It’s no secret that retaining key talent plays a critical role in the success of any organization, and the cable industry fares much better than most in that regard. In fact, a survey taken by CTHRA last year found the annual voluntary turnover rate to be 10 percent, compared to the cross-industry rate of 28 percent. Even in this tough economic market, that span of 18 percentage points indicates that cable industry leaders must have some pretty good tactics for fostering job satisfaction and keeping employees motivated and committed to the success of the company.

I’ve asked a few CTHRA board members to share some of their companies’ strategies with us. Special thanks to Sheryl Anderson, SVP of Human Resources and Administration, Starz Entertainment; Rosalind Clay Carter, SVP of Human Resources, A&E Television Networks; and Linda Chambers, VP of Corporate Human Resources, Bright House Networks, for their expert input.

 
Keeping Your Hand on the Pulse
While employee turnover provides a good starting point for measuring job satisfaction, it is by no means the only way industry employers gauge the motivation and commitment of their talent base. Most companies use both annual performance reviews and exit interviews as opportunities to draw out helpful information in that regard. Many others distribute a survey every two years or so, asking employees to rank their contentment with various work-related categories such as communications, customer service focus, employee engagement, fairness, safety, social responsibility, and trust in management. In between surveys, focus groups and other small-group sessions can go a long way toward helping management keep tabs on employees’ concerns.

“We invite groups of 10 to 20 people to meetings with the CEO and other corporate leaders," said AETN’s Carter. "This gives the senior team the opportunity to directly connect with associates at all levels and hear first hand what employees are thinking.”
 
Sometimes employees pipe up spontaneously to express their thoughts about corporate policies. Chambers of Bright House Networks explained, “We generally hear these comments when we host or insurance open enrollment period and when we discuss merit increases with individuals. We hear rave reviews about our health care plans and other benefits, and receive thanks for merit raises – particularly in an environment where many companies are freezing or cutting pay and benefits.”
 
Keeping the Team in Place
Not surprisingly, all three of my colleagues agree that offering competitive pay and generous benefits, including on-the-job training and educational assistance programs, are two of the surest ways to retain valuable talent, regardless of the state of the nation’s economy. Some industry employers take even more direct approaches to encouraging key players to stay onboard rather than look elsewhere to further their careers. One case in point is Starz’s Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP), for which employees are selected by senior management and given several assessments to use in designing their individual career plans. Over a 12-month period the future leaders work in teams on a case study and present their ideas to the executive committee. ELDP participants continue their journey after graduation, explained Starz’s Anderson. “Participants spend another year as part of an ad-hoc innovations committee, working directly with the executive committee on company development initiatives,” she said.
 
Beyond salaries, benefits and career advancement opportunities, another key retention measure can be summed up in one word: communication. In particular, at a time of rapid growth and constant change in the cable industry, it’s crucial to keep communicating the company’s goals so employees know that success depends largely upon their efforts. With budget constraints looming larger than ever, the good news is that successful communication can make a major impact without costing a dime. Savvy managers know that seemingly little things, such as conducting performance evaluations in a timely manner, go a long way toward assuring employees at every level that they are valuable members of the team. Personal interaction between employee and manager is also especially effective… and the more there is, the better. For instance, a bonus check that’s delivered in person will be far more appreciated than one that arrives in a note (or, worse yet, an e-mail message confirming direct deposit). Likewise, when an employee’s performance is lagging, a face-to-face meeting is much more effective than a phone conference or an e-mail exchange.
 
Maintaining Peak Performance
Even in the best of times, the stresses of daily living can take a toll on job performance. Recognizing that fact, many companies provide services, ranging from grief counseling to help in locating childcare, that relieve some of the burden and allow employees to stay more focused in the workplace.
 
The challenge becomes greater when the stress comes not from a single, manageable source, but rather from the world at large. Watching family members, friends and colleagues being laid off and struggling to find jobs – even if they’re in other companies or other industries – creates fear among the “survivors.” Employees can’t help worrying that their job security might be in jeopardy.
 
Once again, the HR leaders that I consulted with say they rise to the challenge by drawing out the most powerful tool in their repertoire: communication. In some companies, managers work one-on-one to counsel employees who are having trouble coping with the realities of the current economy. Other firms take a broader approach to combat the “what if?” syndrome by sponsoring brown bag lunches where employees talk about their worries and learn the principles of stress management.
 
On the classic theory that the best defense is a strong offense, industry employers also promote a culture that empowers employees to manage their careers and continue to develop professionally, thereby being better positioned to make a good transition in the event of job loss. Expending positive energy on their own development tends to boost employees’ confidence considerably, thereby reducing the stress and allowing them to remain more focused on the tasks at hand.
 
The good news for employers is that although there is no “vaccine” to eliminate the recession-induced stress employees feel, there are plenty of ways to retain talented employees and keep them motivated and productive, even in challenging economic times.

(Pamela Williams is Executive Director of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association. For more information, visit
CTHRA)
 

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