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Tea and the Secrets of Staff Retention

By Jeff Mowatt |

Staff retention a concern? Consider this scenario.

Imagine you're a front-line employee working at a mundane job. It's so boring you simply go through the motions. You're on autopilot, counting the hours and minutes until your shift is over and you can go home and do something you enjoy. Or you stick with the job only until something that's more interesting or pays more comes along. Then you're gone.

In that dismal scenario, managers resign themselves to the belief that there's always going to be high front-line turnover. They don't bother training employees because they're just going to quit anyway.

Continuing with that line of thinking, these managers and supervisors assume that the only thing that's going to motivate employees to stick around is to pay them more. Unfortunately, customers dealing with bored employees feel absolutely no loyalty to the company. Consequently, revenues are down and wages keep costs high. Not exactly a formula for success.

The cup that satisfies
Today's employees do indeed want something more – and it isn't just money. According to the landmark studies in employee motivation spearheaded by Dr. Kenneth Kovach at George Mason University, the number one motivator for employees is interesting work. The question is how to turn a potentially boring job into something interesting. I think the answer lies in the tea ceremony.

Serving tea becomes an art when served with an attitude of quality, mindfulness, and service. Practitioners of the tea ceremony don't just read a manual and then get certified; they train for years under the guidance of a master. They immerse themselves in the art, so much so that it becomes a form of moving meditation or Do-Zen.

Like a good martial artist, they have the attitude of humility. They know that no matter how advanced they may become, they can always improve. What it all boils down to (bad pun) is that the most effective way to motivate employees is through on-going training.

Interesting tidbit: Fortune magazine did a survey of the "100 Best Companies to Work For." The number-one factor that people considered when choosing a company? Professional training.

Change it to spice tea
The kind of front-line training I'm referring to is not the standard approach where managers dictate policies: list the things employees can't do, and then teach them the technical aspects of the job: how to do the paperwork, run the cash register, make the deliveries, etc. Oh, yeah, and be nice to people (which often, by the way, means that employees address customers as Sir or Ma'am, a practice that's guaranteed to offend rather than flatter some customers). That's not the kind of training that motivates employees.

I'm talking instead about providing training with spice — equipping them with communication skills that lead to stronger customer loyalty and increased spending per customer. It makes the job of interacting with customers a craft, requiring focus, quality, and attention to detail. In other words, the right kind of training makes even the most mundane work interesting.

The consistency of tea time
One workout in a lifetime is going to do more harm then good because there is a high risk of injury and the overall improvement in performance will be negligible. Similarly, a one-time training session for employees is likely to just raise their expectations and eventually annoy them—especially when, without reinforcement and support, everything reverts back to the way it was before the one-time training.

We need to convert training from being an event into an ongoing process.

That's why I recommend that managers look at customer service training as a two phased approach. Phase one is professional training that equips employees with the subtleties of service that make work more interesting. Once that new foundation of knowledge is established, then in phase two managers conduct their own monthly 90 Minute CASTTM (Customer Service Team) Meetings.

The learning, therefore, shifts from being a one-time event to an ongoing process. The fascinating and sometimes frustrating art of enhancing customer perception is that there's always room for improvement. That makes even the most seemingly mundane jobs much more interesting. From the moment our clients conduct their first CAST Meeting, they notice the emergence of a much more motivated and engaged workforce. So do their customers!

The irony when it comes to training employees is that a lot of managers believe they can't afford to train employees because they have high turnover. The truth is they have high turnover because they aren't providing ongoing education or growth for their employees. Employees don't quit jobs when they're overworked. They quit jobs when they're bored—or worse; when they are being paid enough to physically show up but have mentally moved on. Everyone loses.

As a business leader, you have the opportunity to elevate your enterprise from merely being a place where employees go to earn a living, to a place where employees satisfy their innate need to learn and grow. That's a learning organization where the flavour of work is like well brewed tea… richer and more satisfying for everyone.

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