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Culture Over Coffee | Employee Retention: How to Hang Onto Your Superstars with Mike Searson and Doug Young

Culture Over Coffee | Employee Retention: How to Hang Onto Your Superstars with Mike Searson and Doug Young
Culture Over Coffee | Employee Retention: How to Hang Onto Your Superstars with Mike Searson and Doug Young

CoC__Ep11_Cover Graphic Mike and Doug

In this episode, we’re discussing a topic that’s on the minds of many in these times of tough recruitment: employee retention. In particular, how to hang on to your talent superstars.    

Joining Beth are two guests who have a long history of retaining their top performers: Mike Searson, Vice President/Local Sales, and Doug Young, Market Sales Manager, both at Corus Entertainment.   

Together, they make some amazing points, like:  

  • Why it’s important to regularly measure the engagement level of your teams  
  • How leaders shouldn’t force employees to work in ways that don’t match their individual talents  
  • And why practicing empathy can go a long way toward fostering trust and loyalty with your employees

Measure the Engagement Levels of Your Team on a Regular Basis 

Employee recruitment,” Beth says “It's been a hot topic in both Canada and the US. We're both experiencing a tough labor market right now, and I recently heard someone say that retention is the new recruitment, and that really resonated with me. So, I wanted to get your thoughts on that.” 

“Yeah, I think that's certainly true,” Mike says. “Granted, I think if your focus is on hiring great talent, that shouldn't be a new phenomenon. And I think that’s every company’s intention. 

“We've been pretty privileged to have gotten it right more than we've gotten it wrong over the last decade or so. But I think also, beyond just hiring great people, you have to make sure that [your people] are engaged...and, at Corus, we measure engagement on a quarterly basis.  

“And, you know, really one of the things we talk about, certainly Doug and I talk about is that it really gives you permission to go deeper with people and try to get a better understanding about how they were feeling when they put in that score, which may have been a good score or, or perhaps an opportunity for us to make some improvements.” 

Using Your Culture to Attract Top Talent

“I like that,” Beth says. “So, after you do your engagement survey, you share that information back and get input on it, talk about it. It's more of a transparent experience.” 

“A very transparent process,” Mike says. “I sort of do a summary for my entire organization, it’s about 260 people, and we sort of share the top line themes and then the data is broken out at a regional level.  

“So, Doug in Calgary would be able to go in, it's obviously all anonymous, see the data and start to see the themes in his particular region, which might differ greatly from another part of the organization.” 

“That makes sense,” Beth says. “So, Doug, you might even want to touch on that a bit, but I'd love to hear from you just what are some of the biggest challenges you've faced when it comes to retaining strong employees or keeping them engaged?” 

Doug says, “It's funny, we're in the communications business and communication is probably the number one thing always.  

“If we can communicate over and over again what's going on and what our plan is and where the vision is, I think that really keeps [people] engaged because they see that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not a train. 

“I have like 24 on my team and most of them are sales reps or account managers. So, they're engaged because they're out in the field talking to their customers, trying to help them. They have a different perspective.  

“But I've got some inside salespeople that are basically data entry people, making sure that the orders stay on TV. Keeping them engaged is harder cause we don't see them as much. 

“They're virtually working now, they work from their home. So, I have weekly calls with them just to see how it's going. And it's not so much of a business call as it is a personal call to say, ‘how you feeling? What's going on in your life, what's going on with your families?’ 

“And I think that's important because we don't connect like we used to ever since Covid. It's been a little harder to get in touch. We have sales meetings in person now, finally, and we're getting together with those people, but it's not the same with some of the support staff.  

“So, I think that's been the hardest thing is to make sure that they're engaged. Because you can sit at home and sort of wallow in, ‘gee, I don't feel like I'm part of the company anymore. I'm working on the business, but not in it anymore.’ Because we’ve got to have sexy business. We've got TV, radio, fun stuff that's due.  

“And when you're not actually in the building, seeing those stars and talking to those people, it doesn't feel the same.” 

“That makes sense to me,” Beth says. “I can see how just the vibe of being in the building is such a draw for people. Interesting challenge. I like the way you said that, ‘we're in the communications business and yet communications is our biggest challenge.’  

“I think that's one of the most common things I'm hearing these days, that communications is tough.” 

You Can’t Be Selfish as a Manager 

“Mike,” Beth asks. “What are some of the best ways that company leaders, managers can engage their top talent and really keep them motivated or feeling that passion?” 

“Well,” Mike says. “I owe you a lot of the credit, Beth, because in the early years at Corus we learned a lot about talent, about the different talent themes that our top sellers have. And one of the things we sort of learn and continue to ideate on is this notion of not trying to get people to do things where they are not talented, which seems so simple. 

Top 6 Strategies to Elevate Employee Engagement and Win the War on Talent

“But one of the areas whereby we've made profound change at Corus over the last six years is investing in support and services that are going to help our salespeople get better. Again, not revolutionary, but we've been hyper disciplined at finding ways to invest in research and media strategy, backend sales support, project management, creative services, things that our frontline salespeople aren't necessarily experts at, but rely on heavily in terms of being able to drive the kind of revenue growth that we've been able to enjoy, quite frankly, over the last six years. 

“So, for me, it's about investment, which is easy to say and much harder to do. But my common belief is, has always been, that companies don't have a resource issue. They have an allocation issue.  

“Where are you choosing to spend money versus where are the ways in which you're going to garner the biggest return on your investment? So, sometimes that might mean making hard choices and maybe walking away from those season tickets to your favorite sports team or relocating some things in order to provide the kind of support that your salespeople your clients really need.” 

“Interesting,” Beth says. “I like what you're saying about investment and allocating the money, your investment in the right way. I also am still kind of thinking about what you said at the beginning about how you're keenly aware of the talents that are necessary for excellence in a sales role.  

“If you're investing in your organization in a way, bringing on other roles to handle parts of the sales process so that your sellers can really just focus on doing what they do best, you know, putting a square peg in a square hole and letting them really thrive, that's a form of investment unto itself. And I think that's a really interesting way to look at that. 

“Doug, anything you would add as far as good ways to engage top talent and keep them motivated?” 

Doug says, “Everybody's motivated in a certain way in sales and it's, ‘how do I get better? How do I meet more customers? How do I drive revenue? How do I make my bonus?’ All those things are really intrinsically important to the reps.  

“My job is to take the speed bumps out. How do I fix it so you can see more people? And I think that's been the number one thing. You can't be selfish as a manager.  

“You have to be really focused on the people that work for you. Empathy for what they're going through. And we've had ups and downs over the years. One year I'm a really smart sales manager because we make budget, the next year? I'm not as smart.  

“So, it's a business that I've been blessed to have really good people in. I've got some people that have been here 25 years. They're not going anywhere. We just had one retire who's now 20 years.  

“Now we're getting to the point where we need some new talent coming in. Media's not quite as sexy as it was 10 years ago. We have different needs because we have television, radio, digital, creative services, etc. We sell a lot of things now where I was strictly radio when I started. So, we need people that have real marketing brain savvy. When we're recruiting now, I need people that are really customer focused that understand all aspects of marketing, not just TV and radio. They've also got to be a fan of TV and radio because you’ve got to transfer that confidence from their mouths to the clients to understand that it's still relevant.  

“And I think that's our biggest challenge with TV and Radio is getting credibility that it's still a viable mass medium. We've been out-marketed by the Googles and the Facebooks of the world in the last few years and we need to show that the biggest mass reach is still those [TV and Radio].” 

“That makes perfect sense,” Beth says. “You know, listening to the longevity of your staff, you can see why it was so important to us to get you on this podcast to talk about retention.” 

Managers Should Individualize Their Approach & Demonstrate Empathy 

“You're obviously doing something right when you talk about communication and understanding what motivates your people,” Beth says. “How much of that is individualized? Do you need to do something different with each person that you manage or how much of it is pretty commonplace?” 

“I guess a similarity is that everybody gets a sales report every week so we know how they did, what kind of results they're getting,” Doug says. “So that part's easier. But everybody is really different.  

“Some of them have better problem-solving skills than others. Some of them need some handholding on lead generation. They're all different. 

“It's like coaching a hockey team or being a parent or having 12 kids. I definitely have to treat them all differently because they are different people and they're all successful in their own way. 

“And I think that's where Talent Focused Management, that we took with The Center for Sales Strategy, made me a better manager because it taught me how to make them do things they're really good at and not so much for the things that they don't like to do. 

“It increases productivity and it's worked really well. I've got some high performers that love the way I manage them, because I treat them differently than the other people on their team.” 

“Makes perfect sense,” Beth says. “Okay. Question for both of you. I'll let you decide who goes first, but I'd love to hear for any organizations, leaders who are listening today that are currently struggling with employee retention, what's one piece of advice that you would give them?” 

“For me,” Doug says. “It's empathy. 

Sometimes they just want to vent. They don't want you to solve it. They just want you to say, ‘this has been a tough day.’ 

“Because you get a lot of rejection in sales. Just say, ‘listen, we'll get through this. It'll be okay. Sometimes stuff just happens that you can't control.’ 

Beth says, “Love that. People need to know that you care about them.” 

“I'd agree,” Mike says. “And this job is nowhere near as easy as it was. It was never easy, but it certainly was, I think, less complicated 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 25 years ago.  

“We're all doing more and putting more pressure on our people. So, really understanding how and what makes each individual tick, as Doug was describing, and then trying to minimize those roadblocks [is key].  

“And in some cases, like Doug said, it's not about solving the problem, but in others it is about helping them solve the problem. Because it's hard to find money, it's easy to let it slip through your fingers.” 

“Yeah,” Beth says. “So, a combination of knowing when they actually need help solving the problem and knowing when they just need to share or talk and have a manager that cares about them, who feels empathetic.” 

Mike says, “I would also add, Beth, Doug's team in Calgary is a great example and, quite frankly, our teams across the country are as well. There's a lot of similarities to sports. When you build a great team and culture around it, it's easier for people to thrive. You raise the overarching expectation.  

“But, furthermore, I think one of the great challenges of the pandemic that I think we're all just sort of getting back to is some sense of spending time in the office, that organic conversation, that troubleshooting that happens peer to peer. When you have a really strong team that are a collective of really strong individuals that make up an an outstanding sales organization, they really help each other. 

“And that to me is the real opportunity with investing in talent and ensuring that you've got the right mix of people on your team, whether that's a sales organization or your high school football team.” 

LISTEN NOW: The Culture over Coffee Podcast with Beth Sunshine

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Brent Tripp
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