How to Improve Employee Engagement and Long-Term Retention — Joseph Michelli

You and your managers might not realize how much employee engagement directly impacts the customer experience. Frequent, growth-focused feedback is key to keeping employees engaged, and it is essential to determine how an employee’s purpose aligns with the company’s vision. Today on The Atlanta Small Business Show, we’re pleased to welcome back Joseph Michelli, CEO of The Michelli Experience and New York Times best-selling author, to discuss strategies for attracting and retaining top talent in a tight labor market.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So Joseph, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.

Joseph Michelli:
Thank you. And nobody wants to hear this topic. Nobody’s having a hard time attracting employees or retaining them so we can just go get air for a while.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
You just go to the talent store, you go online, you order top sales people and top customer service and they just deliver them and then they stay with you forever and you don’t even have to give them that many…

Joseph Michelli:
I’m still waiting for Amazon to have that on the list. Highly qualified employee.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That it is very, very difficult. I know as a small business owner myself, I know you experience the same thing. You work with so many companies, large and small around the country and have consulted with them. This is definitely at the top of every CEO’s list, how do I get and keep good people? And it is so incredibly tough right now. So talk to us about some of the best practices as mentioned in a few of your articles for team member engagement and to keep those people engaged, keep them happy, keep them working and most importantly, keep them taking good care of your customers with a smile on their face, right?

Joseph Michelli:
Yeah. And I think this, we’re going to face different challenges ahead. I think, we’re going to see a softening in the labor market at some point and all things come and go. Wide ties, narrow tides, difficulty getting good employees, difficulty keeping good employees. It all changes. But the science of this doesn’t change. I mean there’s been a lot of research and what I find phenomenal is somebody reads an article on Google and it becomes the advice of the day, well, why don’t we stay with where the empirical research has gone? And so look, I went through some research article reviews and came up with 20 things that employers should do. And so I’m going to give you just a few of them without a doubt. The more you talk to people about who they are, how they’re doing and what it’s going to take for them to grow in your organization or in their skill sets, the more likely they are to stay.
So frequent, constructive growth focused feedback is still critically important to having people succeed. I’ll give you one more and then we can veer off wherever you want. But just giving people a line of sight of how their personal mission in life lines up with the mission of your organization. We used to just teach people mission, vision and values. This is our mission, vision and values. Embrace them. Go with us, really is important to say what is your mission in life? What is your purpose in life? And oh, by the way, it’s pretty exciting because you can do a lot with this from this purpose-based organization that you’re a part of, probably more now than ever, that people are making decisions on a reset of life purpose as to whether they want to maintain employment or not.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, there’s no question, Joseph, why do you think? What you had just mentioned is nothing major. You didn’t mention an expensive vacation, you didn’t mention an expensive benefit or a free car or mileage or whatever the case might be that sometimes owners go right to, oh, what’s that going to cost to try to help keep somebody here and keep them happy? The two items you mentioned was really more communication, just sitting down and spending some time with your employees and finding out what motivates them and to your point, if there is an alignment with what the goals and aspirations of the company are, along with what that individuals are and how come we don’t do that as managers? And I know I’m painting with a broad brush, many of…

Joseph Michelli:
I think its human nature. Let’s take the shortcut. If I can wave money and that’ll keep you for a while, that is an attractive shortcut from the more fundamental work that it takes to build out the company cultures that enable people to grow, to develop, to master their work. And a lot of the other things that we talk about, I’m not saying there are times you have to look at your compensation plans and make sure that your commensurate with everyone else. You need to make sure your perks are consistent with what’s in the industry. But if you start trying to just perk your way in, you’re not building loyalty really. You are negotiating to buy longer time with people who are disloyal. Right?
And I think you see a lot of people had very good jobs and the great resignation, they just left them. They left really good paying jobs because I wasn’t getting a sense of purpose from what I was doing, during the pandemic I rethought it all and I realized even though I was making great money, I’d rather be opening my own business over here and I think we underestimate the importance of purpose. Now obviously if you underpay people you’re not going to get there. But if you’re in a fair compensation model now it’s all the other things that are going to differentiate you and it’s not the perks and bennies normally.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, yeah. It’s funny, 10 years ago or so, there was an article in Inc. Magazine about all of these young people coming out of colleges that opted to work for a startup versus working for some of these Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 corporations. Even though they had all kinds of benefits and dollars getting thrown at them. And when surveyed those individuals said, well, the startup was so much cooler and so much there was a cause you felt part of a bigger program that you actually were going to make a difference in.
If I go to work for some Fortune 500 company, I’m probably going to just be a number of about 20,000 employees that they have. Where here I actually have an opportunity to really shine and at the same time also learn. Because there’s so many people that eventually do want to go into their own business or start their own company or what have you. And to be involved in something like that means something. They feel like they’re working close to the CEO or the founder and they’re going to launch this company or build this company, roll up their shirt sleeves, and work side by side and have a sense of purpose and reward once you make it to the top and it seems like that means a lot to a lot of people, doesn’t it?

Joseph Michelli:
It does. And I think if you’re going to invest money in trying to keep people, then why don’t you invest it at a root cause factor that’s going to have some scalability. So invest money in technologies that automate what would otherwise be repetitive tasks that human beings have to do in your organization. That investment in automation makes the experience far broader and better for lots of people as opposed to the money you send at one employee trying to keep them in that slot. So, I’m not saying you don’t need to invest, but I think sometimes the investment should be on something that has more scalability and attracts people because the jobs they do aren’t just this mindless repetitive task job. It’s something that really gives them enjoyment, creativity, collaboration, innovation.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And it’s a very good point. We do have a tendency, I think some of this has to do also with… it might be somewhat generational. I’m a baby boomer, you’re probably a baby boomer. So we were brought up in, when we were coming up in business that everything was dialed around money, It was all roads lead to how much more money can I make, right? So therefore, as managers and leaders of companies ourselves, that’s the first way that we have a tendency to go, right? We don’t really go into the touchy-feely stuff so much so well, right? And we need to.

Joseph Michelli:
And I think some of the questions would be, if I ask you, if could work from home and take 10% less of a paycheck versus have to come in and take and ask for the same amount of money. There are a lot of people who would say childcare, gas, quality of life. It’s not always about the money. Obviously if I’m not making enough to survive, then I don’t have a home over my to go home to.
But I think, again, assuming we are paying fair rate, it’s not always about the money, it is about flexibility. It is about purpose, it is about autonomy to not have every task regimented, but some freedom to express myself in the task. Whether that’s the ability to complete it in a different way with a different team. Just the freedom to do some of those things. And I think we just have to look at everything we do. Did we design a great employee experience from the hiring experience, the onboarding experience, the ongoing training and develop, the mentorship, did we develop those things or did we just let them kind of organically take shape? Because if we did not design them, now’s the time to streamline a lot of those experiences. And all the skill you develop that on behalf of your employee is going to help you streamline the customer experience as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. And now when you’re out there trying to, we’re talking about keeping people when you’re trying to recruit people that is tougher than it’s ever been before because you are up against these other incredible companies out there that are offering all kinds of programs and benefits to that applicant or to that candidate out there, many of them are monetary driven such as reimbursement for college education and signing bonuses and three weeks paid vacation to start versus two and a whole host of other things. Talk to us about that. What are your recommendations for small business owners? And I say small business, those are companies with 500 employees or less the way we see it. But what do you recommend when they are up against.

Joseph Michelli:
You can’t do it? All right. We are not Google, we can’t create the Google plex for everyone. People who are attracted, all of that should work for Google and a lot of them will. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of other people who, when you tell a different story, an authentic story of your strengths aren’t going to want to work with you. I think when you come to say this is who we are, this is what we are committed to, this is what your work life experience is going to be with us, please talk to our other employees who have had these experiences with us who truly have been loved on by us, within the resources that we can muster. We fair and just and excited and you will grow and develop and we will care about you and care for you and we can’t always do that monetarily, but we will do it with every fiber of our being.
And here’s what we are and how we’ve done it and how long we’ve done it and where we’re heading. And do you want to join the dream and vision? A lot of people will take that hill with you, but a lot of times we give up our power, we feel overwhelmed by what other people can incentivize or we try to play on the incentive, you play on their terms and we lose. Right? So I think you have to know what your core organizational strengths are. You have to develop the best human experience you can within the budgetary confinement you have. And if you execute that and tell your story, it works out. It really does work out.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen some companies that have actually taken their staff and said, look, do a testimonial for the company. It helps us to get the best talent that’s out there, which helps all of us in the company, okay grow. Because every employee knows that the company needs more people, more good people. So there are companies out there that have actually called on their own associates to do a testimonial type video. I mean from the heart to say, what do you think about our company and working here? And then push that out on social media for the company. Or maybe even push it out in the individuals, the employees social media site as well to talk to their friends and family about what it’s like to work for the company. You never know where your next best candidate’s going to come from, right? In addition…

Joseph Michelli:
Well, and I have a big advocate of measuring how likely your employees are to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. It’s called the Enet promoter score, the employee net promoter score, and really measuring that and getting to root causes. What’s contributing to you not wanting to recommend family or friends here. What do we need to be working on as an organization, again within our finite set of resources? Where do we need to emphasize experiences for you? I think there’s that. Zappos is a company I consulted for a long time would on hiring encourage you to get a Twitter account. They didn’t tell you what to say. They just trusted that you’re going to spend a lot of time at work and if you had a social media account and your social policy was just use good judgment and if you gave people good human experiences, they would be talking about that. ‘Cause what do we talk about? We talk work, our family, our recreational interests. So let’s create a great work environment and encourage people just to be authentic and give them reasons to say good things about us.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, no question. And used to be that companies would say, don’t put anything on about the company. Don’t, if you’re going to take a picture, don’t take it, don’t post it. And I think that that’s a mistake now. I think to your point, you’re right, get out there and get into everybody’s network. And also to your point, make sure that you are running those surveys with your employees to make sure that how can we be better as a company to serve you as our associate and…

Joseph Michelli:
Put it on your managers. I literally think managers should be held accountable to creating engaging workforces. That’s part of their job. It should show up in the productivity of their employees, but it also should show up in the overall emotional sense of their work that employees carry. And managers who don’t do that, I think need to be coached and developed to make sure that they do create those kind of work environments.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right, right. What’s your take on businesses that are wondering, should they bring the staff back or let them work remotely? You hear so many different scenarios out there where some people say, no, by golly we have this office and we’re paying rent on it. We want everybody back, even though it’s been proven by those associates working for that company, don’t need to work in the office in order to be productive and successful in their roles with that company.
It almost seems as though the owner doing that or demanding that just to have those seats filled in those offices that they’re paying for. And there seems to be some resentment on behalf of the associate or the employee to the employer to go, why are you making me do this? To your point, I got to get my clothes dry cleaned and I got to get a babysitter or make accommodations for my children. I’ve got to make the commute and gas is expensive and you’re doing this all because you want me sitting outside your office in an office environment. Or it kind of goes back and forth there, where do you stand?

Joseph Michelli:
Yeah, no. And I think there isn’t one size fits all and you’re going to see lots of spread on this. It’s not, in the old days there was one size fits all. You had to be in the office and you had to be sitting there and looking productive while you were playing solitaire on your computer. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right.

Joseph Michelli:
Size of the old days. Today there are many, many sizes and different organizations have different needs and demands on that. And I think to make it too simple would be wrong. I think any social contract between two people has some negotiation in it and there’s reasonableness and unreasonableness, there is a power position that you have as an employer because you’re creating a job. The reality is there’s a power position on part of the employee and that they could leave that job if they could find a better alternative that fits them.
And ultimately this is the dance of employment. It’s been going on forever. The art I think, is to really be able to say, how do I drive productivity and quality of life and not one or the other. And if you capitulate to people who just say, I want to do dry cleaning all the time and not perform, then that’s not a good work environment. If you just say, you got to come in because we’re paying rent, that’s not a good thing. And the balance is how do we create places where people want to work, where there’s a sense of community, where ideas flow, where they produce, and what’s that mix of work and home that we need to facilitate in this particular organization to achieve those objectives.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So your take is that in the future here might get a little bit more, it might open up in terms of opportunities for employers to get better candidates in the door, maybe because of the current situation or the economic landscape out there.

Joseph Michelli:
I mean, theoretically you keep it rising interest rates. Organizations have to figure out ways to still make money. And if the labor costs are excessive in that, they’re going to go to models that make the labor market softer. They’re going to retain their very, very, very best people that they can hold onto while still trying to keep productivity and the lights on. And as that happens, then some of the very, very talented people that we were desperately trying to find are now available. So I think, I’m not a cynic that says it’s going to be like this forever. We’re going to always have challenges, they’re just going to change. And that’s the exciting part of being in business.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Do you think through COVID though, there are some things that have changed us forever, such as now working remotely and everyone having a different view of their relationship with their employee or their employer?

Joseph Michelli:
Yeah, I think it’s just conscious capitalism. Not in the socially conscious capitalism use of the word, but it’s just conscious like, do I need you here or not? Do I need to be there or not? And some things that were just habitual business. I mean, I’d get on a plane and go see a client. I live in Tampa, I’d go see a client in New York and I’d come back that night. Right now that meeting probably doesn’t happen with a plane, but I’m still going to make a quarterly visit to that client. It’s just that I would spend a couple of days there in a more meaningful work interaction. So I think you’re seeing some shifts that are just good for business. And then of course you’re seeing mistakes and misuses of some of these technologies as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. So you have written so many best selling books and we’ve featured so many of them here on the show and we’re showing a picture of them right now on the screen. Talk to us. So you’re working, what’s your next book? You got to be working on something, if I know you.

Joseph Michelli:
I am working on a book. It’s not a U.S based company right now and I’m not able to disclose it, but I’m very excited because it’s one of those examples where an industry you don’t think of is delivering great experiences actually is doing some amazing things, at least with this one particular brand. So I’m liking telling this spoiler story of yes, you too can be amazing in the way you take care of customers.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s true.

Joseph Michelli:
Even if the industry isn’t known for it.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. So let me ask you, I know it’s not a U.S company, but is it a brand that U.S would know?

Joseph Michelli:
I’m not sure if they would, but it’s in a sector you would fall in love with. So I’ll leave it at that.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. We’ll let the viewers try to figure that out.

Joseph Michelli:
Just enough of a tease, is that enough of a tease?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. So Joseph Michelli, we want to thank you so much for joining us once again. He is the CEO of The Michelli Experience, an incredible speaker. How do I know? Cause I’ve seen him speak and man, the guy lights the room up. So if you guys are looking for a speaker to take your event to the next level, this is the guy to do it. And also New York Times best selling author, I might add, this guy has got the street cred, that’s for sure. So Joseph, thank you so much for joining.

Joseph Michelli:
Thanks for having me, Jim. Look forward to doing it again soon. k.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Absolutely, thanks.


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