Small business employee retention challenges: AMP up your efforts

by | Business Success Tools

Last month, we shared information about the hiring environment in the United States. As with most issues, there is good news – and there is bad news. The good news is that more hiring is taking place, which is a hallmark of a revitalizing economy. The bad news is that it’s going to get more challenging to hire – and then retain – top-notch employees, as it’s slanting towards becoming an employee (rather than employer) market.

In our previous post, we shared how the new PNC Economic Outlook Survey reveals that 38% of business owners intend to increase employee salaries within the next six months, which is the largest amount in six years. Plus, businesses planning to give raises will offer those of 3% or higher. So, one obvious strategy to hire and retain quality staff is to offer them more money. But, what if you can’t? It isn’t uncommon for cash flow issues to prevent well-intentioned business owners from paying more in salaries, especially during a recovering economy. So, we turned to the web for insights.

An encouraging word about retention from Team Excellence

In September 2014, Team Excellence reminded us that employee motivation and satisfaction are tied to multiple factors, with pay and bonus structures being just two of them. “The theory of organizational equilibrium . . . states that employees will stay with an organization as long as the inducements, including good pay, working conditions, and developmental opportunities are equal to (or greater than) the employees’ contributions of time and effort. In other words, people stay with an organization as long as they feel they’re getting as much (or more) from the company as they give.”

Randy Hopkins of Team Excellence also makes the point that you – or anyone else for that matter – cannot actually motivate someone else. Motivation, he says, is an “internal choice that people must make for themselves.” Having said that, a business owner can create an environment that is conducive to feelings of self- motivation. Hopkins refers to bestselling author Daniel H. Pink and his discussion of the three core elements of motivation. While Hopkins’ post cites Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, MP Star Financial had shared Pink’s motivation philosophy back in April 2013 when we reviewed another of his books, To Sell is Human. Anyhow, back to motivation’s three core elements:

  • Autonomy: people need to sense value in their individuality
  • Mastery: people want to be good – perhaps the best – at what they do
  • Purpose: people want meaning in their lives and to make a difference

How does autonomy, mastery and purpose (AMP) play out in the workplace?


For more about autonomy, we turned to Forbes and Heidi Grant Halvorson in How to Give Employees a Sense of Autonomy (When You Are Really Calling the Shots). From our perspective, giving trusted and valued employees true autonomy is the real goal but Halvorson makes the valid point that, sometimes, a business owner needs to get buy in for his or her goals and then provide choices from that point on. So, while providing pure autonomy can be a challenge at work, business owners and managers can:

  • Help employees understand why a business goal has value. The why may not be as obvious to them as it is to you.
  • Give employees freedom as to how they can reach a goal. If total free reign is not feasible, then give them options.
  • Even when the main choice has to be made for employees, allow them to make peripheral decisions to help reach a goal.


Although there isn’t much dissention over the idea that driven and dedicated people want mastery over their work duties, there has been an ongoing debate about the specifics of mastery: is it or is it not true that mastering a particular skill requires 10,000 hours of practice? This idea arose from a 1993 psychology study and was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers.

Gladwell had used, as examples, the fact that Bill Gates started coding back in high school and the Beatles had played eight-hour music gigs before the British Invasion in America. He cited these examples to bolster his point that 10,000 hours of practice is key to mastering a skill. But, this concept has been frequently debated, so much so that Gladwell has recently felt a need to defend his theory in Business Insider, saying he never claimed that practice was the ONLY predictor of expertise, just an important one.

Leaving the finer points of this debate to others, it’s clear that allowing employees to receive training and otherwise gain expertise in key areas is a great strategy for virtually any business. You, your business and your customers will all benefit from more knowledgeable and empowered employees. How can you offer these mastery tools to your employees?


A purpose-driven company, according to the prestigious consulting firm Deloitte, has “an important objective that creates meaningful impact for stakeholders,” with stakeholders being defined as customers, employees, communities and investors. That all makes sense – and what’s really interesting is that, as Adam Vaccaro reports in, 73% of employees who believe they work at a purpose-driven company are engaged in their work, as compared to levels of only 23% of engagement by those who don’t believe they work at a purpose-driven company. By defining and living out your purpose, you are providing value to your employees, as well as the greater community. Win/win.

How do you try to offer your employees a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose? Does this help you to retain quality employees? Please share in the comments below. And, if you need help managing cash flow so you can attract, reward and retain quality staff, consider invoice factoring

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