Workforce retention: how to keep your best employees

Debbie Zmorenski

The first two steps in becoming a talent-management organization involve attracting and hiring right-fit/best-fit talent. After this has been achieved, the next question becomes, "How do you keep them?" After all, if you are going to spend the time and money to put a process in place for recruiting and hiring the best of the best, it is self-defeating to drop the ball after the employee comes on board.

Jac Fitz-enz, author of the book "The ROI of Human Capital: Measuring the Economic Value of Employee Performance," had this to say about corporate culture: "The more I study organizational profitability, the more I am convinced of the power of culture."

Fitz-enz cites a study published in Fortune magazine that reported on the 100 most admired companies in the world. The study found that corporate culture was a key factor in differentiating top-performing companies from average companies. Bruce Pfau of the Hay Group, who led the study, said, "The single-best predictor of overall excellence was a company’s ability to attract, motivate, and retain talent."

CEOs, in referring to this study, said that corporate culture was their most important lever in enhancing this key capability.

According to Bain and Company in an article published in Harvard Management Update, 91 percent of the 1,200 senior executives at global companies surveyed agreed that “culture is as important as strategy for business success.”

The foundation for employee retention is a strong orientation program that conveys the culture of the organization and ensures that new employees understand their role in delivering on that culture. It clearly communicates expectations of employees’ behaviours and actions while on the job, and provides the tools that enable the employees to deliver on those behaviours and expectations. Most companies have an orientation of some kind, but I am not referring to eight hours in a room reading from the policies and procedures manual.

So, what are the elements of an effective orientation program, taking into consideration the specific needs of the organization, its corporate culture, and the employee and customer demographics of the region? Very broadly, they are:

    1. Introduction: A warm welcome sets the tone. Every person should be greeted and welcomed personally by the facilitator of the program. Whenever possible, a personal welcome by a company executive makes a lasting, positive impression.

In one company’s orientation program the CEO makes an appearance at the beginning of each program. She takes about two minutes to introduce herself and tells the group how excited she is to have them on board. The goal is for her to make her welcome as a personal appearance, but for those times when she is not available, they have created a video that is shown at the very beginning of the orientation program. In evaluations at the end of the program, the No. 1 comment is that having the CEO welcome them makes them feel special and valued.

  1. History: Give the new employees a sense of where the company has been. Only by understanding where the company has been and how it began can the new employee comprehend how it arrived at its current position in the marketplace. The history should include stories about the mistakes, struggles and successes of the company that give the employees a sense of the real people and founders who are the core of the current culture.
  2. Present: Talk candidly about where the company is today, including who you are, how you operate, and how customers interact and do business with you. This is also a good time to talk about current milestones and successes, as well as the processes, policies, procedures and philosophies that have made the company successful.
  3. Future: Clearly and passionately articulate the vision for the future and the employees’ role in making that vision a reality. If possible, give information regarding exciting projects on the drawing board and the benefit of joining the company at this time.
  4. Tools/Resources: This should include, but is not limited to:


  • Policy and procedural manuals
  • Contact lists
  • Employee handbook
  • Insurance information
  • Other collateral deemed necessary
  • Service theme
  • Service standards

The service theme represents the purpose or promise statement. It supports the brand promise, identifies a common goal and supersedes all tasks.

Because service is an integral part of the long-term success of an organization, a supporting structure must be in place. We call these service standards or values. They define service, ensure consistency in the delivery of service, and enable employees to make decisions and judgments as well as prioritize actions.

Service standards give employees the tools needed to deliver on the service theme. They are prioritized and ranked by order of importance, and defined clearly for the new employees who must be told how to use them to make good decisions in the field.

Typically, companies utilize three to five service standards. For instance, a bank determined that its service standards were security, accuracy, professional courtesy and responsiveness. Security was first because the bank learned through surveys that its customers considered courtesy and responsiveness secondary to the security of their money and the accuracy of transactions.

Teaching the service theme and service standards to new employees in orientation is one way of ensuring that everyone understands what is expected of them and has the tools to consistently deliver on the common goal(s) of the organization.

  1. Fun: A great orientation program builds in fun through activities and interaction. For example, when I was a traditions (orientation) instructor at Walt Disney World, we interacted with the new cast members (employees) with a quick and simple activity. Each table was asked to name as many Disney characters as possible in one minute. This may seem frivolous and a little silly, but the activity actually has meaningful purpose, including:


  • It fosters teamwork, which is a big part of Disney's culture.
  • The animated characters from Disney’s world-famous films are not only part of the company’s culture, but guests often ask cast members questions about the characters.
  • It engages the participants and increases the energy level.

One of our clients incorporates an activity they call “Show What You Know” at the end of each major segment of the program. They are presenting it like a game show, and the participants get small rewards for answering questions related to the module they just heard. Again, this small activity has a multi-purpose goal: It keeps the energy level high, and it ensures that the participants are retaining information.

One of the questions we are frequently asked is, "How many hours per day should we devote to orientation?" An effective orientation can be  comprised of a seven-to eight-hour day to address the topics discussed above, plus a second day of three to four hours to convey policies, procedures, review insurance, etc. However, each organization is different with varying needs. Only you can determine what will work for you.

The key is to remember that your orientation program lays the foundation for your expectations of new employees and provides them with the tools and resources to deliver service that is in alignment with your culture and values.

Written by Debbie Zmorenski MBA, owner and CEO of Moren Enterprises, Inc., www.MorenEnterprises.com, an Orlando, FL based consulting firm. Reprinted with the permission of Noria Corporation and Reliable Plant. www.reliableplant.com.


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