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If people are your greatest asset...

Then how do you hire, retain, and reward the right people? 

Most of us have probably heard the term hire slow and fire fast, but it often seems much easier than it looks. How often have we held onto an employee that for a variety of reasons we just couldn't let go? In talking with distributor owners and managers, we found that the topic of employment issues was near the top of their list of concerns. Given the current employment climate, we asked a group of human resource experts about their thoughts on the current employment landscape related to distributors. What we heard is great advice for anyone that is considering hiring, promoting, retaining, or firing employees. 


A special thank you to the following people for contributing to this article.

 Josette Goldberg of Goldberg Executive Coaching

Will Clarke of Kensington International

Lori Kleiman of HR Advantage

There appear to be certain traits that distributors with high achieving employees and low turnover have in common. They are:  

  • Showing respect to employees
  • Providing ongoing management training
  • Giving regular feedback on performance
  • Supporting employee education
  • Allowing for flexible schedules and work environments
  • Offering innovative non-cash rewards for performance 

When asked, "Is this a good or bad time to hire people?" the answer was a qualified yes. The obvious is that there are many people that are in the market today.  However, it is still not easy to find the person that is the right fit from a personality standpoint, not skills. The reason for this is that the skills side of the equation is simply the price of entry these days. Skillful people are plentiful, but fitting into an established work environment can be tricky business.


There has been an up tick in the hiring with mid-market distributors, but the small and lower mid-market companies have been slow to hire. This is often the case due to the fact that the mid-market and larger have greater capital resources to utilize for expansion. For more cash strapped distributors they want to see greater signs of a recovery before they will add to their head count.


Promoting from within is still a very successful way of getting the right people in place. The primary driver of this activity is the lower cost in time, dollars, and organizational knowledge that is achieved by moving someone up the ladder rather than hiring from the outside. Many distributors have implemented employee referral programs and have evidence that it reduces their hiring costs while at the same time on boarding employees that more readily fit the culture. The flip side is promoting someone above their competency. You would think that this wouldn't happen today, since we've been hearing about this and seeing first-hand the failure of this promotion strategy. It was said by one of our experts that "...developing your talent helped to position the right people for promotions and led to the successful retainment of high performing employees."

On the retention front, it was also noted that while there is a significant trend towards greater employee turnover, especially in the Gen Y group, it was also found that that same generation was more easily retained if they had a great manager, experienced strong learning opportunities, and had a clear understanding of their goals and objectives. Will Clarke stated,

"The latest polls suggest that what is important to employees is their relationship with their direct manager. This time and again comes up as a leading factor in people staying at a particular company. So companies that help managers to manage better are helping their retention scores, as well."

Our experts also agreed that there are often non-monetized incentives that can be provided to a distributor's key employees that help to motivate and instill loyalty in them. One such incentive is flexible work time. In many situations, the ability to have flexible work schedules far outweighs an increase in salary. Another method suggested to retain the right people was to provide them with clear, unambiguous feedback. When was the last time a manager provided their staff members with a review? What did it look and feel like? Did it include clear goals that the staff member understood and agreed were achievable?

The counter to the "retention is good" mind set was clarified by a question posed by one of our experts Josette Goldberg,

"Would you want to have an employee stay with your company who is no longer motivated and not giving you the level of performance your business needs to thrive?"  

Great question! So there are at least two sides to the employee retention discussion. Distributors today need to ask themselves if they have the right people on the bus, to use the term that Jim Collins, author of Good To Great coined. We advise our clients to not "blindly" retain employees, but to think of employees strategically. As your business strategy evolves you may find yourself with either some people in the wrong positions within your company or simply the wrong people. Sometimes moving them into a more appropriate place within your organization is exactly what needs to be done to raise their contribution to the business. Other times, it is best to allow the employee to explore opportunities outside your business, as one of our associates so eloquently puts it. Remember, hire slow and fire fast.

Josette Goldberg sighted a Gallup employee engagement poll as a way to determine the level of engagement a distributor's employees has. "This research by Gallup and others shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace." Quoted on

  • In average distributors, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 1.5:1.
  • In world-class distributors, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is near 8:1.

 What is your employee engagement ratio?
In conclusion, it appears that now is a great time to hire motivated employees. Retention should not be a goal in and of itself. Holding the right employees in the right positions is the key strategy related to employee retention. There are some excellent non-monetized ways of attracting and keeping the best employees. Employee development and fit should be aligned with and written into your strategic plan. Offering training for management, as well as their staff helps to encourage a productive workplace and employee loyalty.  And finally, understanding at a macro level to what degree you have a highly engaged workforce is a key indicator of world-class success in the years to come.

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