Fortify Your Company Foundation

Compensation, good hiring and leadership are important parts to building a solid retention program.

By Linda McKenna

Convenience store industry has always been a burning issue, but more so in the last few years.

There are endless ideas to improve retention from welcome letters to bonuses. Many retailers have implemented different strategies yet still suffer from turnover. The key to a robust workplace is a strong foundation. Implementing bells and whistles on top of a poor foundation will never improve retention.

There are three common bricks in the foundation of retention. The first is compensation. Some retailers really don’t know if their offer is competitive to retain a good employee while others want to improve retention, but don’t want to admit they’re not competitive.

All the news the last few years on minimum wage has left employees more discerning than ever when it comes to pay and hours. Many retailers have bumped up wages in advance of new state laws. Others have done so without facing changes in the law as an effort to expand their pool to get better quality candidates.

To win the battle of talent and retention retailers must gauge where they stand against the competition on compensation. How can you win if you don’t know the score? Here are two easy ways to get this data.

1. During initial interviews, ask candidates about wages, raise amounts, raise frequency and bonuses from previous employers. Create a master company log to capture this data from all managers. When you hire people, do a deep dive and learn more about your competition. You are competing for talent after all.

2. Ask managers and company staff when they see a “now hiring” sign at any retail business to inquire about the starting pay. Ask the employees if they like working there and why. You’ll be surprised at how much information you can gather from informal conversations as a customer.

You don’t have to be the highest in the market but you have to play to win.

The second brick in the retention foundation is hiring the right people at the beginning. This sounds obvious, but too many managers hire based on experience and availability versus attitude and job fit. Rather than provide managers the skills on how to effectively interview, the ongoing trend has been to do personality assessments of candidates. In fact, such assessments provide an excuse for managers to conduct a “15-minute gut feel” interview, which is partly a factor for the industry’s high turnover rate.

I spend my days in all-day seminars with managers across the country and countless managers have admitted this to me. I stress you simply cannot replace a quality, 45-minute interview.

Managers should hire their own team so they have an interest in the success of that person. Set your team up for success and train them “how” to interview, observe real interviews, measure their effectiveness and analyze their selection thought process.

Interviewing is a skill that can be developed and one of the best investments you can make in your team.

The third brick in the foundation is leadership. People often join a company, but quit a boss. If you have a competitive offer and managers are trained, but you still suffer from turnover, chances are you have a leadership issue. People leave because of the manager or the store culture. Management is not the same as leadership.

Remember, managers do paperwork—leaders do the people work.

However, even the best leader will struggle to retain talent if the first two bricks are faulty. A retailer can’t become the brand of choice without first becoming the employer of choice.

Linda McKenna is a co-founder and principal of Convenience Store Coaches Inc., an Alexandria, Va. consulting practice, specializing in the petroleum/convenience industry.

Asking the Right Questions
There are certain interview and training questions to use to assess your organization, according to industry expert Linda Kennedy.
1. Have you trained your managers on “how” to effectively interview?
2. Do your managers know what to look for besides experience in a candidate?
3. If you have trained them, how do you know whether those managers can execute what’s been trained?
4. Do you observe your managers conducting interviews?
5. Do you hold managers accountable in developing the skills to properly interview?
6. Do you hold supervisors accountable for developing managers in this area?


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