What is a key employee? Typically and without looking in the dictionary, my version of a key employee is someone who has been with you a long time, or someone you want to be with you for a long time, an employee that holds a key position within your business that would be hard to replace, or more simply, a combination of the above.

Key employees typically are our “right hands” and tend to think like business owners which are one of the primary differences between, an employee and a key employee! Owners tend to pay them a little more for their loyalty and dedication, but also have a tendency to not pay close attention to their happiness as other employees, after all, “they’re a key employee, why should I have to?” And every day I see key employees either persuaded away through financial gain or leave because nobody has shown them that they care about them. Side note here—I don’t care who you are, how “bad” you think you are, EVERYONE wants to feel needed AND appreciated at some level!!!!

When key employees are persuaded away it can be through a number of things, but by far the most enticing is more money. This is especially true with younger employees as they generally don’t have the experience to see through false promises and hope. They again are for more influenced with the grass being greener on the other side! So I guess the question then becomes, are you paying your key employees so little that they can be persuaded away by money? Each and every employer should ask them shelves this question; “am I paying a fair wage given the job and responsibilities I have given my employees?” All too often owners and managers alike try and bargain down when acquiring an employee and then, even when that employee has proven him/herself the wage remains sub-par for the responsibilities they are given. One of the best ways we have ever seen for keeping key employees as well as creating new key employees is through bonus programs that pay more when the faculty does more. Build a bonus system that rewards for great performance and happily pay those bonuses when applicable because when they get one, if it was built properly, the facility is also a winner.

Another area that needs to be addressed with pay is the issues of reviews. Of the couple hundred facilities I have personally been involved with at a coaching level, there are small handfuls that take the time to do reviews. Remember, PLEASE, reviews are NOT always about money, they are often simply needed for both the employee and the employer to make sure that everyone is on the same page! Ask your employees if they would like a review, mention that there may or may not be a financial gain, and I guarantee that more will want it than not, and I also guarantee that you will have happier employees going forward.

Appreciation of ALL of your employees is critical to the success of any business, automotive or otherwise! I have seen employees, sometimes key employees enticed away from a facility simply because they didn’t feel appreciated, and some of those went to facilities that actually paid less!! One of the biggest complaints we get from employees, sometimes daily is that the “owner or manager only pays attention to me when I screw up”. People make mistakes, employees are people, i.e. mistakes will be made!! Counsel your employee if/when they make a mistake… on one, NEVER with others around and you will build a better employee for the long term. And not every employee is going to work out for you or your facility, if they are not AND you’ve counseled them and it isn’t working, let them go. WAY TOO MANY owners keep bad employees because they are worried that the next one may be worse then what they had….. They may be better too!! Work on categorizing your employees into Assets or Liabilities, and if AFTER counselling you have an employee that is a liability, let him/her go! Back to appreciation, we have seen more people, good people lost through lack of caring than any other reason, don’t let it be the reason you lose a key employee!

Finally, remember that in almost all cases, a happy employee can NOT be stolen from you………please think about this next time you lose an employee. Were they happy? Why weren’t they if not? What could have been done differently to keep them? These are all very important questions to answer if it wasn’t by choice when you lost them. It may even require a change in policy regarding your employees, key or otherwise. One last thought regarding key employees and a loss of one ( this has just occurred to one of our clients); if you have a vendor that takes a key employee through money or promises, STOP doing business with that vendor immediately as they obviously don’t actually care about you and your business. If there isn’t a code of ethics here, there should be! Shops may steal employees, but like what I previously stated, you can’t steal a happy employee! However, a vendor that baffles them through brilliant tactics and promises can NOT be trusted!