Jeremy, a regional sales manager for a Milwaukee-based manufacturer, walked directly into his office from the production floor, gently closed the door, dropped into his chair, and looked blankly into his black coffee for nearly ten minutes, trying to collect his thoughts.
He just learned his company would not be able to meet critical delivery dates for three of his customers – customers he busted his tail to earn over the past two years, collectively representing a significant portion of his income.
For two of his three customers, orders were already delayed due to supply chain issues. And although Jeremy knew they understood supply chain issues affect nearly everyone and are, for the most part, unavoidable, it didn’t make him feel any better about delivering the news.
However, this time would be different – delivering the news of another delay would sting even more because this delay was due to an ongoing internal problem the company had no strategy for addressing: a shortage of people partially thanks to an unhealthy culture. The president’s position was that all companies are suffering from a labor shortage, and everyone would need to pitch in to do their best to build quality products and deliver them as soon as possible. In Jeremy’s mind, it was a lazy excuse and an unsustainable solution to a problem that seems to be getting worse.
Jeremy found himself thinking about what he could do or say to his customers to soften the blow but decided to bravely pick up the phone and deliver the news in the same fashion as ripping off a band-aid, hoping delays wouldn’t cause his customers too much pain.
Fully staffed, Jeremy’s company would be 155 people strong. However, there are 12 vacant positions – five of them hourly. And of the 12 positions, six have been vacant for more than six months.
The reasons why may seem all too familiar.
The first is a trend commonly referred to as ghosting – people not showing up for scheduled interviews, failing to report for their first day of work, and quitting without notice.
The second reason is that those workers who are quickly approaching retirement age either aren’t volunteering for overtime or choose not to show up when required. After all, they know they have the upper hand and won’t get fired because they know the company can’t afford to terminate anyone.
Third, making matters even worse, the company’s culture has become so toxic that some employees just stopped caring or, quiet quitting. As one stated, “This company isn’t what it used to be. We’re hiring anyone off the street, and they either don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care – and management doesn’t do anything to fix it. We hired a guy who can’t even read a tape measure. Plus, so many people know they can get paid more working at McDonald’s. They don’t care about us, so why should we care about them?”
Back to Jeremy
The first customer Jeremy spoke with, Sarah, said the delay in shipment was going to cause a ripple effect of problems, starting with a delay in shipment to her company’s customers. She said it was up to him and his company to figure it out and not make his problems her problems.
The second customer, Todd, replied with a sigh and told Jeremy to just keep him posted on a ballpark delivery date. And while he appreciated the update and candor, he said he would be unable to pay the original quoted price for the products ordered because the delay would cost his company money.
His third customer, Reagan, wanted to be moved up on the priority list based on the volume of his order and his continued loyalty to the company after the first delay. And while Jeremy said he would do whatever he could, Reagan quickly grew impatient, saying, “Whatever you need to do, Jeremy. If you can’t deliver on time, I hate to say it because I like working with you, but I’ll need to explore my options. You’re putting me in a tough position if I need to tell my boss the order will be delayed again. He’ll tell me to drop you and find someone else.”
The Haves and the Have Nots
The fact of the matter is that not everyone is experiencing a significant workforce problem. Some industrial companies are fully staffed, or at least very close to running on all cylinders. Whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t have a problem attracting and retaining people, I ask them their secret. Typically, they say they are “lucky” and have an excellent this person or that person, either found through a referral or a staffing agency. But as you know, the definition of luck is chance meeting preparation. Upon further research, these companies share some similar traits:
Each has a robust careers or employment page on their website promoting a strong employer brand. An employer brand is defined as a set of distinctions an employer offers employees that make a positive and noteworthy difference in their work and life balance. Within these careers/employment pages, you’ll find:
- Employee value propositions telling applicants why they would truly enjoy coming to work every day
- A description of meaningful and relevant attributes the company offers its employees that many other employers don’t provide or wouldn’t consider
- An overview of the company’s culture
- Employee video and/or written testimonials
- Strong calls to action to apply for open positions
- An onboarding program that starts before the employee’s first day. A good onboarding strategy mitigates the problem of ghosting.
- New employees are paired with mentors bond with the culture, communicate expectations, answer questions and build chemistry.
Compare these traits to what companies use to attract and retain customers, such as:
- Customer value propositions
- Strong calls to action to contact a salesperson
- Customer intake meetings (needs assessments)
- Account managers or reps to bond the customer with the company
So, here’s my point…
Supply chain delays, disruptions and migraines are, and will continue to be a way of life for many months and potentially years to come. Everyone knows it, and most people accept it (with a huff). But, with rare exception, supply chain issues are beyond anyone’s influence or control.
What is within our control is the strategies and tactics we use to attract and retain employees. Yes, the culture and mindset of today’s employee is much different today than it was in the past. We can either accept it and creatively think of how to work within it, or we can throw up our hands and take on the role of a victim.
Those who take a proactive stance, understanding how the landscape has changed, will do far better in preserving the quality, integrity, and perception of their corporate brand. If your company isn’t putting the same effort into finding and retaining employees as it is in finding and retaining customers, it will not be possible to properly service your customers, meet their expectations, and earn their loyalty.
We’ve all read and heard plenty of times from many CEOs how important it is to treat your employees better than your customers. It seems to be working for those CEOs who truly believe so.
If you are struggling to create a compelling employer brand or are interested in improving your culture, let us help.