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Business owners often say their employees are their most important asset, but do all of them treat their staffs like they really are valued and appreciated?

Those who “walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk” implement programs and policies to ensure top performers remain engaged, appreciated, competitively compensated, satisfied with their work, have opportunities to advance, and remain loyal.

Avoiding employee churn packs huge business-building benefits, including reduced hiring and training costs, increased productivity, a positive workplace culture, enhanced marketplace reputation—who wants to do business with an organization that keep its best workers—leading to competitive advantages.

In a sense, good employers work for their employees.

How so? Every business has two types of customers, the external customer and the internal customer. The external customer is the end-user, the person who buys a saxophone or takes violin lessons. The internal customer is your employee. Why is an employee considered a customer? Your market customers bring in the money. The same goes for employees—they help generate more revenue, directly or indirectly, than they cost. If that’s not the case, best to let that person or position go. Naturally, it can take some time for an employee to generate profit but after the learning curve, you should be more in the black than in the red.

Investing in your most valuable asset goes beyond compensation, though employers will not keep top performers who are paid at least market scale. But the most motivated team members need more than that. Here are other smart retention investments.

Provide Opportunities for Career Growth

Professional development is an investment that takes time to mature. Sponsoring their attendance at relevant seminars or workshops not only helps them build business-generating expertise but also demonstrates the value owners place on them.

If you are concerned that that your employee will jump ship after taking advantage of your investment in them, set mutually agreed-upon ground rules. Let them know when they are hired that they will be eligible for paid training after a probationary period and performance assessment. That demonstrates from the outset that you value your employees and will support their career-advancing education.

Webinars are a cost-effective means of training and development. Employers even encourage their workers to develop their own online training—under you or your HR’s supervision—by producing YouTube videos and blogs. That’s a smart way to encourage your team to become through-leaders, which is a force multiplier in the competitive market.

Established top talent—the early birds who bring great attitude to the workplace and devotion to customer service—are a special case. If your music store offers instrument servicing and repair, sponsor their training so you can keep the work in-house instead of outsourcing it. Search the web for education opportunities; Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, for instance, offers woodwind repair classes. The cost will more than pay for itself when you have a great employee who can also service and repair instruments. Even if you already have a great repair person, you could potentially double the service part of your business with your newly training employee—reach out to schools or local symphonies. With the added skill set, you can also compensate your employee better. They’ll be able to bring in more profit as a result of their newly acquired knowledge and skills. Additionally, if they’re musicians themselves, the training will be an extra perk they’ll benefit from personally.

Other training can include software and technology. If you’re purchasing new inventory software for example, chances are training will be part of the offering. If possible, include your employee in the training program. Also, nothing wrong with an employee gaining advance skills in current software like Excel, which will have multiple applications throughout their career in the music business or otherwise.

Create a Positive Work Environment

Establishing an internal mentoring program is an ideal way to building esprit de corps. Pairing experienced employees with less proficient workers builds mutually satisfying workplace relationships, shows the mentors you value them personally and professionally, and lays out paths to advancement for mentees.

To make mentoring effective in building a positive work environment, there must be a plan of action as well as a feedback loop. Start by outlining areas of development. Perhaps your employee is good with customers but hasn’t yet mastered opening and closing procedures or inventory management. Put together a short list of goals, expectations, and objectives. Set time aside to review progress. Nothing boosts an employee’s job satisfaction like achieving well defined goals. Willingness to accept constructive feedback from the employee also gives them a sense of ownership in the process. By allowing and valuing their feedback, the employee will genuinely feel that their opinion matters and will have more a vested interest in accomplishing goals.

From the mentor point of view, offering constructive feedback always begins with an affirmation. I really like the way you’ve kept impulse purchase items stocked. If you could keep an eye on the dust that accumulates on the displays and clean it when necessary, I think we’ll be able to move even more merchandise. Customers don’t like to buy something if they think it’s old or has been sitting around for a while.

If a good employee truly seems to be struggling in a certain area of learning, find out why. If they’re doing something wrong, it’s okay to point that out, but never do it in an accusatory way, e.g. You really screwed that up! Show them the more effective way or show them how you’d like something to be done. In general, employees want to do a good job and are open to solutions.

Recognize and Reward Good Work

Employee performance reviews are vitally important to keeping good employees.

They are opportunities to sit down and go into more detail about their performance—and if they’ve been taking you up on the provided training or mentorship, you’ll probably have a lot of genuine praise to give them.

Here’s the kicker—the information on an employee performance review should not be a surprise to the employee. It should really be a summary of the ongoing communication you’ve established along the way.

You’ve set out expectations and provided the means by which to fulfill them through training and development. They’ve either met those expectations or are working to accomplish them. An employee performance review also provides the time and place to provide constructive criticism. As we mentioned, there should be no surprises. The employee should already be aware of areas where there’s room for improvement. If you haven’t already, a performance review may provide more time for you and the employee to flesh out a more detailed course of action if needed.

On the flip side, an effective review gives the employee the chance to hold you accountable. Did you give them the tools they needed to do the job the best they could? Did you follow through on professional development promises? Have you helped them work through areas of difficulty? Did you communicate how much you value them individually as well as their contribution to your business?

If they’ve done a good job, then a performance review is also a time to reward them. Raise their hourly wage or salary—and don’t be shy about sharing how much they deserve it! If you’re able to document how much more business they’ve actually delivered (e.g. sales or repairs), consider giving them a bonus based on a percentage of that amount.

Burn Ye Not Any Bridges

Employees move on. That is the nature of business. At the end of the day, people must decide what’s best for themselves when it comes to employment. While you may be a great employer, another opportunity may be more in line with their career objectives. Or perhaps they enjoyed their job but believe something else will better fuel their passion or interests.

Whatever the reason, if they leave respectfully, they deserve respect in return. There’s always a chance that a new employment opportunity will not work out for them. They may want their old job back. If you haven’t replaced them yet, no harm no foul—provided you didn’t read them the riot act when they gave notice.

Also, if you really liked that employee, ask them for a referral. Good people often have good contacts. Maybe they know a friend of family member who would be interested in filling the position they’re leaving. Knowing their reputation and legacy is on the line, there’s a good chance they will recommend someone of quality character who may also become a valuable employee.

The music business is very much a business. Keeping good employees employed takes effort and investment on your part, but the benefit to the bottom line as well as your peace of mind can pay dividends for the life your business!