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National Retail Hardware Association

Friday, September 1, 2000

ISSN: 0889-2989; Volume 179; Issue 3

THE INTERNAL CUSTOMER.
MARK D. PARROTT

What Are You Doing to Become The "Employer of Choice?"

If you think the customers coming through your front door to shop are demanding, your internal customers, better known as your employees, increasingly require as much attention. This is especially true today as the result of the extremely tight labor market, and it is putting pressure on companies to become an "employer of choice" instead of an employer by chance.

How to Become an Employer of Choice is a recently released publication by Roger Herman and Joyce Gioia, outlining in great detail just how to pull off this transformation. And indeed, for most companies it will be a transformation, because too many organizations have given little thought or planning to how they will develop a work environment that fosters long-term productivity and employee retention.

With the workforce much more fluid and long-term commitment seemingly measured in months rather than years, successful companies are re-evaluating their employee relations, moving closer to thinking of their associates more in terms of a customer, an internal customer, according to the authors.

In much the same way retail businesses must fight to differentiate themselves and create a store brand in the eyes of their customers, the same requirement might be considered true for employees. Employees, in the same manner of consumers who have multiple options of where to shop, can vote with their feet as well and leave for more attractive jobs.

The authors say that by becoming an "Employer of Choice," you will keep talented people coming in the front door and staying longer than they intended. "This strategy is a commitment, not just a band-aid solution to a short-term labor shortage," they write.

The book outlines several broad areas that an "Employer of Choice" should address and then breaks these down into specific actions that can be taken to achieve the goal of a preferred employer. Key areas include:

  • REPUTABLE COMPANY where employees can count on the organization's honesty and integrity.
  • A COMPANY CULTURE that supports high values and standards.
  • ENLIGHTENED LEADERSHIP that has a clear vision and communicates it well.
  • A CARING ATTITUDE that considers quality of life issues as part of the work experience.
  • COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS package that is competitive.
  • A CORPORATE SOCIAL CONSCIENCE committed to making the world a better place.

While we don't have time to review in detail every issue, we would like to talk briefly about one remaining issue: a company's ability to provide growth and opportunity for the employee, because as the book points out, "Today's employees are more aggressive in their drive for ongoing learning and growth." This is particularly a challenge at retail, where the opportunity to advance can be somewhat constricted, especially for smaller companies.

But even in small companies with limited training budgets, there are ways to foster growth and advancement. The authors stress that companies must encourage skill enhancement through ongoing training. In their view, this sets off a chain reaction that leads to more proficient employees, which leads to greater productivity and increases the confidence level of the individuals. This in turn often results in employees who seek greater responsibility and accept greater accountability. All good things.

Unfortunately, some employers provide training with a narrow focus that turns out specialists, but actually limits the employees' opportunities for growth and greater contribution. So while training is important, there should be an effort made to provide cross training and cross experiences at retail. In fact some home improvement retailers already see the real value in this approach, training an employee not only in the department where they have responsibility, but in the two adjacent departments.

While none of this is rocket science, the down side of not working toward becoming an employer of choice is that your talented, productive employees will decide to leave and work for someone who commits to a more enlightened working relationship. So the next time the issue of customer relations comes up, maybe it's time to t                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            


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