Retaining Your Most Important Asset – Your People

Current State and Future Industry Challenges and Trends

Wayne C. Davis | England Logistics, Inc.

Competitive Reality

In most markets across the United States unemployment is at historic lows. One clear indication of this is the number of “Help Wanted” signs on the fronts of businesses and billboards, on the sides of buses and scattered throughout the internet. The message is simple: the demand for people, whether you think of them as labor, talent or both, is exceeding the supply. The immediate concern is the production capability gap being created by this talent shortage. In the longer term is the concern that there is no end in sight.

So how do we compete? Especially in the transportation and logistics industry when we are being compared to other more glamorous, fast-growth industries. The key is shifting our paradigm about people.

We have all read and heard the popular saying among business leaders, “People are our most important asset.” However, many of us, even as we casually repeat it, do not understand the many reasons it is actually a profound statement of truth. First, people are the only asset any organization has that can increase in value, as measured by the quantity and quality of the contribution made to the enterprise and its customers. Second, people are highly mobile. Third, unlike any other asset, people are aware of their increasing value and the demand-supply imbalance playing to their benefit. But how do we attract and retain this precious resource? The solution is found in one simple formula:

Retention=Recruiting+Developing+ Challenging+Recognizing+Rewarding

The Retention Formula

In the talent marketplace of today and tomorrow, the easiest way to attract and retain the best is to be the best. While their competition struggles to draw quality people and hold on to them, the companies that make up Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For have a seemingly endless flow of resumes coming in and lines of candidates waiting to interview. But how do they do it? They represent many varied industries, have diverse value propositions and business models, and are different sizes. But one thing they have in common is their commitment to each of the elements of the retention formula. They are uncompromising in their drive to recruit the right people, then develop and challenge them, and recognize and reward them for their wins.

Talent Acquisition

In this increasingly competitive labor market the process of recruiting or acquiring talent has shifted on to a more level playing field. Both the employer and the employee are in the position of assessing (screening) and selecting who will best meet their employment needs and therefore earn the role of partner. As employers, if we are to standout above the competition there are a handful of principles and practices we need to implement in this stage of building a relationship. The first three are as follows:

First, we need to have clearly defined expectations for the roles in our enterprise; expectations that define the desired and needed results as well as the traditional responsibilities. We all know what deliverables we need from an individual in a job, but we rarely articulate it before the person starts in the position. Today’s savvy candidate wants to know what success looks like in the eyes of their potential employer.

Secondly, we need to clearly articulate what the potential employee can expect from us in return. This includes all elements of compensation, benefits, training, potential for growth and opportunity to make a difference in the community.

Thirdly, actively engage your existing employees in the search for quality talent. They know your business and your culture and are the ones most likely to know who would fit into your organization and the job, and positively contribute to your desired outcomes. An incentive attached to referrals that become new team members can help keep a steady flow of quality candidates. It is also beneficial to proactively reach out to your top performers on a periodic basis for people they would recommend from their network.


After attracting the right people to your team, one of the most important practices for retaining them is a consistent investment in their continuous development. There are four simple, but powerful steps to actively engage employees in their professional development – Seeking Feedback, Developing My Plan, Increasing Knowledge and Skills and Improving Performance.

The effectiveness of each of the four stages and the overall continuous development process requires regular communications between an employee and their leader. A minimal frequency for these continuous development reviews should be defined by the company with more frequent discussions being scheduled by the employee and their leader.

There are also two key principles that should be central to continuous development. First, the commitment to continuous development should be founded upon the company’s values. Second, it should be Employee Driven-Leader Guided.

As employers, if we are to standout above the competition there are a handful of principles and practices we need to implement in this stage of building a relationship.


The greatest and most consistent opportunity for impacting employee retention is in how we challenge our people through day-to-day performance leadership. Effective performance leadership starts with making sure the individual understands how their job expectations (or performance objectives) align with those of their team and each progressive level of the company. This creates a sense of purpose and visibility to the big picture.

Once result alignment is clarified, then regular performance leadership should focus on supporting the activities that deliver the desired results, the efforts that drive those activities and the attitude that is the engine behind the efforts. This support is provided through a combination of the two fundamental forms of feedback – reinforcing and redirecting – and continuous enhancement of knowledge and skills. We should regularly reinforce what is being done correctly and effectively to achieve desired results and redirect when attitude, effort or activity has gone off track, whether by 1 degree or 180 degrees.

Last but not least, the company’s values and playing the correct roles – Employee Driven-Leader Guided – must be central to this stage, just as they were in developing the people.


Whether in private or in public it is essential to recognize and reinforce when our people are meeting or exceeding expectations. However, in order to have the full desired impact it is imperative that the recognition be genuine, timely and as the recipient would want to receive it. When it comes to effective recognition it’s not about the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Rather it’s all about the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” Only when we know our people can we deliver recognition in a way that it will have the intended positive impact.

Recognition should also be provided immediately on the heels of the effective performance. Just like a cheer rings out right when a song is finished at a concert or a great play is made in sports. An accumulation of smaller in-the-moment celebrations is far more impactful, supportive and sustaining than one big hurrah at the end.


Everyone looks for a reward. It is an important element of reinforcement and inevitably an important part of the reason we are in a partnership with our people. Therefore, the basic reward of compensation must be perceived and received as fair. However, contrary to the common assumption, not all rewards need to be financial. Time, opportunity and responsibility are also powerful motivators. Just remember to apply the Platinum Rule.


Retention is simple – just look at the formula – but it’s not easy. No one ever said it would be easy. But we can all be assured it will be worth it. Just ask the leaders, employees and shareholders of the industry-leading enterprises that make up Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.
They get it.           

Wayne C. Davis is Vice President, Talent Development at England Logistics, Inc. He can be reached at 901-656-4569 or by email at [email protected]

Image credits: fizkes/ and MichelePaccione/