Having a committed and hardworking team often requires relationships in the community and a lot of structure to support employee development—all things that are especially challenging as a small business.

“Just waiting for applications to come in, that doesn’t work in today’s environment,” says Vicki Comegys, a consultant with Central Iowa Works.

Central Iowa Works, through a grant with Walmart.org, the Walmart Foundation, has partnered with the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and Pacific Community Ventures to support small businesses in central Iowa. As a consultant, Vicki works with business owners to improve job quality using specific strategies in six key areas. 

Across her work with retailers, in particular, she’s seen some similar challenges with hiring and retention and offers these three recommendations as a starting place to boost employee engagement and retention:  

1. Stick with processes meant to support and engage your staff.

You probably recognize that it’s important to set schedules at least two weeks in advance and to check-in regularly with each employee, but those practices can sometimes get set aside when everyone is busy. Yet, those practices make a difference in employees being able to show up and feel present and engaged in their work. Regular check-in meetings are especially important to establish open communication with your staff and to identify and support opportunities for their growth, which can lead to better employee retention.

2. Invest in professional development.

Many employees are seeking opportunities to learn and develop as professionals but having the time and money to support those opportunities can seem impossible. Having a consistent and thorough onboarding process is an important place to start, so new employees know your expectations and buy-in to making your business successful.

You can also look for free or lower-cost employee training programs that might be available through local organizations and educational institutions. Central Iowa Works, for example, has partnered with Dale Carnegie to provide free training for frontline staff in retail and hospitality. This training supports those who are ready to move into management roles but first need to develop the confidence to lead.

“Confidence is something I hear from employers,” Vicki says. “They have staff they feel have leadership capabilities and abilities to advance, but their own confidence is not there.”

3. Build partnerships in the community.

Having partnerships with organizations in the community can support hiring and professional development opportunities. Vicki especially has helped connect business owners with programs that support individuals returning from prison or who may have other barriers to employment. These programs often provide training and ongoing case management to individuals as they are placed in jobs, creating a positive experience for employers as well. Working with someone like Vicki, who has those relationships already established, can help expand your capacity.  

Getting Started

All of these tactics take some work on the front end, but Vicki says, “they save time in the long run.”

The best place to start is to take this survey and analyze your results. Just reviewing the questions allows you to think about areas where you’re doing well and opportunities to improve. You can then contact Soneeta with Central Iowa Works to explore opportunities to join local efforts to improve job quality.

Pacific Community Ventures also offers a toolkit with many resources, including strategies with hiring and employee engagement. Visit the toolkits by clicking the button below:

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TAGS: Thriving Workforce

About The Author: Sarah Welch

Sarah Welch is a communications contractor for the Thriving Workforce initiative and is the former Strategic Communications Officer at United Way of Central Iowa.