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5 incentives to retain your best staff


Business Coach Daniel Fitzpatrick looks at how to implement incentives that keep your staff self-driven and poacher-proof


Nothing stings more than losing one of your standout workers. You know who I’m talking about; the ones who always turn up on time, have a great attitude and never let you down. They’ll go the extra mile, because they take pride in their work.

Things tick along nicely, until they ask for a ‘quick chat.’ They’ve had an offer they can’t refuse and they’re off. You ask what you can do to keep them, but that ship has sailed.

In the current climate, great staff are worth their weight in gold. So how do you make sure your best staff stick around? Think about your current team. Who can you not afford to lose?


Now consider this…


1. Can your incentives pass the poacher test?


Say your best employee got approached tomorrow with a job offer. What would stop them saying yes? Losing a valuable team member hurts. The best incentives help you build a culture that people won’t want to leave.

Everyone wants to know where they’re heading, so help them get what they want in their lives. Invest in training them. Align their goals with your business goals. Show them how working with you gets them the career path they want. This creates loyalty and they are less likely to get poached.


Give great bonuses for hitting targets, such as rewarding the team with a certain dollar amount for the completion of a job on time or early. Consider a $10,000 bonus if they are still with you at the end of each year.

For the ultimate employee, consider offering a profit share or even an ownership share to keep them for good. Without stating the obvious, these incentives should only be considered for your MVPs.


2. Do you know what your staff want next?


Long-term incentives are crucial for retention, but you’ve also got to walk before you can run. Knowing what your team wants in the short-term matters too. Have you spent time finding out what your team members value most? Is it a bonus, or flexibility to pick the kids up from school? Is it regular lunch shouts, or a day off when the snow looks good? Don’t assume you know what they consider to be good perks. Ask them and find out what they really want – it will give you powerful incentive ideas for now and later on.


Show them how going the extra mile will help you help them achieve that goal. One business owner I work with goes out of his way to help out his staff. In their first few months, he finds a way to contribute to their personal lives. This could be setting them up with a mortgage advisor if they’re looking for a house, or allowing them to leave an hour early to coach their kid’s sports team on Thursdays.


The point is, it’s what matters to them.

3. Is your incentive programme breeding entitlement?


Entitlement is the last thing you want in a staff member. So how do we stop it creeping in from incentives? Keep them random


You might do this already by shouting your guys the odd coffee here and there, or by giving them a gift card to the local tool supplier when a curveball meant they really had to dig in to get a job done on time, and they knocked it out of the park.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the key lies in the inconsistency. They’re informal gestures that say ‘we appreciate your effort.’ Keeping incentives unexpected is what keeps entitlement at bay. If staff don’t know they’re coming, then expectations don’t grow.

That said, random incentives are a move, not a game plan. They’re valuable, particularly if you sense entitlement brewing. But they’re best placed as the cherry on the incentive cake – not as the cake itself.


4. How often do you ask your team members for their number?


You’ve asked each staff member what they prefer as an incentive. Now it’s time to extend the buy-in. Ask them to come up with their own performance goals.

Go through this process together. Agree on something, then catch up regularly to help them stay on track. This doesn’t have to be long (10 minutes a week should do it) but consistency is key.


For example, if your apprentice wants to work on turning up on time or improving their attitude, and you agree, hold them accountable to these performance goals by grading them out of 10 at the end of each week.


Do this with each of your team members, so everyone has a number they’re aiming for. This way, they don’t get bored, which is a good thing, as studies show being bored in a current role is the biggest reason people look for a new one.

Keep your team challenged by giving everyone a goal that they’re accountable to. The best sports teams are great at this. The players hold each other accountable, not the coach. When everyone has a number they're aiming for, your guys will help each other reach them too.


5. How big are you on the little things?

Incentives are great, but they’re not your only tool to building a team that loves working for you.

Recognition is powerful (and definitely a lot easier). Research shows that 63% of staff who feel recognised are highly unlikely to look for a new job.


On the flip side, a lack of recognition is why 44% of employees change jobs.


One tradie I worked with had an admin person who was on a bit of a performance roller coaster. She wasn’t quite giving the boss what he needed and productivity was falling, especially when she was working from home. Deliverables weren’t meeting deadlines or required standards. Tough conversations weren’t working, but a conversation about what did incentivise her did – turns out she finds it hard if she’s not encouraged. Once he started saying things like ‘thanks for your work on that project – I couldn’t have done it without you’ there was a huge change. She was diligent again and a lot easier to work with.

So what drove this change? Not a lot, actually. Just her boss making her feel appreciated by acknowledging what was true – he couldn’t have done that task without her. Sometimes we can overlook the power of recognising the value of what our team does every day.


This recognition doesn’t have to only come from you. Put praise from customers in your group chat. This will make your team feel great about the work they’ve done.

Recognition of a job well done can be one of the best returns on investment in your business. How often do you say ‘thank you?’


So what’s the ultimate key to staff retention?

You’ve got to pay your staff well, but more money isn’t always the answer.

Instead, find out what truly matters to them and reward them in that way. Even better, attach it to their long-term professional growth.

Make it personal. Cookie cutter bonuses and incentives can be helpful, but they only go so far.

Align staff incentives with your business goals. This gets everyone on the same page and your business ends up running with the fluency of a Formula 1 pit crew. Well, maybe not quite. But you get the idea.





Trades business coach Daniel Fitzpatrick has been helping tradies increase profits and win back their weekends since 2010.


Need some help to get your team performing at the highest level? Book a free strategy chat with Next Level Tradie director Daniel Fitzpatrick here: nextleveltradie.co.nz/nextstep

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