What do I have to Manage? # 5 – Hiring & Keeping Good employees – Part 2

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

So what’s the best way to go about employing the right people for the job, and once you’ve employed them, how do you keep them?

The following statement, though a little harsh, is a generalization:

Small business owners in South Africa do not tend to treat their people well. 

Many employees are generally regarded as just labour for hire – much the same as hiring a piece of equipment.     The prevailing attitude toward them by many small business owners is this: do the job and I’ll pay you, and that’s the sum of our relationship! 

Over the last 25 years, the Gallup organization has interviewed over a million employees, asking them hundreds of different questions on every conceivable aspect of the workplace.  Their aim was to sift out those few questions that were truly measuring the core of a strong workplace. 

They discovered that it can be simplified to twelve questions; “questions that measure the core elements needed to attract, focus and keep the most talented employees.” 

(These questions all form part of a number of books written by various members of the Gallup Organisation, such as “First, break all the rules”; “Now, Discover your strengths”; and a host of others.)

We have adapted these questions, made them into statements, and then we ask employees to either agree or disagree with the statements, as they experience it, in the workplace. 

As a small business owner, set this up in your own workplace, and hand out the statements to your staff, asking them to write down their views on a piece of paper.  In fact, take the series of questions below, and set them up on a spreadsheet.  (You can use it again and again, and thereby monitor the engagement of your employees.) 

You can then analyse the findings to ascertain just how engaged (or disengaged) they are.

This is very important. 

If you don’t measure up you will probably find that you have been unable to keep any superstars on your payroll or that you employ mediocre people who only care about their monthly pay checks. 

The statements are:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. I do have the opportunity at work to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for good work.
  5.  My supervisor, or someone at work, does seem to care about me as a person.
  6. Someone at work encourages my development.
  7. My opinions at work do seem to count.
  8. The mission/purpose of my company does make me feel like my work is important.
  9. My co-workers are committed to doing quality work.
  10.  I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, I have talked with someone about my progress.
  12.  This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

“Much of the power of this measuring stick, then, lies in the wording of the questions.  The issues themselves aren’t a big surprise.  You may also be wondering why there are no questions dealing with pay, benefits or structure.  This doesn’t mean that they are unimportant.  It simply means that they are equally important to every employee – good, bad and mediocre.” (With thanks to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, co-authors of the book, First, Break all the Rules.)

 The authors go on to say:

“The results of such a questionnaire will determine whether your employees are either:

1.         Engaged – those employees who pack the biggest punch on all the important business outcomes such as productivity, customer retention, low turnover, safety, profitability, and growth.  They are involved in generating ALL of an organisations profits and customer engagement.  They represent the positive economic force that fuels an organisations profitable growth.


2.         Not engaged – those employees who may share the values and mission of their team and organisation but lack precision in terms of the expectations of their role. Many of them are just waiting for an opportunity to become fully engaged.


3.         Actively disengaged – This group accounts for most of the waste in terms of lost workdays, incredibly high safety costs, higher levels of staff turnover, low productivity and customer defection. They represent a negative economic force actively at work within organisations and to a large extent, undo the great work of the engaged employees. They stagnate the growth of a company and represent the most significant challenge to its profitability.  They are living and breathing obstacles to meeting customer requirements.  These people are real trouble!

The Gallup Organisation conducted a national benchmark of the engagement index in 2001, for eight countries. 

The results were sobering to say the least.  On average, 17% of employees were considered to be “engaged”, 65% were “not engaged”, and a scary 18% were “actively disengaged.” 

What this means is that over 80% of employees are just going through the motions, when they come to work – not much ambition, not much interest! 

Now I guess one could say that there’s more to business than the attitude of one’s employees.  However, the Gallup organisation has found that there is a direct correlation between the level of engagement of employees, and the level of engagement of customers. (and we’ll address this a bit later on.)

Clearly, if your employees are all scoring between 1 and 3 on each statement, you have a problem.  Consistent scores of 4 and 5 indicate a high level of engagement.

I have found that in many small businesses, employees are often not clear on what their duties entail, and that:

  • very often, they do not have the wherewithal to do the job well;
  • they get drawn into areas where they lack skill and therefore lose motivation;
  • praise is the absence of criticism;
  •  they have no idea that the business even had a mission in life other than making money;
  • no one really cares about excellence or about personal growth and development. 

In fact, I have found that in most cases where businesses are struggling, it’s usually because of a people problem.  The problem does not lie with the people themselves – it’s a management/leadership problem.  People don’t leave businesses; people leave people!

 “Leaders create an environment where people come to work to prove themselves over again every day.  No one gets paid to budget their efforts or pace themselves.” (Dave Anderson)

Ultimately, it is the ratio of engaged workers to disengaged that drives the financial outcome of the organisation, particularly where active disengagement is concerned.  Your employees are actually all you’ve got.

If you’re not paying enough attention to them, it’s quite likely you’ll not have a business too much longer.