Secrets to building an engaged staff

As winner of Aon Hewitt’s Best Employer award four years in a row, it’s obvious that Hilti Australia is doing something right in the staff retention stakes. Managing director Jan Pacas explains how the company continues to please its staff

With such a diverse range of businesses fishing from the same talent pool, finding the best fit for your organisation has become a competitive pitch that is just as much about the applicant selling themselves as about selling the business. Therefore, once you’ve integrated staff into your business, it’s never been more important to retain them for the long term. The benefits of minimising staff turnover go far beyond simply financial; they impact on employee morale, productivity and loyalty. The key to instilling a focus on staff retainment all comes down to employee engagement and providing each team member with a sense of purpose, identity and direction.
As managing director of leading power tool manufacturer and distributor Hilti Australia, named Best Employer by Aon Hewitt for a fourth consecutive year, I have reflected on the successful strategies that have made a measurable impact on our business and how we maximise our staff retainment.
Change led from the top
The first thing to bear in mind is that the effectiveness of any sort of change in the business comes down to the top-level management team. There must be an agreed commitment of time, resources and finances to your employees, their development and their level of job satisfaction, and if you want your staff to get passionate about a strategy, you must lead by example and begin personally embracing it. Never forget the fact that you serve as a role model for staff, so even the most subtle, sarcastic remark or negative comment on an initiative will have a flow-on effect throughout the business.
Hire the right people
In order to get staff excited about leading the business from success to success, you first have to hire the right group of people. Have a clear idea of the culture you are wanting to nurture, and hire accordingly, valuing personality over expertise. The number one reason that staff leave a company within the first 18 months is down to ‘attitudinal differences’, so ensuring from the outset that you’ve chosen a team member who will be well suited culturally is essential. Remember you can always train staff on technical knowledge or skills they may be lacking, but it is much more difficult to change an attitude or personality.
Actions speak louder than words
The next step is to remember that actions speak louder than words, and although a simple email congratulating a staff member should be an essential part of the day-to-day management of a team, nothing is more motivating than receiving a physical reward that is of personal value to the employee, whether it be a voucher to their favourite store or some time in lieu to use as they wish. This strategy is more about time and thought than money, and is often far more motivating than just handing out stock standard rewards to all staff, such as branded collateral or local restaurant vouchers.
As well as offering these smaller incentives, it’s also imperative to invest in a larger, company-wide recognition program. This allows everyone from the sales staff to the directors to be honoured for their outstanding achievements in front of their colleagues, both motivating for those being honoured, as well as for those watching. At Hilti, we have instated a business-wide awards program called the Champions League. This program recognizes high-performing staff at all levels of the business, and the best of their field are given a luxury overseas holiday. This ceremony has become a highlight on the work calendar, and staff look forward to it year-round.
Invest in career progression
Another key aspect of keeping staff engaged is ensuring that you invest in the career progression of each individual team member. Every employee should have their own development plan that outlines tactics for how they can progress in their current position, as well as their future potential roles. Annual development discussions between each staff member and their direct manager should be the norm, with the aim of getting a clear understanding of the employee’s motivations, behaviour, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and the tools they need to be able to progress. This allows all parties to be clear on the direction, and by putting together a formal document for this plan it adds a level of accountability and motivation to seeing these developmental objectives come to fruition. Not only will this initiative have a positive effect on employees, who see the business investing in their future, but it also allows the business to have clarity on employee goals, and the ability to refer to these goals when opportunities arise for internal promotions or role expansion.
Set clear expectations
The final element in creating an engaged, motivated staff is to set clear expectations from the outset, and providing employees with both short and long-term KPIs or objectives is a great way to implement this. The short-term objectives allow staff to focus on something achievable, whereas the long-term goals allow them to understand their place in the business, and see that they are working towards something bigger. At Hilti, we manage this by having just a few monthly objectives per staff member, as well as one annual or five-year ‘bigger picture’ goal. The most important part of this exercise is to allow the time for line managers to conduct monthly updates with each employee, so that both the staff member and their manager keep their performance goals as a priority and top of mind.
Following industry research pointing to the fact that employee engagement has a direct impact on overall business performance, Hilti has invested significantly in tactics to motivate staff in the workplace. From this we have developed a measuring tool that we term the Triple Bottom Line, and the results we received throughout the trial floored us. As our tactics were implemented and the level of employee engagement increased, we saw a significant improvement in customer loyalty and an outstanding 210% increase in company earnings. These are the types of figures that any business would be happy to have, and serve to show just how essential it is to invest in the heroes of the company – its staff.

Jan Pacas is the managing director of Hilti Australia. Operating in 120 countries, Hilti Australia employs 300 staff and has a company culture based on the following four values: integrity, teamwork, commitment, and courage to embrace change.