shoes covers the costs.”

Fostering opportunities to grow
Stemming from its “ground-up growth” culture, Ryan said FTI sees itself as a learning organization and empowers its team members through mentorship, classroom and virtual learning and on-the-job experience.

“We are proud to offer our team members opportunities to continue to grow and develop their careers within our company,” she said.

Ryan said the company’s in-house apprenticeship training program helps team members achieve their journeyman/women electrician license.

Julie Ryan

“In 2022, our program received recognition from the U.S. Department of Labor, confirming our curriculum as best-in-class in the industry,” she said. “Last year alone, we welcomed 347 new apprentices and celebrated the graduation of 120 from the apprenticeship program.”

Three years ago, Pichotta said NPL – which has locations in Mountain, Jackson and Ripon – established its Future Leaders/Leadership Program.

Partnering with the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Green Bay campus, Pichotta said Nicolet Plastics provides its employees with monthly learning opportunities – which include strengthsfinder, emotional intelligence, training the trainer and workplace communication.

“Any team member with direct reports participates in each training event,” she said.

In addition, depending on the training topic, Pichotta said the company brings in high-performing team members and/or team members who have expressed interest in leadership positions to participate in the training.

“Current leaders may choose not to participate in training to offer a seat to someone on their team who will participate, and then bring the information back to train their leader,” she said.

Pichotta said Nicolet Plastics also offers tuition reimbursement for team members who wish to pursue external training to obtain certifications, technical or a bachelor’s degree in support of their current or future position within the company.

In an effort to focus on supporting the continued growth of its employees, Pichotta said NPL conducts monthly one-on-one meetings with all of its employees, as well as sits down twice a year for Individual Development Planning.

“Through this process, we learn what skills each team member would like to pursue in the short term, and what goals or career path they have for themselves and/or as part of their team,” she said. “We have a Stretch & Grow process in which we can assign projects and mentors to help the team members start working toward their chosen career paths or in support of future career goals.”

Ryan said FTI also utilizes its mentorship programs in connection with employee growth.

“In our ground-up growth culture, being a mentor or advisor is a meaningful way to give back, and it is an important development and learning experience that provides team members with opportunities to realize their own potential,” she said.

Nicolet Plastics, LLC employees celebrate their completion of the company’s leadership team training program. Photo Courtesy of Nicolet Plastics, LLC

The mentorship framework at FTI, Ryan said, is built into its new hire referral, safety onboarding and leadership development programs to encourage team members to “pay it forward” and take someone under their wing.

“We believe the lasting connections created early on through mentorship relationships are key to team member growth and retention,” she said.

Pichotta said when employees feel valued and invested in, they are often more engaged in the work they do.

“We are more proactive in knowing and understanding what motivates our team members, where their passions and strengths are and how to help them further develop, while also creating cross-trained work teams,” she said. “The ongoing development helps us fill open opportunities faster and most often from within, which is good for the entire team.”

Pichotta said employees are also willing to speak up and offer suggestions for improvement, which creates a positive culture for team members who know they can make a difference every day.

“That is the type of environment that gets you excited to come to work every day and motivates you to learn more and continue to grow with the company,” she said.

Importance of developing current talent
Ryan said FTI’s future growth and success rely on developing the talent they already have.

She said the company offers three intentional tracks to build leadership competence and confidence – leading yourself, leading people and leading teams.

“Our leadership development program meets team members where they are and provides the support they need based on their level of skill and experience,” she said.

Recognizing the heightened global competition for skilled workers, Ryan said FTI’s talent team focuses on energizing team members from the moment they come on board.”

Maria Nelson

“We want our team members to experience more than just a job, but feel they have endless opportunities to build a career with us,” she said. “We’re not just thinking about recruitment and retention, we focus on how we can best engage, develop and reward team members to make them feel valued, appreciated, respected and included, which will ensure FTI’s continued success.”

Mead said it’s important for organizations to create a vision and work together to keep it top of mind and conversation.
“I also believe in being intentional and using the voice of your associates to drive your engagement initiatives,” she said.

Ryan said investment in people is the most important investment a company can make.

“At FTI, our team member’s success is our future,” she said. “Retention is critical to the health of the organization, our team members, customers and the communities in which we live and work.”

Focus on engagement
Both Mead and Ryan said rather than pigeonholing efforts just on employee retention, companies should focus on employee engagement.

“Help team members find joy in the work they do, the people they work with and create a place where they want to be,” Ryan said. “Help them feel connected to their job, the teams they work with and the organization.”

Part of that, Ryan said, includes recognizing employees as whole individuals and not just an employee of the organization.
“Provide benefits and programs that foster their minds through career development, bodies through health and safety and souls through well-being programs and work-life balance,” she said.

Ryan said FTI executives have made some “bold changes” to the company’s organizational culture, employee training and corporate wellness program over the years.

“Many of our executives have their own ground-up growth stories,” she said. “In fact, our CEO and president both started as electrical apprentices and have been instrumental in the growth of our apprenticeship and internal training programs.”
Ryan said employees want to see their executives “walk the talk.”

“FTI’s executives do an exceptional job living out our core values,” she said. “It is through these examples we can truly create a culture of care in our organization.”

Mead said since retention oftentimes is linked closely with engagement, creating a culture of improvement – for the entire organization and for individual associates – is important, which she said Fox World Travel does through numerous engagement opportunities.

“As a service-based organization, ensuring associates are thriving in a happy, fulfilling work environment is key to serving each other well and better serving the needs of our customers,” she said.

At the end of the day, Mead said new and unique benefit offerings might attract talent, but it requires focus, work and engagement to retain them.

“We have many highly tenured associates, which is reflective of an engaged work environment we have worked hard to create,” she said.

Focusing on employee retention strategies, Nelson said, can lead to employee satisfaction, which leads to increased performance, productivity, employee morale and quality of work – “which makes it well worth the time and financial investment.”

In addition, Nelson said high employee retention lowers recruiting and onboarding costs and avoids loss of productivity.

“In our businesses, where client relationships are pertinent to success, a high-retention rate allows our clients to get to know the people working with them and build long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships,” she said.

Regardless of the success Red Shoes has had with employee retention, Nelson said the company is cognizant of not becoming complacent.
“We know a successful culture requires consistent work,” she said. “We are consistently keeping a pulse on how employees feel and looking for ways to recognize and celebrate each team member, not only for his/her contribution to the company but for who they are outside of work as well.”

Pichotta said with the current, challenging job market, “retaining the excellent talent we already have in-house” has become even more important to meet NPL goals as a team and a company not only today but into the future.

Changing things up
Fostering a system that focuses on employee retention, Pichotta said, requires a shift in the way companies think about recruitment, training and development.

“The NEW Manufacturing Alliance has been a great support for us in the manufacturing world,” she said.

Pichotta said it isn’t something companies can do alone.

“You need to challenge the old way of doing things by having transparent conversations with your existing team members, asking for ideas from within and seeking out advice and ideas externally to find what is going to make the best sense for you and what you are trying to accomplish.”

Pichotta said companies must have an intentional plan to be able to execute and maintain a retention strategy successfully.

Lisa Pichotta

“Most importantly, you must be prepared and flexible to change based on the changing needs of the customer, the needs of your team members and the markets around you,” she said.

The most important piece of advice Pichotta said she would give for companies regarding retention tactics is, “You have to ask the hard questions of your team members and then listen.”

“When you get done listening, listen some more,” she said. “Ask for suggestions. Ask what your team would do to address the issues. You will be surprised by simply listening, how much you will learn and how much your team members care and want to help with the solutions for improvement – which in turn supports overall employee satisfaction and retention.”

Lambrecht said it isn’t something companies have to take on themselves either.

“I think that’s the cool part about the size of the community we have here,” she said. “We have a lot of offerings here locally. So, if an organization can link up with those types of agencies, they don’t have to produce it themselves.”

Lambrecht said these include the area’s young professional groups, leadership associations, professional organizations and various networking groups.

“The more you can support employees in understanding the greater good or a broader scope of an industry or like-minded individuals that will help them branch out, the better,” she said.

A helping hand
Lambrecht said UWGB, in partnership with the Greater Green Bay Chamber and the Job Center of Wisconsin, is doing what it can to help businesses showcase themselves through the Learning While Earning Expo set for 1-5 p.m. May 3, at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay.

Lambrecht said the expo looks to serve three different audiences.

“The primary audience is the general community – those who are in a job change or transition moment where they’ve maybe had an interest in going to school, but haven’t found a way to be able to do that,” she said.

The second audience, Lambrecht said, is the current Green Bay and UWGB population.

“It’s important for them to be aware if finances become a challenge for them – how do they link up with some of these companies to achieve that?” she said.

And the third primary audience, Lambrecht said, is high school seniors.

“Maybe education feels a little out of reach or they don’t have the support system in their own household to be able to do that,” she said. “So, they are looking for ways to keep their education and their employment skills here locally, so they can get out further ahead.”

Lambrecht said another important note to highlight is reminding individuals “they can go to school part-time, and that’s perfectly acceptable.”

“Our employer partners will focus on their educational benefits – some of which will pay up to 100% tuition,” she said. “According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there is a general lack of awareness of these offerings with organizations, and we are looking to use that as a recruitment tool to keep talent in the region.”

More information on the expo can be found at:

Source: Intentional planning and continuous effort | The Business News

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