The Rock Hound and the Diamond Cutter

By Paula Watkins

With unemployment reportedly at 4.9% nationally HR Professionals everywhere are being asked for guidance and assistance in recruiting efforts. Our company, a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), has never been more involved in posting jobs, interviewing and referencing candidates for our clients.   In July we offered 10 webinars on where to find applicants and how to attract them.  However, at the same time we did an assessment of several of our clients and we found that lower unemployment and scarcity of available job-seekers seems to have impacted turnover by ZERO.

One hotel client had lost 85 housekeepers since the first of the year.  85 individuals applied for work, made out the paperwork, interviewed, passed a drug test and a background check and walked right out the door after starting the job.  Another client had 47 restaurant workers leave during the same timeframe.  While these were on the extreme side of turnover examples, many of our clients were continuing to experience very high turnover and attendant difficulty replacing the departed workers.

Between 2008 and 2015 while job searchers exceeded the number of opportunities, many businesses functioned as if workers are expendable and easily replaced.  This has been especially true where skill level and wages are minimal. In our company we are trying to change those cultures; management cannot afford to harbor an approach to people that holds the workforce in low regard. Actually, when management does not value people (regardless of the unemployment rate) the entire workforce mirrors that perception.

One of our Regional Human Resource Managers developed a training program likening employee recruitment to Rock Hounding Truths.

  1. You have to know where to look.
  2. You need to go where the rocks are.
  3. You have to know what you are looking for in the rough.
  4. You have to be able to recognize potential.
  5. You have to be willing to invest time and effort.
  6. You are looking for potential, not perfection.
  7. A blemish or imperfection is not a bad thing; it doesn’t negate the entire value of the    rock.
  8. Variety and diversity occur naturally.
  9. Some rocks do well being cut and polished while others do not.
  10.     You can learn a lot from other Rock Hounds.

Obviously, people are not rocks but many of the analogies work.

On the other hand, there is the Diamond Cutter Standard. Businesses that hold managers and supervisors to Diamond Cutter Standards hold managers and supervisors accountable for retention. Bonuses and performance reviews reflect the manager’s and supervisor’s ability to retain and develop employees.  Each manager and supervisor is provided training on topics such as:

  • How to Motivate Your Workforce
  • How to Reward and Recognize Employees
  • Is Your Workplace Engaging Your Workforce?

One of the best guidelines for evaluating whether your workforce is engaged can be found in First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. This book was published by Simon and Schuster in 1999 yet remains a mainstay for evaluating employee engagement.  If managers and supervisors could begin by just discussing the core questions (underlined below) that Buckingham and Coffman pose, they would likely develop some understanding of the managers’ and supervisors’ roles in developing people. Diamond Cutters approach the project with the employee as the focal point.

Do I know what is expected of me at work?   Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? A long time ago I had a receptionist working for me who had started as a file clerk before being promoted.  One day about six months into her employment she answered the phone, put the person on hold and told me that the person on the line wanted to know what our company did.  We shouldn’t presume that people know what the company does. We need to take the time to help them understand the importance of their individual contribution. Workers need to know how what they do fits into the overall purpose of the company.

Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my job?  Again it is amazing how much you learn from employees by speaking with them.  Since we sometimes do not know how to do the jobs at which our employees work, we may presume they are equipped with all the tools to do their jobs; materials, machinery, motivation, knowledge and training. It can be an interesting exercise to ask an employee to show a manager how they approach and complete tasks. It can be a real eye-opener from both perspectives to learn what efficiencies can be applied or to respect how onerous a particular assignment may be.

At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?  Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? How do we know what our employees do best?  It’s back to communicating.  We have to find out about our employees and their skills, experience and knowledge.  Spending time with an employee reveals that they have all types of interests and backgrounds; resources upon which businesses can tap in on.

In the last seven days, I have received recognition and praise for doing good work?  Obviously, employees know when praise is genuine and recognition is deserved.   Many employees are good workers every single day.  Praise can be for putting in a good solid day’s work or, it can be for something specific.  Writing a quick note or singling someone out for a specific contribution or perhaps for taking on additional responsibility shows employees that you are paying attention.

Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?  Do I have a “best friend” at work? Some managers and supervisors believe that employees get paid to do the job and what matters are production and the bottom line.  Yet, there is clear indication that a workplace in which the employees are engaged renders MORE bottom line.  If that is the case, why wouldn’t managers and supervisors care about their employees as people?  Managers and supervisors don’t have to solve personal problems but there should be some modicum of interest shown. I am ashamed to admit that I once had an employee (who had reported to me for over a year) ask me if I knew how many children she had. “Two?” I guessed.

Is there someone at work who encourages my development?  In the last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow? In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress? Not all rocks are meant to be cut or polished but people can frequently be more than how we find them “in the rough”. Unlike rocks we have to engage (talk to) our employees to understand what they are interested in and how we can develop their talents. Development does not always relate to the workplace. Employers can promote outside education and civic leadership. Internal and external training, education and community involvement help employees evolve into more valuable and productive employees.

At work, do my opinions seem to count? Wow! Imagine a workplace with employees who care enough and are engaged to such a degree that they offer suggestions and opinions for the betterment of the workplace, the product, the process, for customer service, better delivery and customer retention. Good managers and supervisors learn how to foster interactive communication and contribution.

This is not touchy-feely HR stuff; turnover is expensive in real dollars, in quality customer service and relationships, in the loss of intellectual capital, in production. Low unemployment rates do not have to translate into a lack of good, valuable and valued employees. One path is to run ads, hold job fairs, interview on a continuous basis, constantly train new hires OR spend the same amount of effort retaining the employees who are already with you. Herein is the difference between the Rock Hound and the Diamond Cutter. The Rock Hound is always looking for new stones to work with; always digging. The Diamond Cutter takes the stones and turns them into treasures to keep.

Paula Watkins, SPHR VP, Corporate Human Resources Lyons HR

Paula Watkins, SPHR
VP, Corporate HR
Lyons HR