Linda St. John is Founder and Principal of LSJ Leadership Coaching, a Worcester, MA firm that specializes in employee retention. Linda’s work focuses on developing and implementing talent management initiatives, such as onboarding, mentoring, and coaching all with a focus on helping client companies hire and keep the right people.
Interview with Linda StJohn:
Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I’m Mari Ryan. I’m the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. Today, my guest is Linda StJohn. Linda is the founder and principal of LSJ Leadership Coaching, a Wooster, Massachusetts-based firm, specializing in employee retention. Linda has extensive experience in the healthcare industry. She’s spent twenty eight years at Fallon Healthcare, where she held a variety of human resource positions, including Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer.
During her tenure at leading H.R. at Fallon, the organization was named top workplace in the education, training and career development category. Linda is snowshoe enthusiast, an avid reader, and self-described spa aficionado. Linda, welcome.
Linda StJohn: Thank you, Mari, I’m delighted to be with you today.
Mari Ryan: Today our topic that we’re going to explore, an area that I know you have a lot of experience in, is employee retention. We hear about employee retention a lot and it is a key metric for any organization in managing their workforce and workforce strategies. Turnover is very costly and impacts businesses in many ways. Let’s jump in and explore retention, and what does it take to create a workplace where employees want to stay?
Linda StJohn: That is a great question. The most important thing is the culture. Culture is based on relationships between people at work, and when organizations create a strategy that includes what type of culture they want to have, they will look at those relationships very closely and build in behaviors that are aligned with what they are desiring, and everything else flows from there.
Mari Ryan: Culture, that’s so interesting that it’s the foundation of retention. Does retention start … do you start thinking about retention once you hire somebody, or does it go back to the hiring process?
Linda StJohn: To me, culture is before the hiring process. Culture is at the top of the umbrella, and the hiring process is an important component underneath culture. I believe that Steven Covey had it right when he said, “begin with the end in mind.” If what you want is a happy culture of happy, thriving employees, then you have to build that immediately. That’s your first order of business. From there, you create a hiring process that includes all of the components of that culture that you want to build, but you don’t dive right into the hiring process. In essence, that’s a sales process, and what you selling? How do you know what you are selling until you build and define the culture of the product, essentially, that you are going to be selling to an employee?
Mari Ryan: It’s interesting that you position that as a selling process. We’re hearing a lot today about employee experience, this journey that employees take from before they even join an organization through the whole tenure with an organization. What is an employee experience and how does that impact retention?
Linda StJohn: Employee experience is a relatively new term, and let’s just take a couple of steps back; it all started with utility. That was about employees being useful. We have a job and a person has bills to pay. It was as simple as that. What are the basics that everyone needs, a desk, a chair, and employees working essentially as cogs in the wheel. If we started at utility, then we move over into productivity. How do we get employees to work smarter, work faster? Remember when we heard about all of those terms? We had people who were working pretty smart and pretty fast, but were unhappy because they felt like they were really a different sort of cog in the wheel, and employers didn’t necessarily care about them.
Now we moved next into employee engagement, which we’ve all heard a lot of. Employee engagement is about how does an organization help an employee get to the next level as far as wanting to go above and beyond for their employer in order to get the work done. That worked for a while. Forward-thinking employees are now moving towards this term that you bring up, called employee experience. That is all about how do we create a company where employees want to show up versus needing to show up. That’s where the intersection of a lot of the work that you do and the work that I do comes into play.
Employee experience is very connected to how do organizations care about employees, how do they know that they care? Culture – circle back to where we started – culture is a big part of that. Employers who are looking to create a forward thinking culture, where employees feel cared about as far as from the job, that can be as simple as bringing in financial planning advisors to help them because employees are saying we care about your future and your needing to save towards your retirement. So, we’re going to provide financial planning sessions. We are going to offer stand up desks. We’re going to offer meditation series, a yoga class. That sort of thing shows employees that the employer cares and they want to show up. They also build a community. That’s a really important part.
Mari Ryan: Community is so important and we have another video on that as part of our series. Culture is at the core of this and the employee experience is their journey in all of the things that make them feel cared for and really give them a reason for wanting to be there. But, there’s always that manager in the middle kind of person; what’s the role that the middle manager plays with regards to retention?
Linda StJohn: To me, the middle manager is critical. In each of these levels that we’ve talked about, the middle manager has always been critical, but they are even more critical now. They are the communication vehicle between the leadership of the organization and the employees. They are the middle part of the important sandwich. If you are going to have employees feel cared about, then obviously you have to have some really well-trained managers. The biggest thing that managers need to be trained in and supported in is communication. I hear about this all the time, and training managers to be like coaches is the way to go, especially with the new generation. It’s about giving and receiving feedback versus tearing people down. The days of a command-and-control sort of environment are done with – thank goodness – and managers who are coaches are going to be more effective or who have a coaching style are going to be more effective in the future, especially around employee experience and retaining good employees. The middle manager role though, is very difficult and organizations need to support those middle managers because they are so critical to that level of employee who really needs them more than ever to be a coaching style of leader.
Mari Ryan: I’m curious, with the millennials, and now the younger generation in the workforce, and the gig economy, which is close to 40% of the workforce is contingent workers, is there a whole different view about what it is to stay with a company? Is the idea of retention changing from the perspective that where we used to aim for low numbers, now there’s inherently going to be some churn because people aren’t staying with the company? That begs the question back to where we started, what motivates people to stay, particularly some of the younger generation?
Linda StJohn: There’s some new data coming out on that, where DDI and the Conference Board just did a study on millennial leaders. We have to remember that millennials are in their 20s and 30s at this point. In fact, many of them are managers, leaders, et cetera, in our organizations. What that data is showing is that millennial leaders really want to stay at their organizations. They are not as interested in the gig economy and all the change and moving around. They would like to get established somewhere, but it’s all going to depend on circling back to culture. Culture is going to be key. The things that millennials are looking for in order to help them stay, I would bucket them in three areas; the first area has to do with the people, the second one is opportunities, and the third is the work.
I’m very hopeful about millennials being successful in the workplace today.
Mari Ryan: I am as well, because they are, clearly, a big part of the workforce today and I think it’s fun and interesting to be able to look at different perspectives and to be able to try and understand what people need when they come into the workplace. It sounds like from what you are talking about, some key things that I’m hearing. Obviously, culture is key. Caring for people is obviously an essential part of this, and it sounds like communication is also at the core of some of this.
Linda StJohn: Yes, the only other one that I would add in there is relationships because people talk about culture, but they don’t often understand it. It’s hard to define that. The quickest way to define that is to think about the relationships between people at work. Yes, you picked up on all of the key themes that I think are key to retaining employees.
Mari Ryan: Excellent. That’s great, this is been a delightful conversation. Linda, if our audience wants to find out a little more about you, and the work that you do, where can they find you?
Linda StJohn: They can find me at Linda@lsjleadershipcoaching.com.
Mari Ryan: Thank you so much for your time today, great conversation. I really enjoyed having you here today.
Linda StJohn: Thank you, Mari, it was delightful.
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