Eric Chester

Eric Chester: What Makes A Workplace Great

What do people really want? Now more than ever, organizations are searching for ways to help encourage their employees to stay. Our guest Eric Chester, is an award-winning keynote speaker and author of five best-selling books on employee development, and when he speaks, you can hear the passion he has for innovation, workplace culture, and how to get “people connected to this thing called work”.

Joined by host John Hollon, together they discuss the factors behind why employees choose to leave, onsite worker retention, the importance of our front-line workforce, and what culture pillars make a company amazing to work for – does your business encourage people to say, “That’s the kind of place I want to work!“?

Tune in to Eric’s episode below, at tlntx.co/e49 or wherever you like to podcast!

Here’s how the conversation went… This interview has been edited and condensed.

John Hollon: Hello, I’m John Hollon, and welcome to the Talent Experience Podcast. Today’s guest is Eric Chester, as an acclaimed workforce researcher, thought leader, and employee engagement expert, as well as an author on management and employability for more than 20 years, Eric Chester has gone behind the curtain to interview 1000s of owners, managers and leaders of small companies and franchises, in order to uncover the best practices for attracting, developing, and yes, even retaining amazing employees at all levels. Often for jobs that aren’t considered sexy by today’s standards. He’s also the author of five leadership books and as a Hall of Fame speaker, Eric has delivered more than 3000 keynote speeches on three continents. That’s a lot. Anyway, Eric lives in beautiful Golden, Colorado, with his wife and family. So good morning, Eric. How are things?

Eric Chester: Good morning, John, it’s a pleasure to be with you this morning. Things are great here. Beautiful day, blue sky, and I’m ready to rock and roll.

John Hollon: Wonderful. Okay, let’s get started, then. One of the topics I really wanted to dig into with you is retention. It’s become a bigger deal, especially given the great resignation or the great quit or whatever they’re, they’re calling it. And I know you’ve been focusing a lot on retention, especially with smaller companies. What do you think is going on? And why are so many people leaving their jobs?

Eric Chester: Well, John, that’s the that’s a multi-pronged question that people leave for different reasons. Again, you know, the global pandemic, I mean, imagine a Rubik’s cube that’s completely put together the way that you would buy it at the store. Most of us felt like we had a Rubik’s cube that was pretty good and then the pandemic comes along, and you just messes it all up for us, and we’re looking going, geez, we have to put this thing back together. And so people, you know, some of them, as you mentioned, some businesses closed, others furloughed employees, other people were sent home to work from the convenience of their home, and everybody’s attitude towards work and what that really looked like and the priority and had in their life shifted. Some people said it’s more important, some people said it’s less important, some people said it’s not important at all, and they just learned to survive in different ways. Different things happen to different people and as a result, we’re dealing with this, you know, this incredible labor shortage right now that’s just brought so many business owners, leaders, managers, HR professionals to their knees, questioning everything that they thought they knew about the workforce.

John Hollon: Well, so much of today’s discussion about the great resignation, hybrid work, remote work, things like that seems to focus almost exclusively on the white collar workforce. But I know that a great deal of the work you do is focused on restaurants and other organizations, where employees must be on site. How different is it for those companies to hire, and retain employees right now?

Eric Chester: Well, it’s, you know, it’s become phenomenally difficult, because again, people looked and said, so many workers looked and said, do I want to do this? If you know, that, I’m going to just make it as simple as I possibly can, and I know there’s people that go this is just workforce 101 and I agree, but let’s go back to understanding what really happens in the workplace. People, you know, graduate from high school, college, some type of a school, jump into the workplace, some of them say I know exactly what I want to do. Some people are completely thoroughly and totally confused about what they want to do. Some people just have a desperate need to get in the workplace. Some people say, well, I’m gonna go to the serve in the military, I’m going to do whatever, but we wind up, wake up one day, and we’re in this thing other people or we might even lool at as our career, this is where we are. And career professionals, people who spent a long time in college learning to be a surgeon or an architect or, you know, or code, or whatever it might be, they wind up in professions that maybe they didn’t research as well as they could have. They always thought that was something they wanted to do, didn’t really go out and experience the job but they wind up becoming an accountant, and years later find themselves in a closed office staring at a computer screen for 8 to 10 hours and go ‘wait a second, there’s music inside of me or jeez, I’d like to do something more creative and I’m boxed in.’ So there’s, there’s some of that that takes place, but a lot of people, cause we do a really crappy job, at least in the US, in terms of preparing people for this thing called a career. We school people through education, and we turn around and go okay your college bound, and you’re not really college material, and we shuffle the deck, and we send people off to various, you know, to school or into the workplace, without really taking enough time to understand how significant that is in our life. Along comes a global pandemic and it gives us reason to pause, to think about what’s going to happen. So workplace, as you mentioned, the frontline workers, those that are involved in jobs that many people don’t consider sexy, may just stop and go, ‘wait a second, I was cut out for more than installing sprinklers or putting up drywall, or delivering pizzas,’ or whatever that was, ‘I was cut out for more, I’ve always been told I’m special, and I’m different. and by golly, now that I have an opportunity, I’m gonna go out and see what it is I can do.’ And lots of screen time, they’re looking on their screens, and they’re seeing people who seem to be making a whole lot of money without putting forth a lot of effort. Right, maybe they’re just, maybe they fashion themselves as social influencers, or they go take a hobby and find a way to make some money out of it. They go ‘well, that’s what I want to do!’ So, it’s just really this dramatic reshuffling that has caused so many people to be concerned or to really take a look at long term unemployment and say, eh I don’t know.

John Hollon: Well you know it’s something else too, it seems to me pay is not encouraging a lot of people to move to other jobs. I was going out to dinner last night with my wife and we were driving past the local McDonald’s, they had a big banner on the front saying, we’re hiring $17 to $25 per hour. Now, I worked at McDonald’s many, many, many, many years ago when I was young, and I made something like, you know, $2 an hour. So to see that they’re hiring people up to $25 an hour, makes me wonder. It’s great that they’re looking to pay, folks, but is it helping? And is it sustainable?

Eric Chester: Well, a high wage can attract people and attract applicants, but it’s not going to do anything to keep them, right. Somewhere, a long time ago, someone came up with this idea that best way to pay people was wage per hour or wage for time, trading money for time. Whether that’s per hour, per week, per whatever, contract a certain amount, and when you think about that, regardless of what the amount is, when we’re paying people for their time units and it’s predetermined, and that’s how they get paid, eventually, and sometimes it happens a lot sooner than we think, the only way that individual feels like they can get more is to do less, right. So if you’re causing me to move a pile of bricks from point A to point B, and I’m getting X amount of dollars per hour, and yeah, there might be a standard, if I can find ways to take breaks, right to just get what I have to get done to hang on to my job. I’m not really inspired, motivated, engaged enough to try to over that amount to try to use my best. It’s just what can I do to hang on to this job. Meanwhile, the employer says, ‘hey, I’m paying you a great wage, I want you to give me your all give me your very best, whatever that is.’ So the employer is pushing one way the employee is pushing another way. They’re both motivated by polar opposite effects and it just causes this consternation. So yeah, McDonald’s is paying a whole lot of money and then across the street might be Jack-In-The-Box, or Wendy’s who’s who offers a little bit more and then then there might be you know, Taco Bell, who says we’ll even pay more. Okay, it attracts, it may be ‘okay, I can make $1 more an hour over there or 50 cents more an hour, I’ll leave this job’ it doesn’t really happen. It’s culture. It’s the other six pillars of a great workplace culture that determine whether or not a person is going to stay. Look, John, there’s no Santa Claus. There’s no SpiderMan, there’s no Bigfoot, and there is no such thing as a Tooth Fairy, and I don’t think there is any such thing as a workable retention strategy. Because when you think about it, if someone’s going to leave their job, they’re going to have reasons to move on. If the reason is, ‘I can’t get here what I can get somewhere else,’  the employer can’t do anything about that right, ‘I really want to work with music or animals or young children, and I don’t have that in my job,’ and that’s really what I want to do, there’s nothing you’re gonna be able to do to keep me, I’m gonna leave. By the same token, if I turn around today, ‘hey, I can make twice the money across town across the country or even across the street.’ And you can’t match that, and I can make twice the money, the person is going to leave. It boils down to what can I do to hang on to you? The greatest retention strategy is to hire the right people and to treat them well. If you treat them well, you find out what they’re looking for in a job, and if you do the very best to match those cultural pillars, people are going to stay.

John Hollon: I was reading your blog and struck by what you wrote recently about the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, and what they do to help build better retention and keep turnover low. Can you talk a little bit about them because I know that you’ve dug into them, maybe even have worked with them. And so you’ve got some great insights into what they have been doing to try to get through all of this.

Eric Chester: We have Texas Roadhouse is is a fantastic brand and it’s a really good model in the service industry of what an organization can do to, you know, increase the longevity of the people they hire. First of all, that if you look at Texas Roadhouse, managers literally buy-in to their job, and when I say buy-in, it cost you $25,000 out of your pocket to become a manager at Texas Roadhouse. Now, what does that mean? Somebody off the street? No, we’re talking about people who’ve already been in the culture have already worked there, etc, and are working their way up, they’ll let you know that, ‘hey, if you want to be a manager here, it costs $25,000 for you to buy-in to this position.’ Once you buy into that position, you can get that money back 100% in five years, talk about a retention strategy. I want my 25 grand back, okay in five years, fully vested and it comes back your direction, but people move towards that because of the, you know, the authority, the autonomy, and what you get when you become a manager. And yes, the compensation is significant, in fact, significantly higher than you can get at most of the competitive chains. So when you come into the Texas Roadhouse culture, you’re naturally groomed, you’re looking and saying there’s hope and opportunity here. This isn’t a dead end job, even if I’m washing dishes, right? Even if I’m bussing tables, there is growth here and that’s what they’re really into at the Texas Roadhouse growing careers. Now, John, I will say the blog that I wrote was about one particular manager that I got to interview at a Texas Roadhouse, he increased his the longevity of his people by simply asking a question of them every week, right? He would meet with his people one on one and simply ask them ‘How have I let you down this past week?’. Now think about the science in that question, because basically what he’s doing is, look you have an expectation when you come into the workplace, there’s an expectation you have. Maybe this week didn’t work out well for you, what can I do to help make this a better job for you? Not, ‘hey, any problems you want to you want to tell him I have an open door philosophy,’ no, it’s really asking people ‘tell me what did I do? Give me, tell me something that let you down so I know if I can fix it and keep you’ and as I learned by interviewing JW Bill Marriott six years ago, people will stay in a job where they feel like they’re being listened to, there’s a retention strategy for you, listen to your people.

John Hollon: Absolutely is, and I am the thing that struck me about what what you wrote was how engaged the manager was and spending so much time dealing with people communicating talking to them finding out what was on their mind you know, more and more managers need to be to be doing that. A lot are, but a lot has been slowly trying to figure that out and it just struck me wow, this is a person who really has taken it at a another level. At the kind of company you don’t hear about a lot, you tend to hear about the bigger ones, you don’t tend to hear about places like Texas Roadhouse, or chains or things of that sort. So it’s a great story.

Eric Chester: And that’s what I like. I mean, my focus is on the frontline worker. I mean, they’re the ones that we rely on the most and typically pay the least. The frontline workers is the one that, hey, we have this brand promise, I mean, our hotels are going to be clean, or, you know, we’re going to provide better service, or you’re gonna get this within 30 minutes or you think about all the companies we do in business, there’s a promise, and who do we rely on to deliver that promise, again, the front line, the face to face, the face of our brand, those individuals. So if we can learn strategies to hang on to them, right, if we can do our best, first of all, what that’s going to do is, it’s going to cause us to really look at our culture, the way that we exist, you know, how competitive we are out there as a company in organization and in finding those people? And then what are we doing to really listen to them, to make sure they’re well compensated, to give them growth opportunities, and the other facets of culture? Because if we really look at that frontline and we count on them like we should, great things are gonna happen. And I don’t care if you’re a small mom and pop, or if you’re Microsoft, it’s the same principles at play.

John Hollon: Are you seeing any other kinds of innovative talent management practices, you know, to try to cope with the current state of the job, the job market, which is tough for a lot of employers, a lot of people are having a hard time holding on to folks?

Eric Chester: Well I tell you, you know, if I had a bumper sticker, I’d say, ‘I break for innovative managers.’ And it’s not just business owners, leaders, operators, at every level. You know, John, I do a lot of work in the franchise community think about the franchise community brands we’ve all heard of, but they’re typically owned by an individual or a smaller group, in some cases, maybe a Venture Capital Group, you know, owns a block of them. But whatever franchise, you’re thinking about, whether that’s retailers, you know, restaurants, people in the hotel industry, Harley-Davidson’s a franchise, I mean, there’s so many franchises out there. The people that buy in to those franchises believe when they come in, their biggest issue is going to be can I get customers, can I can I make my numbers, then they come in, and they realize the biggest issue, the biggest challenge they have is getting people, because if they get the right people, the customers take care of themselves. So I think the focus and what I like to see are companies who are prioritizing their people, doesn’t mean they’re pandering to their people, but they’re prioritizing. They’re looking going, this is really super important and we want everyone in our organization to understand what makes us different, that we’re always striving to please our people, and that we’re on the lookout. Hey, nobody has to put up a now hiring sign anymore. Do you realize how help redundant that is? Everybody knows you’re hiring. You don’t have to put up a sign saying, hey we’re hiring $17 an hour, everyone knows you’re hiring. The question is what makes you different? So you walk into an organization as an applicant, and you go, ‘Okay, I’m gonna apply for a job here, consider a job here.’ What do you do? Most people may offer a competitive salary, we may have some insurance benefits and some vacation pay. So I asked franchisees, business owners, leaders, managers everywhere, if you list it out, what makes you a great place to work? And you did this punch list just like you advertise on indeed or any other job boards? And then I said, okay cross out everything that your competitor can also say, right? So if you’re a Pepsi, what is coke saying, right? If you’re in McDonald’s, what is Burger King, saying? Cross all those things out that your competitor can say, what remains, that’s your difference! And if you’ve got nothing else to say, you’re just a commodity. What are you doing? And not just we’re a family atmosphere? We love our people. No, Give me specifics. What are you doing? How are you celebrating their birthday? Do you have a softball team? You know, do you, gow often do you take the gang out for pizza? What have you done for for the community lately? What are your your causes? How do you live your core values, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? When we tell that story, right, we’ve got a compelling story to tell, people go ‘that’s the kind of place I want to work’. What are we doing to hang on to our people? So yes, I hear those examples and some of them just, you just go wow, there are innovative people out there that aren’t trying to be like anyone else. They’re looking not only at their customer brand, but their employee brand.

John Hollon: Well, Eric, you always have tremendous insights on the workplace and what keeps things going, and what people are struggling with. I’ve heard you speak a number of times so I know that your your speeches do exactly the same thing. We are at the end of the podcast now, but there’s one question we try to ask all our guests of the Talent Experience Podcast, and it’s this, what do you love about your job and what you do?

Eric Chester: I love innovation. I mean, the most compelling question I’ve had for my entire adult life is, how did you wind up doing this? So John, how did you wind up becoming a podcast host? How did how did you ever get into the workforce? How do people end up where they are? Most of us, it’s just been, it’s been this path of a variety of experiences that bring us to where we are. Well, if we understand that, we can start understanding the human condition. What do people really want? How are we going to get people to do those greedy frontline jobs, when that’s not what they have in their mind when they’re a sophomore in high school. They’re thinking, I want to be a tour manager for a rap artist or I want to be a professional snowboarder, or someday I’d like to… and then they wind up going, ‘okay, I guess I work for the County Water Department.’ How do we wind up getting that individual passionate about doing that? And I love sharing stories and examples of companies, organizations, big, small and everything in between that are able to do that. For me that is tremendous passion, getting people connected to this thing called work.

John Hollon: Well, and when I’ve heard you talk, you just ooze passion. So it is great and thank you Eric for taking the time to be with us today on the Talent Experience Podcast. It has been great to have you here.

Eric Chester: Thanks so much, John. Love your podcast. I share it with everyone I know.

We hope you enjoy listening to this episode of the Talent Experience Podcast with Eric Chester! We look forward to sharing more learning with you.

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