Employee loyalty isn’t an employee issue; it’s a reflection of employer leadership

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By Manfred Gollent

We played a round of golf on a recent weekend: two business owners, the executive of a midsized company, and myself. At one point in the round, the conversation turned toward finding and keeping good employees, and the natural offshoot of that topic: lack of employee loyalty.

The arguments circled around “young people don’t want to work anymore” and that it is impossible to find “usable” talent. One of the guys was adamant that if you’re “lucky” enough to find the right people, they leave again for 50 cents more per hour to the next place — that is, after you’ve invested all the time, effort, and money to train them properly.

When we sat down after the round, I could not help but tell my acquaintances that I consider the whole matter a leadership issue rather than an employee issue. As you might expect, this statement did not earn me warm friendship. But let’s shed some light on the situation.

I tend to ignore the premise of young people not wanting to work anymore for two reasons:

  1. I heard the same line 40-plus years ago from my parents’ generation about my generation.
  2. I know many young, hard-working people. They are employees, entrepreneurs, contractors in the gig economy, or otherwise driven performers. Yes, I also know a few who might be considered lazy.

Finding great talent is really challenging, especially in an economy with an unemployment rate below 5 percent. The times when companies received hundreds of unsolicited resumes a day are over. It requires several things:

  • Hiring sophistication to find great people.
  • A competitive package.
  • An attractive corporate culture.
  • Nowadays, a cause to engage the young generation.

While the first two items can be accommodated with a few decisions and some money, the last two are a leadership challenge and will take longer to correct. That is also where the loyalty conundrum, the “L-factor,” comes into play.

Here we have a challenge that has a rational and an emotional component. As employers we must recognize that we buy the service of specific labor from those we employ, and not the individual as a whole. As employees we sell our time, during which we ideally apply our capabilities and expertise the best we can.

Authentic loyalty can work only when it goes both ways. The era of lifetime employment has long ago seized to exist; hence the term “loyalty” has a limited meaning in the context of employment. I suggest focusing on more realistic ways to generate organizational and individual performance.

Aside from an engaging vision and a manifested value system, the organizational culture becomes an important factor in hiring and retaining the new workforce. The culture should be initiated, guided, and developed by the leadership. For this to happen effectively, leaders must develop enhanced and advanced people skills. Leaders in the new economy with a predominantly millennial work force must be “people persons” to get all stakeholders on board and maximize shareholder value. My eight secrets for successful leadership:

  1. Create an organizational culture based on relevant values.
  2. Demonstrate ample self-discipline.
  3. Generate strong engagement throughout all ranks.
  4. Always live with passion and enthusiasm.
  5. Represent authentic empathy with anyone in the organization.
  6. Be ready to implement causes that matter.
  7. Regularly provide candid feedback in a supportive and constructive fashion.
  8. Be open to continuous learning and honing of leadership skills.

After all, leadership is creating results THROUGH people. Those who possess the right leadership toolbox, a forward-looking attitude, and an infectious enthusiasm will lead the workforce of the future effectively. When we begin to embrace generational differences in the workforce and identify the opportunities these differences offer, great things will happen.

We need to change the way we think about things, and the results we get will change accordingly.

Manfred Gollent, CBC, MBA, is an executive business coach and founder of QLI International, which specializes in a range of executive coaching, group coaching, team building, and strategic planning services for individuals, teams, and companies. Based in Greenville, QLI has strategic partners in Chicago and Dover, Del., and a network of best-in-class executive business coaches across the country.

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