Last month, I shared a few hard truths about hiring. In case you missed it, here's a quick recap: As difficult as hiring may be, there is more you can do to attract quality people to your business.
You can talk to your team about why they like working for you and spin those benefits into more compelling help-wanted ads. You can institute a "hunting" approach to hiring and try to recruit great employees as you come across them in your day-to-day life. You can create a recruiting video that sells your business, the area you live in and why the pool and spa industry is so great — and then use that video as marketing collateral.
A lot of people think hiring ends once you get a great candidate to work for you. That's great, but there's another, far more important step in the equation, and that's retention.
I'm sure you all have read about job retention and why it's so important, but I'm going to start off this conversation by sharing what I think is a radically different idea, especially in the pool and spa industry. Your customers should not come first — your EMPLOYEES need to come first.
When you put your employees first, you are sending them an incredibly strong message. You're telling them they are valued not just as employees, but as people. People who are valued and respected. People who play an integral role in your team and the success of the company as a whole.
When employees feel supported by their employers, they feel engaged with their work. They focus on what they can bring to the table to help the company grow. That engagement directly translates to happier customers and a better bottom line.
And finally, employees who know their bosses are invested in them and their future stick around — so you do less hiring in the first place.
So, without further ado, here are five hard truths of employee retention.
1. YOU MUST HAVE AN ONBOARDING PLAN IN PLACE.
As I explained last month, I see pool and spa dealers fall into the same cycle. Your top salesperson quits to work for another company across town, leaving you short-staffed. You're forced to move quickly and end up hiring straight from the first group of applicants. You don't have much time to walk them through everything, so you halfway train them, give them some product literature, send them out to the floor and hope for the best.
Your employee feels uncomfortable. They can't answer common customer questions and need help for just about everything they do. That uncertainty turns into frustration and they quit... leaving you exactly where you started.
All of this to say: You need a detailed onboarding plan for new employees. Every new employee that walks through your door should go through a training program that leaves them feeling confident and ready to hit the ground running.
Let me give you a personal example. Back when I first started in the hot tub industry, I was hired by a dealer to work in sales. I was hired in January that year and, believe it or not, I didn't talk to a single customer until March. I had no fewer than 10 weeks of solid training before I was allowed to go solo, and all of that time was charted out and planned by my supervisors.
You're probably wondering, "How do you fill up 10 weeks of time training?" Loosely, I'd say it comes down to three things: study, practice and exposure. Here's what I suggest you include when building a training program of your own, in this case, for a salesperson:
• Product knowledge: When I first started, I read every brochure and watched every video I could find on the hot tubs we carried. The literature you give to customers is great, but don't be afraid to ask your manufacturers for training materials you can implement in your own onboarding program.
• Sales pitch practice: Unless they came from another dealership, the salespeople you hire don't know much about hot tubs, let alone what customers are thinking about when considering a hot tub purchase. Have your new staff practice meeting a new customer and addressing common customer questions and concerns. ("How hard is it to maintain a hot tub?" "Where in the backyard can I put a hot tub?")/
• Exposure to other departments: Schedule time for your salesperson to tag along for a few deliveries. Send them to your service department to observe repairs. Have them run the water testing station. All of this experience shapes your salesperson into a well-rounded expert.
• (Bonus) Exposure to the product: The most important thing you can do for a new person at your company get them in the water. I recommend your new team members spend at least half an hour each day in a hot tub for three days in a row (or more, if you can swing it). Why? Because if you can't help them connect with the benefits of regular hot tub use, then none of it — the books, the manuals, the videos, the processes and techniques — matters because there is no passion.
You may think 10 weeks is a crazy amount of time for training, but let me tell you this: In retail, nine hours is the average amount of time spent on training. At The Container Store, it's a whopping 240 hours — and they have the lowest turnover rate of retail anywhere in the world.
Note: In addition to manufacturer resources, associations like PHTA have programs that can be done online, with quizzes so you can keep track of their progress. Such programs are a great, relatively inexpensive way for you to tackle training.
2. YOU NEED TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH DELEGATING.
People in management positions tend to think, "I'm in charge, so it's my job to train new people." Nope. Training should be a shared responsibility among your whole team for a couple reasons. First, who has time to focus solely on training for days or weeks at a time? Second and more importantly: Delegating training provides an important opportunity for career growth.
Asking your team to help in training is a big feather in their cap. It shows you value them and the expertise they bring to their work, so much so that you are entrusting them to help make this new person the best they can be. And for those interested in moving up to management roles, it's invaluable experience.
Note: Including others in the training process from the beginning can help you strengthen your training program, too. Ask them how they were trained, what helped, what didn't help and what they wished we did when training them. Using those ideas will make a better training program and make your employees feel appreciated.
3. YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE.
Recently, I was talking to a spa dealer and asked, "What's the next step from being a service person?"
"Well, we don't have a next step," they said.
That's an incredibly common response, but if you think about it, it goes against how people operate. As humans, we are always thinking about what's around the corner, be it a promotion, a shift in our career or a goal in our personal lives. Who wants to have the same job, same responsibilities and the same title until they retire? (Definitely not the young people who are coming into the industry, I can tell you that.)
People naturally crave forward momentum, and you can provide that by proactively creating paths for future growth.
To start, take a look at your organization chart. What roles do you have at your company? (Look at roles, not people, for a more holistic view.) Once you have that sketched out, think about how those roles can progress and define what it takes to reach that next level.
For example, take a look at the chart at the bottom of the previous page, which details a sample career path for a service person.
Outlining paths like this shows your team that they can have a rich, full career with your company. For a lot of people, that's worth sticking around for.
4. YOU NEED TO BE ALL IN.
There's an interesting mentality I come across quite often. A lot of dealers say, "What if I train someone and they leave? What if I send them to all these expensive training sessions, take them to trade shows, pay them well and they leave?"
I get it no one likes having their heart broken, but think of it this way: What if you don't invest in your team and they stay? Think about it: What if that guy who you half-trained in sales sticks around for months, even years?
The consequences run deep. That person is not working at their peak, which means their returns are lower. They're likely offering an average (or below-average) customer experience, which negatively impacts your customers. And worst of all, they impact the rest of your team! One bad apple can spoil a bunch. The last thing you want is a disengaged employee stinking up the room and bringing other people down.
Remember, you're not just committing to hiring someone. You're committing to helping them build their career and become great at what they do, which in turn benefits you and your company.
5. DEVELOPMENT NEVER STOPS.
You may have super awesome employees on your team right now. (At least, I hope you do!) Maybe you're doing all the right things by fostering their talents, investing in their education and guiding them in their career.
That's a great situation to be in, but don't fall into the trap of going on autopilot. Career development is an ongoing process.
One way to keep yourself and your team on track is to have one-on-one check-ins with your employees. When you do, ask this question: "What are two things that, if you were to do them, would have an impact on your success?" Then listen and brainstorm ways you can make those things happen.
Have these meetings on a quarterly basis so you can monitor progress, set new goals or change pace as needed.
Before I wrap up, I want to address the biggest objection I hear to everything I outlined above: "I don't have time to do all that."
To that I say break it up in pieces, like you would with any other project. Think about the next person you're likely to hire, say, a salesperson. What will this person do as part of their job? For that, you can start by looking to others you have in that same role and make a bullet-point list of what they do. Would this new salesperson do all of those same things, or are there other needs in your company this role could address? (Maybe your other people do straight sales, but you'd like this new person to do sales and marketing.)
Then consider what it takes to teach that person what you need them to do. What resources exist that can help you? If you're not sure, turn to your manufacturers and trusted advisors and ask them for help. You can create your own training program from scratch if you want, but a lot of what you need already exists, be it from manufacturers, peers or associations, which saves time.
Finally, think about how to measure that this person has mastered what you need them to do. That can be something formal like a quiz or test, or even a goal you want them to reach: "I want my new sales/marketing person to grow our Facebook following by 15%" by X point in time."
The main lesson I want you to take away from this story is this: When it comes to staff training and retention, the onus is on YOU. If your turnover rate is high, if your team isn't meeting your expectations or if there's simply room to grow, change starts with you. And when you're on that journey and you're not sure what step to take next, think about the P.A.T.H:
P - Plan. Where will your employee go? What is the plan for their growth, what is the plan for their employment and their future? Where are you and where will you go?
A - Access. What access are you giving them to resources they need to execute on their personal plan? Is it training, books, classes, mentorship?
T - Time. Employees need time to work on their self development. And that time should be on the clock.
H - Help. It is your job to help them achieve their goals.
Mario Maichel is manager of dealer development for Watkins Wellness.