[Editor's note: This article was excerpted from the feature "How LBM Dealers Can Recruit and Retain Top Talent" (ProSales, July 2019).]

Leaders must make sure employees are fully engaged, happy, productive, and motivated to do their best. How do you do that? Unfortunately, there’s no universal strategy that will do it for you, but good leadership will certainly help.

"The one thing that keeps people engaged in their organization is the relationship they have with that one person they call their boss,” said Rich Hadden during his presentation “Making the Connection: Work Environments and Profitability” at the Do it Best Spring Market.

Hadden, who is the co-author of Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Engagement & Your Bottom Line (Wiley, 2012), offered a few recommendations on how leaders can build good relationships with their direct reports:

A good leader promotes trust and transparency, Hadden stated. This means leaders should walk around the store or lumberyard and communicate with colleagues regularly, even if it’s simply to listen to them.

Compassion is another essential quality of a good leader. “It goes a long way in getting people to perform in ways that will amaze and astound you,” Hadden said.

He shared an example of a Wegmans Food Markets employee in Syracuse, N.Y., who is considered an “extra-miler” by his manager. Hadden wanted to know what motivated the employee to go above and beyond his job requirements. He learned from the employee that his sister was planning a trip from the Philippines to stay with family for three months in Cherry Hill, N.J. He was upset because it would be his sister’s first visit to the United States and he wanted to see her every day, but he couldn’t drive the more than 200 miles each way, every day, to be with her. So, the manager offered to temporarily transfer him to a Wegmans store in Cherry Hill for the duration of his sister’s stay. “They didn’t have to do that,” the employee told Hadden. “That was the day I began thinking, from now on, I’m going to start doing things around here that I don’t have to do.”

This is why Hadden recommended helping team members who are enduring personal hardships. If you go above and beyond what’s expected for the employees, you will have their full attention when you ask them to go above and beyond for the company, he said.

He then shared another example of an employee who needed help. A CEO found out that an employee’s child was struggling in school and the stress of this was affecting the employee’s productivity. So, the CEO paid for a private tutor for the child. As a result, the child’s grades improved and so did the employee’s productivity. “Treating people right is not about lowering the bar. It’s not about letting people do whatever they want. It’s not about giving them stuff they haven’t earned. It’s not about coddling and it’s not about a program. It’s just a matter of how you view your people and how you run your business.”

To that end, Hadden stated leaders should find out what motivates their employees. “Everybody is hungry for something. Find out what your people are hungry for and feed that to them,” Hadden said.

With this in mind, consider these eight employee retention tips:

8 Employee Retention Tips

Happy employees are more productive and stay with their companies longer, according to Rich Hadden, co-author of Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Engagement & Your Bottom Line (Wiley, 2012). Here, he offers tips to help keep your employees happy, productive, and loyal:
1 Keep your employees focused. Make sure all employees know your company’s three to five most important priorities so they can regularly contribute toward company goals.
2 Uncover what’s meaningful. Ensure that employees understand why and how their work matters to customers. This will make employees’ jobs more meaningful and valuable to them.
3 Surprise them with a perk. You can’t expect employees to go above and beyond what’s expected of them if you don’t lead by example. Periodically surprise them with an unexpected benefit and they might surprise you in return. It’s about reciprocity.
4 Write a handwritten note. They’re much more personal than emails and are more likely to be saved.
5 Include families. Remember significant others in your appreciation of employees. For example, offer a dinner for two at their spouse’s favorite restaurant.
6 Make a donation. Donate to an employee’s favorite charity. It shows that you care about, and support, their values.
7 Check your company’s reputation. Search for your company on glassdoor.com to see what current and former employees are saying about your company. Whether you like it or not, this is how your company is perceived, so keep an open mind and be willing to take action based on what you find.
8 Commit to improvements. Pick a leadership trait that you believe is lacking in your organization and aim to improve it during the next 90 days. Challenge all of your leaders to do the same. Repeat this process as long as you see fit.