Last month I traveled to Colorado to report on the annual educational conference hosted by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA). About halfway through the opening session, I realized I was lucky to be there because MSCA brings in top-notch speakers for this event.

There’s nothing worse than going to an event where the presenters dim the lights, drone through their PowerPoint slides, and quickly lull you to sleep. MSCA was the opposite. The speakers were energetic and got the audience engaged as they shared tons of great business-building ideas.

Labor Shortage on the Way

One speaker who had my complete attention was business author Tim Sanders. Sanders said that a future war for talented workers is brewing. When I heard him say that, I perked up because the first editorial I wrote for The NEWS a year and a half ago was about the coming labor shortage.

With unemployment still hovering around 9 percent, it can be hard to envision a shortage of employees in the near future. So it was nice for my view to be validated by an expert.

Sanders pointed to the shifting demographics in our country, noting that baby boomers are reaching retirement age and there are not enough workers in the succeeding generations to replace them. According to him, by 2015-2020, there will “literally be a shortage of people.”

Of course, the recession has slowed this shortage down. In fact, I’ve recently heard from more than one contractor that right now is a great time to hire because there are very talented people in need of work.

But according to Sanders, when the economy picks back up, that “talent control” will end. And once employees are in greater demand and people have more chances to change jobs, they will move on if they’re not happy.

Tips to Keep the Best Around

So how do you prevent your best and brightest from jumping ship? Sanders and other speakers at the event had lots of great ideas to aid employee retention. Overall, the message was to respect and recognize people.

In Sanders’ words, “When the war for talent comes, the emotional compensation will be the tie-breaker.” Everyone understands financial compensation, but how do you emotionally compensate workers?

Another speaker at MSCA spoke about this in great detail. Chester Elton, a business consultant and the event’s keynote speaker, discussed how to recognize and reward employees. Elton has written a few books on this topic, which he calls the “carrot principle.” After listening to his presentation, I came away with one phrase drilled into my head: “Great recognition is frequent, specific, and timely.”

Frequency is important when it comes to recognizing employees. It can’t just be at the annual dinner. That’s not telling them often enough that you appreciate the job they’re doing and want them to keep working for you.

What’s even more important is being specific. According to Elton, “General praise has no impact on people.” So just telling someone “good job” doesn’t cut it. That’s too generic. If you want people to feel like you’ve noticed them, prove it by telling them exactly what you’ve noticed that they’re doing well.

And don’t sit on it forever. Telling someone months after they’ve finished a project that you were impressed with how they handled it does not have the same impact as telling them right away.

In my opinion, these tips ring true because everyone can relate to them. Who hasn’t felt underappreciated at some point in their life? And who hasn’t felt a little resentful or bitter in that situation? But think how quickly your attitude changes when someone comes up to you and expresses appreciation for what you’ve done. Suddenly, you switch from annoyed to gratified.

And if you can transform your employees’ attitudes this way, you’re much more likely to keep them on the payroll. So tell them how awesome they are — and make sure you’re frequent, specific, and timely about it.

Publication date: 11/21/2011