Q: What tips and advice do you have for small trade businesses to attract and retain great people?

Rob Satrom, owner


A: Nearly every organization finds it challenging to attract and retain great people. The service industry and small trade businesses often provide less lucrative jobs requiring evening/weekend work hours and physically taxing job demands. Money helps, but often small businesses can't afford to pay employees high hourly wages. This is where positive management practices and a fun company culture can help.

While job duties and pay rates have limits, your ability to manage and motivate people is exponential. Clearly communicate expectations and give regular feedback. Conduct performance reviews and keep an open-door policy for questions, concerns, ideas and feedback. Mentor and train employees to do their best work and gain new skills. Find out what aspects of the job they enjoy most and what matters to them outside of work.

When employees do resign, kindly ask why they want to leave or how the new job is better and what you could have done differently. Listen and learn; be willing to implement future changes when needed.

If sound management practices are your main ingredient, then company culture is your secret sauce. Create a fun work environment including traditions and celebrations that are unique for your workforce. For some companies this is a silly phrase or shared joke; others have a weekly doughnut day or prizes and noncash awards. Celebrate an outstanding customer satisfaction rating with a surprise pizza party for the team.

Productive and happy employees are not only your best investment, but they are also a walking advertisement for your business. I suggest you offer a substantial employee referral bonus to induce competent friends to apply as well. Employees are more likely to stay where they consider their co-workers friends.

Lastly, don't forget to recruit/market to existing clients. "Like our company services and know someone who would enjoy working for us? Have them apply and if they are hired, your next service will be on us."

Erica Diehn is an assistant professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.