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How to Retain Employees and Be a Better Boss

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The days of the leader as emperor are over. The relationship between employer and employee has changed since the last century. It's a power shift that isn't going to change back.

Employees used to be afraid of offending their boss for fear of losing their jobs, which meant loss of personal security and the shame of being out of work. Before the Internet, people basically worked with companies in their region, and the only opportunities they knew about were in the classifieds section of the newspaper and through friends and colleagues.

Today, employees know they have rights that employers can't trample on. Employees know that loyalty is typically a one-way street with jobs disappearing as revenue shrinks. The Internet has changed the entire dynamic of the employer/employee relationship.

Through job boards such as Monster.com, employees know about opportunities all over the world. Through social networking sites such as LinkedIn, employees can leverage their friends' contacts to open doors and find new opportunities. Employees are starting side businesses to provide a cushion against losing their job or hating their job to the point they want to leave.

The stigma of job-hopping has all but gone away. Good employees have more choices because they are good. The question is what a leader needs to do to nourish, lead and retain the best employees.

1. Listen to Your Employees

An employer has to be a good listener and be willing to listen patiently to complaints, new ideas and recommendations. One of the best listeners I ever met was Pete Musser, the founder and former chairman of Safeguard Scientifics, who provided the initial funding for Comcast, QVC and Novell. He would sit and listen to his employees and corporate leadership.

2. Empower Your Employees

Sometimes you have to implement ideas you don't believe in so employees see that you are open to ideas. Employees need to know they have some control over their future. By empowering employees, leaders demonstrate their confidence in them.

Former chairman/CEO of GE Jack Welch is the poster boy for this type of leadership. All you have to do is look at the number of managers he groomed who became heads of Fortune 100 companies, let alone 500 companies, to appreciate what a hands-off manager he was.

3. Promote and Motivate Your Employees

Nobody wants to stay in the same job with the same title. People like to know they are making professional progress. The CEO has to constantly think about promoting and motivating.

4. Challenge Your Employees

Everyone in the workforce spends more time at the office than they do at home, so they need new challenges. It doesn't matter what their jobs are -- they need to be asked to try different things.

5. Educate Your Employees

Education, as the chairman/CEO of Fortune 500 company Rohm and Haas told me, doesn't stop when you leave high school or college. Learning is a continuous process, and the best companies invest in educating their employees.

6. Empathize With Your Employees

Today's leaders have to show empathy for employees. They have to understand the stresses and strains of balancing work with family life. The generation under 30 doesn't want 24/7 workweeks. They want balance.

7. Coach Your Employees

Employees want to be coached. They want someone who takes the time to teach them. They want to leave a company with new skills that they didn't possess when they arrived.

8. Remain Calm and Approachable

When my mother worked in the 1950s, employers could lose their temper and throw things at the employees. This behavior, although not the norm, wasn't the exception until the end of the 20th century. Employees like to know their boss is approachable, steadfast and not a screamer.

9. Value Your Employees' Families

Leaders have to put family before business. The best people know how to manage their time; freedom and encouragement to place family before work buys a tremendous amount of loyalty.

10. Be Honest With Your Employees

Nothing is more important to people than honesty. I recently had lunch with Dr. Felix Zandman, a Holocaust survivor and founder/CEO of $3.5 billion Vishay Intertechnology, who told me that honesty can be a strategic tool -- employers who are honest build confidence and trust between themselves and their employees.

Books About Leadership

There are a lot of good books to read on the subject of managing people. Here are five recommendations.

1. The Leadership Advantage, by Robert Fulmer and Jared Bleak. This book provides case studies on what the top companies do to cultivate talent.

2. The Education of an Accidental CEO: Lessons Learned From the Trailer Park to the Corner Office, by David Novak. This book is written by someone with actual experience running companies -- Novak is chairman/CEO of Yum! Brands.

3. 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Manager, by Bruce Katcher with Adam Snyder. The author is an industrial psychologist who has worked with a variety of companies and has heard feedback from employees about their managers.

4. How to Recognize and Reward Employees, by Donna Deeprose. This is an excellent book on motivations that don't just focus on money.

5. The Manager's Question and Answer Book, by Florence Stone. This is an excellent book for new managers.

It's all about serving the people, not the people serving the leader. If the leader understands that the employees, regardless of the product or service, are true value and have to be maintained and appreciated, then the leader has succeeded. The leaders who look at their companies as old Southern plantations will, over time, doom their companies to mediocrity or collapse.
Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.

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