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Keep your staff happy

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Staffing is a continual dilemma, writes Carol Metzner. How do you develop good new employees while preventing valued staff leaving? This is made more difficult with changes in the workplace: younger employees want to develop new skills and a stronger sense of opportunity, ownership and belonging; senior staff want higher visibility on the management team and the ability to make an immediate impact. Here are some tips:

1 Screen candidates thoroughly. Most architects do a good job of evaluating prospective employees for technical competence, but they forget such key points as: supervisory experience, communications skills, business acumen and marketing success. Try cutting recruiting costs with an initial phone interview to determine if there is at least a preliminary fit between your position and the candidate.

2 Review your recruiting materials. Do they address the issues top candidates are interested in? Are the benefits of working for your firm clearly presented? Candidly discuss quality-of-life issues in interviews and recruiting materials.

3 Review your benefits package. Too many organisations still have benefit packages that were put together in the 1980s. Be sure your benefits reflect the needs of both single employees and working parents. Remember that workplace flexibility and 'time off' have new meanings and more importance to employees today than they did a decade ago.

4 Contact former employees. If you downsized and let good people go, find out where they are and if they're interested in returning to your organisation.

5 Develop an internal referral system. Your current staff know people who want to change organisations for better opportunities. Set up an incentive- based employee referral programme. You could attract more valuable people that way.

6 Consider using assessments of management style and behaviour. Many major organisations have been using 'psychometric' tests for years to help predict employee retention and success. While their efficacy is controversial, many believe such tests give insight into a candidate's management style and the type of business culture in which an employee will thrive. Such testing can be costly, but proponents argue it's cheaper than a poor hiring decision.

7 Promote training and mentoring. If you truly want your firm to grow, you must ensure that you and other members of senior management are monitoring 'rising stars'.

8 Help to balance work and personal life. Virtually every survey of younger workers shows that time off is far more important than it used to be. Impress upon your management team that it's time to adopt flexible schedules. Set an example yourself - you'll enjoy life more with more balance in it.

9 Encourage initiative. This is the best way to invigorate and tantalise you most valued staff into learning, developing skills, making a contribution and, in short, devoting themselves to a career in yourorganisation.

10 Show your appreciation. Tell valued staff that you recognise their contributions and want them to stay. This sounds so simple. but how many times have you actually said it? People need to know that there's a future for them before they canmake a serious commitment to the firm.

Finally, if you consider using a recruiting specialist, find one who knows the industry and help him or her to understand your firm's needs and culture. A good recruiting specialist should: know the marketplace; provide unbiased third-party input into your selection; maintain confidentiality; speed the recruiting process; and, assure successful hiring negotiations.

This is an edited version of an article run in Professional Services Management Journal (fax: 00 1 617 965 5152 in Boston, Massachusetts, usa). Carol Metzner is an American-based executive recruiter specialising in design and construction (e-mail: MetznerCA@aol.com)

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