Hiring? How about Retaining “A” Team Players?

How to Retain “A” Team Players

“Steve Jobs had a saying that A players hire A players; B players hire C players; and C players hire D players. It doesn’t take long to get to Z…” We all want to have an “A Team” of players on our staff.

It should be easy to find to people who want to work in the wine industry, right? It’s a glamorous, bon-vivant lifestyle, sitting around, sipping wine and chatting all day! How many times have we heard guests say “You get to pour wine in a tasting room in a gorgeous wine region and hanging out with guests?? THIS is my dream job!!”? But much like we are not typically the target customer of the wineries we work for; our customers are not the target talent pool either. As Rob McMillian of Silicon Valley Bank mentioned in a recent article, there was already a shortage of hospitality staff across the board – from wineries to hotels to restaurants – and the pandemic squeezed this already thin margin of available candidates even thinner. After large scale lay-offs at many wineries, some hospitality staff left the industry for a new career path or moved out of region they worked in and there just isn’t a new influx of people refilling the hiring pool.

It’s getting more difficult to find new staff, so the question isn’t so much why is it so important to focus on retention but rather how do you keep the great staff members you have?

The Why…

We know that retaining your “A” team is critical for several reasons. The first and most obvious is the costs of losing our staff’s historical knowledge, losing the relationship within the company and department, and cost of training a replacement are all high from a financial, time, and culture perspective. Retaining great employees is also important because like attracts like. These employees are a fantastic connection to other potential great people within their network. Additionally, retaining talented staff is like a magnet for the company – people who don’t work there want to and those who work there want to stay and will continue to invest themselves in the company.

The How…

There are many facets to retention strategy for employees, but one thing is for sure – it’s not always about the money. Here are a few low- or no-cost ways to improve retention:

Hire right the first time.
Stating the obvious here but it’s important to make sure candidates are the right fit for the roles and for the company. Take time to go through a detailed hiring process, put the candidates through the filter of the company’s culture, the role they’re applying for, and the dynamic of the team. Make sure to accurately explain your company’s goals, values, and work culture at the onset of the hiring process, as clarity is key! Starting a new position is taxing, so reducing the “surprises” will only help with employee satisfaction and ultimately retention.

Another piece of this puzzle is onboarding. A formal, thoughtful, and comprehensive immersion is key to a new hire’s introduction to the company, its mission & values, and their new colleagues. Spending time with a new hire and personalizing their onboarding process rather than throwing a bunch of paperwork, handbooks, and manuals their way shows the employee they are valued and that their manager and the company are happy to have them on the team. The first 100 days are super important for a new hire – so plan them out, and plan to do it well.

Show Appreciation (and recognition too).
Showing genuine appreciation for employees is a vital part of any leader’s role and (unless we’re talking robots) creates a human connection and an understanding necessary in working relationships. This means caring about them as people, truly listening, showing validation, and expressing empathy. (Especially in the context of the year we all just went through…) Keep in mind that appreciation isn’t the same as recognition. Think of appreciation as ‘thanks for being you always’ whereas recognition is ‘thanks for doing X at this time’. Recognition is also helpful in retention but is a little more slippery. It’s more short-lived and finite than appreciation since it can only be shown when exceptional accomplishments or outstanding performance warrant recognition. Give a shout out at a team meeting, put them up on the ‘Star Board’, or write a note of gratitude. But know that recognition doesn’t replace appreciation. This may seem obvious or easy… and it is, but so few of us remember to do this consistently and thoughtfully.

Revisit Company Benefits and Culture.
Base pay across a wine region tends to be fairly similar among peers and positions. What sets wineries apart are company culture, benefits, and additional earning potential.

Culture is the heartbeat of the organization and lays out a roadmap for decisions, activities, the future growth of the company while also providing guidance and guardrails to keep it all on track. Does the company foster positive work relationships, encourage open and proactive communication, and value work-life balance? Are employees encouraged to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing?
Be sure to remind employees of perks and benefits that may be underutilized. If looking to up the benefit game, asking employees what they’d love to see added is a great place to start. Is there anything unique or enticing like a wine allocation, paid birthday off, winery logo wear, or a weekly yoga class onsite? Is there a program to reward tenure such as increased pay, vacation accrual, or shares/partnership within the company? We often overlook things we take for granted, so consider all the benefits, partnerships, and potential cool / unique things our winery offers to employees so we can share/celebrate/advertise these with our teams.

What other ways can employees earn beyond their base pay? Are there bonus or incentive compensation programs (ICP) for performance? Is tipping allowed in the tasting room? Do non-tasting room employees have ways to earn as well? (See other WISE blogs on Tipping, ICP, Hiring Winners, Onboarding, and more food for thought.)

Support and Empower Managers.
Managing people is by far the most challenging aspect of any professional position, however, far too little time is invested in supporting those new to a role that includes managing a team. Does the company provide management with training? Something to keep in mind is that the employees that are the best at their jobs aren’t always the best managers of teams. If someone is promoted to a role that oversees other employees, it’s beneficial for both the new manager and their direct reports as well as the company as a whole to ensure the new leadership is successful. This means providing training in a number of areas including leadership, communication, coaching & growing employees, conflict resolution, time management, and the emotional skillset to needed to build trust and earn respect. Providing management training shows employees that the company is committed to having effective management in order to support the greater team in growth and forward movement, and that the company is willing to grow, promote and support managers from within. Which brings us to our next point…

Provide Growth Opportunity
A compelling way to retain employees is to grow them. Employees are drawn to companies that will invest in them and further their professional careers. Getting company ownership/leadership involved in supporting growth initiatives is critical to the success of the programs. After that, the first step here is asking a few questions of the employees (and then really listening to their responses). What do they want from the next steps in their career? What is the direction they see themselves taking? What position are they ultimately seeking? How can the company and leadership help support?

Some ways to provide growth opportunity for employees are:

  • Provide time to take educational classes & participating in seminars
  • Support or cover the costs for earning certifications.
  • Help to grow their network.
  • Sponsor them for a WISE Cabinet (shameless plug)
  • Include in industry events, symposiums, conferences, tastings, etc.
  • Spend time to share knowledge.
  • Start a book club and foster discussion & dialogue around industry-related literature.
  • Steward a sense of inspiration within your company beyond day-to-day details…A good example is thinking back to your favorite teacher in elementary school…they may have been a math, English, or history teacher; however, one learns more than those simple subjects from truly inspirational mentors aka teachers.

Just like wine clubs, retention is quickly becoming the new acquisition when it comes to staff and talent. Having a strategic and cohesive approach across the company to plan and execute retention initiatives is half the battle. Communicating these initiatives to current and prospective employees is the other (and arguably just as important) half.