Thursday, September 2, 2010

How to Keep Key Employees - an Ingenious Turn-key Organization pt iv

This is the last of a four-part series of articles on Developing a Self-Running Organization.  In the last post we discussed how to develop the leadership skills of your mid-managers.  By involving them in strategic planning, you can prepare your company to run in your absence even during a crisis.

Turn Line Workers into Managers

Okay, you're regularly involving your senior execs in planning and confident they're participants in your company succession plan. But how do you provide for succession of your line workers?  These may be senior people without any formal managerial responsibility but they know the ins and the outs of the organization.  Tenured employees who might be topped out in pay and marginally challenged, they are highly at risk for leaving.  They may have special skills that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace. If they see themselves in a dead end position the threat of departure can be great.

You realize you could fix this if you could offer them upward mobility.  Unfortunately because of the structure of the organization or their particular role, while you recognize their value, they're unpromotable.  So what can you do to prevent losing these key employees?

There is a way to provide your line employees leadership responsibility in a manner that achieves a number of benefits to the organization:
  • increased productivity
  • cheap labor 
  • clone irreplaceable employees 
  • an extended interview of new employees to determine cultural and skills fit within the organization
Can you guess what it is?  It's offering internships!

Work with the local University

By working with the career center of your local college, you can offer internships to students in undergraduate and graduate programs.  Done properly, you can achieve all these benefits and more.

Assign a new intern to a senior line employee you think may need a new challenge.  Your seasoned vet gets an additional role and becomes a manager by virtue of their supervisory role over the intern.

The company benefits from the productivity of an additional employee at a fraction of the cost of a regular worker and this intern gets to learn your business during this time.   Your labor output increases and you can assess how well a potential employee would fit your organization and perform their assigned job.

Most interns won't prove a fit, but that's fine.  Most employees don't either and end up leaving.  But by utilizing interns in your employee screening program, you won't have the expenses of a new employee.

Executed properly, an intern program can relieve you of many costly burdens.  Think of the typical expense and upheaval when an employee- even a brand new one - departs:  initial training costs, training salary, benefits, incidental issues.  Often you worry about the impact on sympathetic coworkers.  Rarely, you may have legal issues based on discrimination or other matters.

With interns, you won't have all these expenses and you don't have to worry about the affect on coworkers.  Interns are typically temporary so if they don't work out you just don't invite them back.  And done properly, you invest only time.  Regardless of the outcome, your senior employee will still have reaped the valuable experience of managing and training the intern.

Extend a Job Offer to a Promising Intern

When one of your interns proves a good candidate, you can offer them a position upon graduation.  Since they'll already know the job, they'll hit the ground running and require less supervision.  Their retention probability will be much higher than if you had hired someone without a trial period.  After all, you already know they're a cultural fit.  They'll probably get to know their direct supervisor. Since a poor relationship with the boss is the top reason an employee leaves you'll have a better chance of holding onto them.

Bonus: since your new hire interned under a seasoned employee with a valuable and possibly critical skill set, you'll have taken a giant step forward to shoring up that gap.  If you had the foresight to instruct your grizzled vet to train the intern to do their job, you have another employee on their way to adding that skill to their toolkit.

There's a lot more to structuring a successful internship program - how to supervise, how to manage the project, what to stress to all parties, how to ensure your line workers are enthusiastic and competent to manage interns, how to measure results, etc. etc.   It's way too much for this short article.  If you are interested, the author is available for consulting on how to best implement this strategic advantage.  The benefit far outweighs the cost.  For additional help, feel free to contact the author.

This is the final article of this series.  You now have the tools necessary to set up your company to become self-running.  You can add any number of staff for free by using interns; your line employees will view the upward mobility and you'll lock in retention of your key employees; your senior and line managers are practicing strategic planning and delegation which lowers the costs of the company; and you and every other leader can be content the organization will run smoothly in your absence.

And isn't that what every business leader wants?  To set up a business that throws off cash without demanding a lot of time?  Now you can take that trip around the world, right?  Write in the comments and tell me what you think.  Have you used interns?  What was your experience?

Next I'll share another Ingenious Sales Technique.  Have you ever tried to reach a top executive at a company but you were simply unable to reach them?  I used this technique to reach Warren Buffet's administrator at Berkshire-Hathaway Corporation.  It's a fantastic skill from a book that I tweaked.  Stay glued.  I'll share it in the next column.  Until then,

profitable business All!


  1. Hey :)

    I just read through, you ahve made some really great points there, employee retention is very important in these times when so many companies have gone under.
    I look forward especially to your next article!
    "Have you ever tried to reach a top executive at a company but you were simply unable to reach them?"
    Yes, alot, I would really be thankful for your next blog.

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