From file "026_PSs" entitled "PWharris09.qxd" page 01
From file "026_PSs" entitled "PWharris09.qxd" page 01

Of the many challenges facing LBM supply owners today, few are more imperative than employee retention. A constricted labor market feels all the more tight—and all the more costly—if you are constantly having to hire and retrain staff. To help decrease your turnover rate, here are five retention truths to share with your managers.

Retention Truth #1: If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys! “You get what you pay for” is an old expression that rings true for employee retention. Yet today's best-run companies typically do not get into bidding wars for new hires, even though they understand they need to pay slightly above industry standard to attract and retain top talent. It is ridiculous to think you will get world-class customer service when you pay below-average wages. To get above-average service and productivity, you must consider pay grades that are above average for competitors in your area.

Retention Truth #2: People may join a company, but they leave a boss. Whenever I ask LBM management teams “What is the No. 1 reason people leave?” I inevitably get the same responses: no recognition, no promotion opportunities, no training, work not appreciated, lousy benefits, too much stress, overwork, and of course the most popular, a better opportunity and more money. While every one of these is a legitimate reason for someone to leave, they are seldom the main reasons people leave.

The No. 1 reason most good people leave is lousy supervision. If the basic supervisor-employee relationship is good, then top talent is more likely to stay. If the basic supervisor-employee relationship is bad, great people will leave—and leave fast. Which leads to Truth No. 3.

Retention Truth #3: Lousy LBM companies condone lousy managers. Great LBM companies fix lousy managers. Executives and owners often confide in me, “Jim, it's not that easy. So-and-so lousy manager doesn't mean any harm. He's been with our lumberyard since it was dirt. On top of that, he's my brother-in-law!”

Loyalty is one thing, but if you have a manager or supervisor who consistently runs off top talent, you have two choices: fix him (that is, put him through training and self development) or get him out of management!

Retention Truth #4: Some people need to go away! Can you think of someone working with you that, if you could, you would fill out his application at another lumberyard ... and then offer to drive him to the interview?

Whenever I am asked, “What is the fastest way to turn around low morale,” my first response is always “Get rid of the turkeys!” Your eagles do not want to hang around and be dragged down by turkeys. My second response is “Find more eagles.”

Retention Truth #5: Retention is a leadership problem—not a human resources problem. Leadership, whether strong or weak, ultimately determines the overall retention rate of your company. Retaining great employees is far too important to completely delegate to mid-level line managers or your human resources managers. Retention must be front and center within every strategic initiative, expansion plan, or turnaround situation you face.

Pay attention to these five truths and address them in your overall plan and you will stay ahead of your competition in the retention of top talent. —Dr. Jim Harris is an adviser to building supply companies in business, leadership, and people development. He can be reached at 877.638.7733 or at